miggy: (Default)
miggy ([personal profile] miggy) wrote2011-12-15 01:35 pm

fic: "Special" (Chapter 16/?)

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: 7000
Spoilers: Through S2
Full-Series Warnings: Violence, potential character death, and other elements common to comics
Summary: Being a part of something special makes you special. (Also, having superpowers.)
Notes: It's all girls, all the time this chapter. I shuffled around a few plot points and some of these emotional notes are happening now, rather than later, while a few planned things moved to next time. Why? Because starting next week, the action line pretty much starts heading up without more than a few small breaks. A few chapters of emotional connections, revelations, and discussions of the implications of everyone's actions will provide the foundation for things going crazy. :)

Also, I may have tilted my head and gone "aww" a few times when I was writing these scenes. Not ashamed.

"This is the guest bedroom," said Annie Pierce as she led Santana down the hallway of their home. Santana already knew where the guest bedroom was, of course, but also knew it was less for the sake of information than to say she and Brittany needed to keep any interactions rated PG-13 under their roof. Fine, whatever.

"Thanks," she said as she held her bag awkwardly in front of her. Her parents had stayed out of her way when she'd gathered up clothes and toiletries. It could have felt like the worst-case scenario she'd imagined, having to flee with barely anything to her name, but they never acted like her ejection was permanent. They'd never even mentioned Brittany. Santana had no idea what was going on and she wasn't going to press her luck.

When she walked into the room, Brittany followed her. "We're not allowed to do it tonight. Or however long you're here."

"Yeah, I kinda figured," Santana said, rifling through her clothes. She'd forgotten her costume. Not that it would matter, given their discovery, but she'd become used to making sure she always had access to it.

"I need to go help with dinner, but we'll talk later, okay?" Brittany asked with a smile, and Santana managed a weak one of her own as she nodded back. "Okay," Brittany repeated and kissed her on the cheek before she left. Touching the spot with her fingertips, Santana managed to smile for real. She began examining the available drawers in the room and held a short mental debate about how thoroughly she wanted to settle in, and what the options would say about her relationship with her parents.

"I'm glad they let you stay here," said Annie a few minutes later, when Santana was elbow-deep in her bag. She looked so much like an older Brittany that it was difficult to believe that they weren't really related. "I know things are a little tense at your house, and you kids have already gone through a lot."

Santana hesitated. She hadn't really talked to Brittany's mom before; she was always like some prison guard that had to be watched out for lest she ruin their fun. But she was sweet and kind and she smelled like cookies, and she was a mom who didn't act like Santana was making her life harder simply by existing. Santana left her bag alone and perched on the edge of the bed. "Well, thanks for letting me stay."

Annie bit her lip before she closed the door behind her, sat down, and looked at Santana very seriously. "It's probably not my place to tell you this, but I honestly don't know if your folks will. And you deserve to know the truth about everything. That's why I asked Brittany to help her dad with dinner, so she'd be busy."

"Okay," Santana said warily.

"Your parents don't care that you like girls. They told us that." Shock so completely filled Santana that she almost forgot to breathe. Annie nodded and continued. "They never did. They got pressured by the government into participating in this program, and they resent it. They're just unhappy that you were a superhero on TV. They think they'll get in trouble."

"They don't care," Santana repeated blankly. She'd hurled her guts out and they didn't even care? If everything was okay, then why did Annie look so depressed? That level of Sad Mom Face was totally inappropriate for anything short of saying a puppy ran out into the street and got hit by a truck full of Harry Potter books. "Then why...?"

"They really don't want to be here in Lima," Annie said gently. "They... they just wanted to get through."

Get through what? As soon as Santana asked, the answer came: they just had to get through her. Sometimes they'd been short-tempered or distant, but sometimes they'd been sweet and interested in her life. That was all an act. She was supposed to get through high school and get out of their lives, kept compliant with new clothes, a new car, or new boobs. When they managed to play their parts, they were actually pretty good parents. But there was no base to it. Nothing to anchor them when they'd had a bad day at work and wanted to snap at someone. "Why are you telling me this?" she finally asked.

