Rachel made her entrance into the bar with her usual flair by marching straight to their booth, sliding in next to Tina and announcing loudly, "Jesse St. James is coming back to New York to star in the Off-Off-Broadway production The Pen."
Tina seemed both appalled and amused. "Isn't that the one about the ..."
"Yes, dear. It's the experimental theater about the polyamorous hogs." Kurt's voice was as laconic as Henry had ever heard it, but there was a solid two degrees temperature increase from his usual cool demeanor, when he turned to look at Rachel. "And here you are, starring as Velma Kelly on Broadway. Isn't it nice when life throws the eggs back at them for you?"
Rachel looked at the rest of them with a smile so wide that she was seconds away from swallowing her own ears.
Unsure of what they were talking about, Henry decided yet again that as entertaining as Blaine's friends were, they were also ... peculiar, and he really should look into making his own. He didn't exactly mean to become a part of the little clique. He didn't really mind though. Even though he didn't always know what they were talking about, they did their best to try to include him, and on nights like these when Blaine was working late, it was nice to be out having a drink instead of feeling lonely at home.
It's just that he met Blaine, fell madly in love with him in about three seconds (which got him teased mercilessly by everyone except Kurt, who always looked sympathetic, and at times a little bittersweet), and then kind of got sucked into Blaine's orbit.
Blaine came across as terrifyingly perfect, and even once you got to know him well enough to spot all the flaws, he still set a ridiculously high standard to live up to, especially when you happened to be his boyfriend.
Blaine Anderson (of the Boston Andersons) came from old money and his blood was as blue as it ever got this side of the Atlantic. He'd arrived in Manhattan a year ago with a shiny new degree from Harvard Law in his pocket and a head full of dreams, and promptly got himself a job as a law clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was polite, considerate, sweet, good-looking, impeccably groomed, just enough of a dork to avoid being entirely unapproachable, and so ridiculously charming that Henry was almost 99% certain that if he should ever walk through Central Park singing, it might cause a melee of birds and small woodlands creatures as they rushed to be the first to provide him with back-up singing and dancing worthy of any Disney princess.
They'd met shortly after Blaine arrived in New York. Henry had moved to the city two years before after getting a job at a local firm working as a CPA. He'd been walking home, when Blaine had accidentally body checked him into the pavement after being goaded by Tina into his one and only attempt at roller-skating. On their way to the hospital, a mildly concussed Henry had apparently mentioned that he didn't mind being jumped on by cute guys, but the polite thing to do would have been to buy him a drink first. A mortified Blaine had asked him his number and the rest was history.
The idea that Blaine had spent a good chunk of his formative years in Ohio was vaguely confusing to Henry. Having grown up in California, he tried but often failed to overcome his snobbery towards the flyover states. Ohio conjured strange conflicting visions of agriculture and gang violence and aggressive averageness that Henry knew had to be wrong, given that all of Blaine's closest friends came from there and they were all as unique as he was.
Rachel Berry was a rising star on Broadway and though at times she came across as every cliche you'd ever heard about young ingenues coming to the big city to become famous, the fact was that she was now well on her way to famous, and entirely too larger than life to ever be ordinary. Also, for all that she would toot her own horn about her talent, Henry knew from passing comments from the rest of the group that hard work and dedication had played a huge part in getting Rachel where she now was.
She could be incredibly abrasive about the most random things, and there were occasional glimpses of whirring crazy in her eyes if you brought up certain topics, but she was a well-loved and fiercely loyal friend. When he and Blaine had started getting serious, she'd been the one to take him aside and make the traditional threats of violence should he hurt Blaine. She'd also wished the two of them happiness, and Henry could see she meant it.
Henry looked at the woman sitting next to Rachel and laughing hard at what her friends were saying. In the unlikely event that there had been an average bone somewhere in Rachel's body, Tina Cohen-Chang would have been the one to ask. New York's city newest M.E. was as bubbly as her chosen career was gruesome. Kurt and Rachel both insisted that she'd been a very shy teenager, but Henry just couldn't see it. If ever a woman had grabbed life by the balls, it was Tina, who liked good booze, good food and fine-looking bed partners. The men and women that she loved and left provided the rest of them with an endless stream of eyecandy.