Annie sure looked sweet for a woman who'd just told a girl that her parents were counting down the days until they were free of her. "Because you need to know that you never did anything wrong, and nothing is wrong about you. Okay? Ben and I care about you. When Brittany dated Artie last year, we were actually worried. We kept pointing out all his faults, and... it was actually really terrible of us to do, and it turns out that it wasn't necessary. But we wanted you back around Brittany."

Okay, so now Brittany's parents were creepy stalkers with an unhealthy interest in their daughter's love life, and they'd just invited Santana into their house and closed her into a room. Fantastic. "Uh huh," Santana said, leaning away from Annie. She wondered how much worse her day could get and how much like a supervillain someone had to act like before she was allowed to punch them with a blast furnace fist.

"Brittany might be in danger," Annie said, and Santana's worry abruptly recentered itself, "and they told us that you help her."

After the time she'd had, Santana thought she was totally justified in asking, "What?"

"The power blockers were never perfect. Not for everyone. I can't imagine that you were randomly lighting things on fire, but maybe you saw some unexplained behavior from some of the others?" Annie shrugged. Santana didn't bother seriously thinking about the question and just gestured her on. "We knew that Brittany's powers occasionally leaked through when I walked in one day and her cat was reading her diary."

"That actually happened," Santana said in disbelief.

Annie nodded. "It was infrequent, but sometimes unexplained things happened around Brittany. We were told that her powers were strong enough and tricky enough that the blocking might not be a hundred percent. Your fire was pretty straightforward to block, it sounds like, but chaos powers...." Shrugging, she looked resigned to the idea that she'd signed on to mother a girl who could make anything happen, quite literally.

Santana finally thought about the others. "So, say, a kid in a total backwater shows up looking like he's wearing thousand dollar outfits. Or a moron has half-minute flashes of clueing in to how people feel. Or a Spielberg wannabe can make big technical productions out of nowhere."

"Their powers probably leaked through," Annie agreed. Well... huh. It made sense, but what did that have to do with Brittany? Why was she in danger? Seeing the question lurking, Annie kept on. "Chaos powers can be driven by emotions, and a lack of focus can be dangerous. You center her, you make her happy. Eventually she'll learn how to control them completely, but until then...." She risked resting her hand on Santana's. "With her powers totally free again, we're concerned. Not worried, just concerned. And you're not responsible for her getting her powers pinned down, but we just thought we'd make it easy for you both if you wanted to spend time around each other."

"Okay," Santana said uncertainly. Somehow this felt more overwhelming than all the bad stuff she'd heard over the past day.

"Well, in any case, we'll call you down for dinner in a bit. Feel free to bring snacks in here later, and there's a TV in the armoire." She opened the door and revealed an old set with a built-in VCR. Even though the house had to be new, because they were new, it felt so much more comfortable than the slick decorating decisions Santana's parents had made for theirs.

"Thanks," Santana said. She'd reached the point where she couldn't really hurt any more and so she could only go up. Okay, her parents didn't want her. Okay, they weren't really her parents. Good thing she didn't have to stay with them, right?

She was left alone until dinner was served. Brittany smiled but let her eat, and except for a few attempts at conversation from Ben and Annie, it was quiet. The silence was comfortable, not awkward. Santana ate until she was full, secure that she wouldn't hear any comments about watching her weight, and Brittany followed her back to the guest room when she was done. "Do you want to watch a movie?" she asked, nodding to the little TV.

Santana glanced at the bed, as it was the only comfortable angle to watch from. "Will your parents care?"

She shrugged. "I'll leave the door open so they can see and it'll be fine. One sec, we have some old tapes in the den." She disappeared and returned after Santana had climbed under a blanket. Popping in the movie without announcing its name, she laid next to Santana but didn't climb under the cover. "Looks better if they walk by," she explained. Santana didn't argue. She wasn't about to piss off another family.

Preview clips for long-outdated movies started playing. Brittany ignored them and asked, "What do you want to do?" Santana looked at Brittany uncertainly and she clarified, "You mostly wanted to be captain because Rachel wanted to be captain. And before you kissed me, you looked at how she was kissing Finn." Her fingers tugged at each other. "So... are you just going to wait to see what she does next?"

"It was never about Rachel," Santana said and flung a throw pillow like she could impact an obnoxious little Jewish-American Princess' head with it. "I told you. It was about how things just work for her. Did she have to freak out over kissing Godzilla in front of the TV cameras? No. Do her dads actually love her? Yeah. It's about how I just want to be able to walk down the street with you like she does with Finn and not feel so scared about who's watching. It's about wanting a dad who'll kick ass for me like Kurt apparently got. It's about having people pick me, you know?"

"Well, I picked you," Brittany point out.

"No, you picked Artie."

"Because you didn't act like it was real and important," Brittany fired back, "and that made me upset. I want real. I want to be picked, too."

"Brittany, just...." Frustrated, Santana bit down on the sharp words that came to mind. Maybe she'd use them on other people, but not her. "Your parents really love you. I don't know how, but you float through life hardly taking any shit over making out with guys and girls. It's easier for you, okay? Just give me a little time to catch up."

Brittany had washed her face after dinner. Her eyelashes were very pale without mascara. When she looked down at her hands, it was like snow falling in front of her blue eyes. "How long do you think you'll need?"

"Until I know what it feels like not to be scared," Santana finally said as the promos ended and the familiar blue Disney castle appeared. If Brittany didn't know what to say to that, at least she didn't argue.

"We should go there some time," Brittany said as the first song began. Hawaiian music sounded tinny on the single speaker, but the tropical colors were beautiful. "And lie on the beach and have piña coladas and roast a pig."

Santana grinned and felt some of her emotional weight roll off her as Lilo & Stitch played. Even if things were still awful, it felt good to head upward, even a little bit. "I think people roast the pigs for you."

"Then we'll just eat the pig," Brittany said definitively.

"Sounds like a plan," Santana said. She didn't know where she really stood with her family or what her future would be, or even how she would make things work with Brittany. At least, though, she knew that the last one would happen. It was just a matter of time. It had to be. With each new scene her head came to rest a little more completely upon Brittany's shoulder. Warm against her and under the blanket, Santana began to fall asleep.

That was how it should be, she thought distantly as the world fell away from her. How it should be, how it'd been.

Ohana, she heard through a long tunnel as dreams overtook her. Nobody gets left behind, or forgotten.

* * *

The sun was bright that February day. Unseasonable warmth had rolled up the Atlantic, and although the forecast went back to normal by next week, all the snow and slush had melted into nothing more than puddles. The ground that never saw shadows was completely dry. One of those dry patches was where Brittany and Santana had spread out their blanket on a gentle slope of Prospect Park.

"Okay," Santana said as she wrapped her arms around herself. "Warm for February doesn't mean it's actually warm."

"We should go to the zoo," Brittany said, smiling off at the distance. "You wanna go to the zoo?"

"Depends. Can we set a giraffe on fire?"

"Uh." Brittany paused. "Probably not."

Santana shoved her hands into her armpits and glowered at everything in front of her. "Then nope." She wanted to sit there in the weak but direct sun and wait for August, or to go inside and sit next to a radiator. Sudden warmth against one side was so welcome that it took her a second to realize what had happened: Brittany was cuddling. "Um," she managed.

That was the closest she'd ever been to another girl, and Santana did feel suddenly and totally warm. Brittany's hair was sprawling like sunbeams across her shoulder. It smelled like papaya. She didn't know what was happening, but for the first time it felt like something that she couldn't explain away.

Santana had always liked looking at girls when they changed in the locker room. All of her friends did that to dissect each other's hair, bodies, or clothes. At first it was commenting on training bras, then normal bras, then padded push-up bras for a few brave souls. Even if Santana began lingering more than the other girls... it was normal.

She didn't understand why those other girls started to move away from her, or why they whispered and laughed. When they talked about other normal girl things—favorite musicians, hairstyles, online stores—Santana nodded from the outside of their little clusters and smiled so hard that it hurt. She was pretty, talented, and smart. They should like her.

When it turned to boys, she lied. She hadn't dated anyone. Santana loved her mom, but she was incredibly strict, even more than her dad. Her mother kept talking about how she expected that anyone Santana brought over would have to meet her standards, and she did expect that Santana would bring them over. Meanwhile Santana had just turned fourteen, and it was easier to think about her New York State history project than to figure out which boy she was supposed to like.

Near the end of that summer, her parents told her she was going to a new school because of their new assignment. A car would pick her up each morning if she didn't want to take the subway. At first having a driver was great, but he was always really cold and off-putting. Santana started talking the subway. The teachers at her new school were more like private tutors, as each one had a PhD in their field and were only assigned to eleven students. If she'd thought she was smart before, she felt like a genius after a semester with them.

That was where she'd met Brittany. They were both in Brooklyn, but if not for their parents' work pushing them into that same school, they never would have met. Brittany didn't mind when Santana looked at her during class. She smiled back and wanted to talk to her even more.

All of that ran through her mind before Santana was abruptly back in Prospect Park. Brittany's wide blue eyes held her gaze and Santana realized how still she'd gone. Maybe she was a frightened animal, or maybe Brittany was and didn't want to scare her off. "Hey," Brittany said, and smiled.

"Hey," Santana said, and swallowed.

"I saw some girls do this outside my window last week. I think we should try it."

Huh? "Try what?" Santana began to ask, but only got the first word out. Brittany's lips landed very gently on hers.

She still smelled like papaya, but tasted like cinnamon gum and Coca-Cola Classic. She tasted perfect. She was soft and beautiful and fit just right against Santana like she hadn't known anyone could.

When she finally pulled back, Brittany looked like she'd been given a gift. "Yeah. I want to do that again."

Santana took a deep breath. The air felt cold going down her throat. "What'd you do?" she asked. Her heart battered against her ribcage as she looked around. A middle-aged couple was pointing not at the two girls, but past them at something on the Brooklyn skyline. They'd seen. They didn't care.

"I kissed you," Brittany said. Yes, that was indeed it. It was so perfect in its simplicity, but Santana's wide-eyed stare finally introduced doubt into her voice. "Was it okay?"

"It was perfect," Santana said, and leaned in again.

Her mother liked Brittany when Santana finally brought her over. She would have disapproved of any boy, it turned out, because she'd always known and had never cared. Her father told them to mind their schoolwork and gave her a curfew that Santana thought was far too strict.

In a guest bedroom in Lima, Ohio, Santana woke up crying with the memories of her lost life. It was dark and she was alone. She remembered almost everything, after her memories had been stirred by relaxing so completely into her moment with Brittany: her Brooklyn room, her private snack drawer, an iPod that looked hopelessly thick and clunky to her now. What it had been like to meet everyone else on that first day of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s special school. What her parents looked like when they smiled. When they hugged her. When they told her that they loved her very, very much. She could never get them back.

But the next time she and Brittany were out in public, she could kiss her without a mask. That was what it felt like not to be afraid, and she'd be damned if she'd give it up again.

* * *

It was quiet for the group as they dealt with their isolation chambers of no computers, no phones, and no going outside. People spent their time connecting with family, or flipping through picturebooks of New York City and waiting for something to feel familiar deep in their hearts. Now that they'd been told the truth, they began to remember.

Mercedes remembered being woken up by the morning sun. Her room in Lima faced west.

Artie remembered sitting in a Manhattan classroom, what his old parents sounded like, and that he'd had a cat who died when he was seven.

Santana remembered nearly everything, but didn't tell anyone. It all felt so perfect that she didn't want to try to explain her memories. They might burst like soap bubbles and leave only the town around her.

Rachel, consumed with wondering what other people were saying about them, hardly remembered anything.

* * *

"Rachel," one of her dads asked two days after the group meeting in the gym, "everyone's seeing if any of their kids had anything to do with this."

Rachel sat up from drawing costume ideas. (Eventually she would be off on her own, rather than part of a group with matching costumes. It was important to establish her own identity, but her concepts were all terrible. She needed to talk to Kurt again.) "What is it?" Rachel's laptop was put down, then opened. A Facebook fan page for the Awesomes filled its monitor. "Oh... oh, look at that!" she said, just biting back on her instinctive reaction of being thrilled that Jacob had done what she'd asked.

"Rachel," Hiram said seriously.

"Yes?" she asked, smiling up at him with all the innocence of a newborn babe.

He didn't look won over. "Rachel, Jacob bothers you all the time at temple. I know you know him. So I'll ask you again: did you have anything to do with this?"

"No, Dad," she said, shaking her head. "I promise. I mean, I'm sure he was trying to impress me, but he does that all the time on his own. And he does have sources." Her fingers inched toward the touchpad, and she risked asking, "Can I look?"

"Fine," Hiram sighed. "Just don't post. I'll go call Sue, tell her that the 'fear of god' approach looks like the way to go with this kid." He walked off, grumbling, and Rachel seized the chance to investigate how thoroughly Jacob had promoted her to the public at large.

In short: extremely. The gallery already had hundreds of photos, between screencaptures of the news, witnesses' phone snapshots he'd tracked down, and civilian pictures from around Lima. He must be trying to impress her, Rachel thought giddily as she looked at them. He hadn't included a single shot of her friends being humiliated. Thousands of people had liked the page already, and it was clearly serving its purpose as a one-stop shop for potential fans of their new team. Oh, she could kiss him, if the idea didn't completely repel her, she really could.

He'd even gotten interviews with people who knew Rachel (and the rest of them), like it would demonstrate his dedication beyond any reasonable doubt. "Yeah, those kids are great!" slurred April Rhodes to a webcam in a surprisingly luxurious apartment. Running a successful Broadway show apparently had her living the good life. She lifted her martini glass to the camera. "Give 'em hell. But get some different costumes, you guys are underaged and you look like Times Square back when it was fun." April grinned sloppily. "I'm being responsible."

"Well, of course I'm surprised," said Jesse St. James to his webcam. It was apparently a bad connection; he kept freezing. "In general. Not about Rachel. She's such an undeniable talent that it spilling over as actual superpowers just seems like a natural outcome of being so gifted." He shrugged. "I'm sure I'll be able to run faster than the speed of sound any day, now."

Rachel laughed, then sobered at the next face. Shelby Corcoran was pale, frazzled, and clearly stressed as she spoke downward toward what was probably a laptop camera. "A statement? I suppose 'good luck,'" she said, and glanced toward her living room. "Life can be crazy. It can be too much to handle just to make everyone happy, and they're deliberately taking on more?" She shook her head, and her eyes seemed to look right into Rachel's for a second. "Good luck." The sound of a crying baby cut her off. He probably should have left that one out.

Sunshine Corazon smiled awkwardly. "Yes, I know Rachel, mostly. I guess she's leading the team? She can be really nice sometimes, when she's not trying to hurt you." The page's inclusion of that video was explained with a caption from Jacob that Rachel was 'such a sexy badass.' She sighed.

Figgins looked entirely unsure of what to say, and resorted to reading from the school handbook about proper emergency procedures in case of metahuman, alien, and/or vampire attack.

Holly Holliday had watched April's clip before giving hers, apparently, because she told the kids not to give up their costumes. "I know what real S&M looks like and you guys aren't anywhere near it." She hesitated. "You might be... around the corner from S&M, at most, and that's totally doable."

Will Schuester looked pained. "April, Holly, will you please stop talking about S&M?" He stared more intently at the camera. "And they're good kids. They've driven me crazy sometimes, but in great ways. They deserve better than the treatment they're getting." He stared hard to the side as he finished. Either Sue was next to him or her house lay in that direction.

Giggling, Rachel scrolled through the comment page of people talking about them. Granted, much of the discussion was along the lines of girls wanting to write fanfic about the 'two cute boys making out' while other posters ranted about the gay agenda, or saying that some of their team should be forbidden from ever wearing skintight outfits. It was horrible and offensive, but it was outweighed by positive posts... and it was all attention.

"Rachel," she heard again and looked up. Leroy was standing in her doorway and looked even more serious than his husband had. "Can you promise us that you didn't have anything to do with this?"

Her finger sketched over her heart. "I swear. Jacob obsesses over me. When he saw me wearing that leather costume, well...." She spread her hands helplessly and finished, "I'm sure he's especially obsessed right now."

"I should talk to that boy's parents," Leroy grumbled. "If there's anything left of him after Sue gets done."

"She's really talking to him?" Rachel asked. That might be more potential suffering than she wanted to set Jacob up for, even as awful as he'd been.

"Of course. She runs a lot of this town with an iron fist." Leroy smirked. "And the rest, well, she thinks she does." That earned a bright smile from Rachel, and he returned it before asking, "What were you doing, baby girl, heading out on your own like that?"

"People were going to get hurt," she said instantly, "and we could protect them."

He nodded, but waited for more.

"It was a perfect chance to test out our powers in a large team situation, under live fire," she added.

"Mmm hmm."

Rachel's shoulders sagged. "And... it served perfectly as a debut. Oh, Daddy, I want to be famous. I know you know that, but this could be my path to greatness. You know I've always had an amazing voice." As he'd taken the offer to implant real memories, he knew that as a fact: she'd always had an amazing voice. Even if she barely remembered her old life, she remembered that. Plus, even after everything that had happened, when they'd returned home Rachel realized that it still felt like walking through the door with her parents. Real or imagined, her family felt like it truly belonged to her. All she'd needed to complete things was the shot in the arm from all those Facebook comments.

"That you do," he agreed. "An amazing voice."

"But I've struggled and struggled and no one cares. We couldn't fill more than a handful of seats for our benefit concert, we lost Regionals and then we didn't even make it past the first round at Nationals... but now? We won one fight and we were on the news. People know our names. I know you think that's dangerous and exactly what we shouldn't be doing, but one day it'll be safe. When that happens I want to be ready."

"So you don't want to sing?" he asked without any judgment.

Rachel, excited, leaned forward and rested her hands on his knee. "I can do everything. I saw there's already a singer and superhero out there, but I listened to some of her songs." She shook her head dismissively. She knew she wasn't a fan of the genre, and perhaps she was biased, but Rachel thought she was much better than Dazzler. "Fans of my hero identity will buy concert tickets. Fans of my music will give quotes to the newspaper when I... save people, or whatever it is that I'll do. I'll be a whole industry all on my own."

"There have been people like that," Leroy agreed. "Metahumans who use their powers to, above all else, become famous."

She knew it. It had to be a viable career path. If someone could become famous simply for dodging votes on a tropical island, or being chosen to receive someone's final rose, then of course she could become a household name with her voice. With it, she could both make records and kill bad guys. Well... she didn't want to kill people. She'd knock out bad guys and have the police deal with them as suitable.

But Leroy wasn't done. "Worst-case scenario, those people get innocents killed. Best-case, they squander what good they could be doing because they're never willing to work unless a camera can get into position."


"I'm not saying you can't be famous," he continued. "If so, there wouldn't be any famous heroes, and...." He nodded at the framed Vanity Fair cover of Tony Stark she'd bought on eBay shortly after their power discovery. "But even Stark, as self-centered as he can be, ultimately wants to help people."

His words stung, as any parental criticism would. "You think I'm self-centered?" Rachel asked.

Leroy looked at her tolerantly. "You've said it yourself, Rachel."

But she meant that she went after her dreams and knew she was destined for greatness. No one else was supposed to use the words, because they were different. "But...."

"It doesn't mean you're not sweet, or that you don't have good intentions. But you've been preparing yourself for a world where you have to beat everyone else to the top in public view. Only one person wins the Tony, only one song is at the top of the charts, that sort of thing. I'm just saying that it might not be as easy to pursue both of these goals as you think it will be. Not if you want to give each one its fair due." He saw her about to protest. "I can promise you, bigtime heroes don't get into competitions over how many people they personally yank to safety."

"Why?" Rachel asked. "Doesn't it make them a better hero?"

"Because it's not about selling the most singles. It's about making the best song." He chuckled as she tried to work through that obvious attempt to put things in language she'd better understand. "Okay. If you want to save the most people and get the most publicity... imagine if you saw Doc Ock on the way to go cause some trouble downtown. Do you stop him?"

"Of course," Rachel said, startled.

"Would you?" asked Leroy mildly. "Or would you let him start causing trouble first, put a lot of people in danger, and get the news cameras there? Would you really take him out quietly, before he came close to anyone? Including the media?" He leaned back. "We stopped a chemical attack in St. Louis this week. During a Cardinals game, in the middle of the stadium. No one will ever know someone tried to make a name for himself there."

Rachel stared at him. She'd known her fathers were agents, but had never put the pieces together of what that actually meant.

"We're not heroes, but it's the same mindset," Leroy began to say.

"It sounds like you are," Rachel interrupted.

He smiled. "Well, we just try to help. Just... do you know the name of the SEAL who shot Osama Bin Laden?" He waited for her to shake her head. "It seemed like the only news story people were talking about for a while, and you don't know his name. No one outside the military ever will. That's the extreme of what I'm telling you, and it won't be like that, but...."

Rachel swallowed. "But I still think it should be okay for me to want to be famous. You're right, I don't want to be like him."

"It is, and you don't have to be." He leaned forward and squeezed her shoulder. "Just make sure that if you go this way... if you see Doc Ock headed for a crowd, stop him before he gets there, even if no one knows. Be a good hero. The glory'll come in time, and it's not the most important part. If it is for you, then maybe you should just focus on music. There's nothing wrong with that."

Except that she got real attention for one, and not the other. "All right," Rachel said, because she wanted the conversation to be over. She wanted to think.

Seeing a dismissal when she made one, Leroy stood. "I'll ask one more time, Rachel: did you ask Jacob about that page?"

She hesitated just for an instant. "No, Daddy."

"Okay, then. Are you remembering much about New York yet?"

"Not much." Of course, she had spent the last couple of days comforting herself with heroic daydreams, and they probably hadn't left much room for reality to creep in.

"Try. You should know where you come from." He kissed the top of her head. "So long as you remember that you'll always be our baby girl, now."

Rachel smiled at him, and squeezed his hand when it slid away from her hair. "Thanks. Love you," she said, and meant it. Maybe it would have been harder if she had examined her life more closely, but after she'd cried herself out in Finn's arms, she just wanted some return to normal.

"Love you, too. Maybe you can go see your friends soon. You can do that, we just need to talk to their parents."

She nodded, then turned back to her sketchbook full of its horrible costume ideas. Well, no wonder she'd had trouble settling on an identity. This would be so much harder than she'd thought.

* * *


Quinn ignored Judy. She pulled her hair away from her face, tilted her head thoughtfully, and considered going full Carey Mulligan. It could work.

"Quinn, you've been giving me the silent treatment for two days." Judy swallowed hard. "Please just talk to me."

A raised eyebrow in the mirror was her only response. Quinn could absolutely pull off a Carey, she decided as she turned back and forth. Who could handle the cut, though? It wasn't like her fake mother was letting her go anywhere in this fake town full of fake memories.

"We don't have anyone else," Judy said. "Please, don't do this."

After two days of that constant pleading and nagging, Quinn felt her shoulders pull tight. The silent treatment only worked if it were kept up, but.... she laughed bitterly. "Yeah, I know how it feels to 'not have anyone else.' That's how I wound up at Finn's house. And then at Puck's. And then at Mercedes'." She finally turned to meet Judy's eyes. "Thanks for that."

"I made a mistake, Quinn." Judy reached for her. Quinn brushed her hand away. Letting it fall back to her side looked to hurt.

"So did I," Quinn said with a shrug. "Except after yours, you got to sleep in your own bed at night."

Her not-mother's jaw set. She was getting angry? Good. Quinn's mind, left to think about the father who'd kicked her out and how her friends were focused on each other instead of her, had come up with escape plans. Each one was less probable and less desirable than the last, and yet she still wanted something to happen. Maybe Judy would snap and hit her. With a bruise on her cheek she'd call CPS. They'd look into things, find out the whole stupid memories issue, and put them all in... in different homes, with different parents. Not their real ones. Never their real ones. So what was the point?

Her fierce stare faded. With it, so did Judy's. "He didn't ask me before we moved here," Judy said waveringly. Quinn stayed silent. "He just told me that we were getting pulled into this program. That we were going to adopt someone. I never got asked what I wanted."

"Sorry I'm so much trouble for you," Quinn said. Her voice was as flat as a frozen lake.

"I was afraid to say no to anything he did," Judy replied. Her eyes grew glossy. "Afraid, Quinn. You remember what he was like when things went his way, and how he could turn on you just as quickly."

Quinn felt herself start to tear up, even as she tried to fight it back. "Yes, I do remember being scared. And I had no money and no idea what was really going on. You did. So excuse me if I keep the sympathy over here, okay?"

"I was with him for years," Judy said. "Years. It feels like I never got the chance to figure out who I really was before I walked down the aisle. It happened so early because it was what I was supposed to do. I certainly didn't learn who he was before that day." She tried to stroke Quinn's cheek. Quinn pulled away. "You're so beautiful, Quinn."

"I know," Quinn said darkly. She had that, now, and it seemed to be all she had on some days.

But Judy wasn't done. "And smart, and capable, and driven. More than a little brittle, too. Sometimes I worry that you'll break. I know what that's like." She looked down, but it seemed to be memories she couldn't face, rather than Quinn's gaze. "I got two Bs in high school. One in history, because I read a term project description wrong. The other was in math. The teacher didn't like girls. Otherwise... straight As."

She waited for Quinn to reply. When she didn't, Judy continued. "I was pretty, too. Then it was all that I was. I don't... I don't want you to regret like I have. Because I know I've done a terrible job of it, but I love you."

Quinn didn't say anything. The words were what she wanted to hear, but she didn't know if they could be trusted.

"Whatever happiness means, I want you to have it. Maybe you'll meet a nice boy and get married right after high school, or maybe you'll be a doctor and not even date until you're practicing." She managed to smile. "Maybe Sue will fix all of this and you'll be a superhero when it's safe. And ask your friends to come over, please. I'll stay out of the way, if it helps. I know they don't like me."

"I was alone," Quinn finally said. The words hurt when they came out; her throat was tight. "I remembered New York, you know? I lived on Staten Island. Everyone else at school lived closer to each other, and it was so easy to just forget me because I was on the other side of a ferry ride. They tried to include me. But it was always making an effort." And they'd still been nicer than the kids at her local school. With the other Awesomes, Quinn never got the feeling that there was something wrong with her. She was a simple casualty of distance. The kids in her neighborhood had been cruel, though. Her real background didn't have the dramatic physical shift she'd remembered in Ohio, but she'd certainly taken a while to come into her own.

"That Mercedes girl came over," Judy pointed out. "And I'm sure your Cheerios friends worried that, well...." She coughed. "With how those two girls were, um. Well. Maybe they wouldn't feel comfortable around me, and... I'm sorry if you've felt like you've missed out on friends." She tried brushing Quinn's shoulder, rather than cheek, and Quinn let her. "I don't know why I had to wind up with a man like I did. Sometimes things just aren't fair. But I'm really trying to make the best of it, even if I'm messing up."

Quinn folded her arms and studied the floor for a while. Judy seemed to hold her breath. Finally, Quinn looked back up and said, "Russell was a real dick, wasn't he?"

Judy gasped, then started laughing even though she looked ashamed for doing so. "Quinn," she chided, but she was smiling. "That's... actually completely true."

"I don't know what I want to do," Quinn admitted. "I was talking to someone in the gym and we both just felt completely out of things."

"That's okay. Just know that I'll be here while you figure it out?" Judy looked so hopeful. "I really mean it." Finally, Quinn nodded, and Judy breathed a sigh of relief. "Can I hug you?" It took her a while, but Quinn nodded again. She didn't know if it felt like her mother hugging her, but it felt nice. "Who were you talking to?" Judy asked. "Is it someone I should invite over?"

"We've got stairs on the porch," Quinn began to explain.

"Oh. That boy in the wheelchair? We probably can't lift him past the stairs, and it might be offensive to even offer... do you want to go over to his house?"

"Relax," Quinn said good-naturedly. "I'll be okay...." Her voice died, torn between 'Judy' and 'Mom.' She trailed off rather than settle on either one, and her momentary flash of happiness faded with it. But still, she reassured Judy, "I'll be okay."

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