He'd asked her why she hadn't been the one to threaten him instead of Rachel, given that spending her days cutting dead bodies open for a living would allow her to paint some pretty disturbing pictures with words. She'd let out a full-throat laugh that had turned the heads of several men in the cafe where they'd been (along with one lesbian barrista), before confessing that she thought he was good for Blaine, so didn't want to scare him off. Then she added with a shrug that if he ever did hurt Blaine, Kurt would track him down first anyway and once Kurt was done, there'd be no body left for her to do anything to.
Henry let his eyes move to the right to look at the man sitting next to him, because strangely, that off-hand comment had caused him a lot more worry than what 5'2" Rachel Berry might do to his kneecaps with a hockey stick, which was scary enough as it was.
At first glance, Kurt was an even more unlikely threat. Kurt was tall, slim, one might even call him delicate, but Henry suspected it wasn't so much his size as it was his features and flawless porcelain skin. He was always impeccably dressed (even if his idea of fashion tended to be a little bit avant-garde) with perfect posture, and the image that came to mind the first time Henry saw him was that of a pedigree cat that happened to be exceedingly fastidious about its personal grooming.
Kurt was quiet, with a past that Henry knew little to nothing about. The most he'd managed was to find out was that Kurt had once been a lot happier and friendlier, until some personal tragedy caused him to disappear for a few years, before reestablishing contact with those of his friends that had also relocated to New York.
Annoyingly enough, Kurt was also that ex, the one by which Blaine measured all other boyfriends. Shortly after meeting Kurt, early in his relationship with Blaine, Henry had considered ending things to avoid the inevitable broken heart down the line when the two reunited. But Kurt had showed up unannounced at his place and with perfect manners had ruthlessly twisted Henry's arm into going out with him for a drink. Kurt had then explained that as much as Blaine and him had loved each other and still loved each other, they would never again be what they'd been. The best thing for them was to move on and Henry made Blaine happy. As he left, Henry got to see him smile for the very first time, just an impish quirk of the lip to go with his parting shot that Tina was not wrong, but that Kurt wouldn't have bothered talking to Henry if he had doubts.
Despite a somewhat icy poise, Kurt was genial enough, and had a hilarious dry wit that only showed when he was among trusted friends. The rest of the world got to deal with Kurt Hummel-Cranston (of the Manhattan Cranstons had added a somewhat puzzled Blaine, as apparently no one had even suspected about it back when they all still lived in Ohio). By virtue of his family money, Kurt had become despite his young age one of New York's most formidable ladies who lunch, which Henry found hilarious, especially after hearing Blaine's aunt Agatha tell the two of them fondly about a charity dinner in which she witnessed him in action. A representative up for reelection who had previously pandered to the conservative vote by fighting stem cell research had had the misfortune to be in attendance, and he'd ended up on the receiving end of such a murderously polite tongue-lashing that even Agatha's husband, Colonel Bruce Anderson, had been impressed.
Right now Kurt was looking at his friends fondly and using paper towels to mop up the beer that a flailing and cackling Rachel had spilled. She was carrying on with the tale of her much-loathed ex's disgrace, and Tina was laughing so hard that she had tears in her eyes.
Then something caught Rachel's attention near the entrance of the bar, that caused her to grab Kurt's hands in hers and look him straight in the eye. "You know that I love you more than any other man in the universe except for my Daddies, right?"
A suddenly terrified-looking Kurt tried to pull his hands back. "Rachel, what did you do?!"
"He messaged me on Facebook that he was moving here, and he and his girlfriend just got settled into their new place, and you pussied out of contacting him so many times ..."
Kurt's eyes opened so wide in horror, that for a moment Henry thought Kurt looked like an anime character about to be chomped on by a giant monster.
The tall guy who'd approached their table cleared his throat.
Henry gave him the quick gay once-over : uninspired haircut, plaid shirt over a white tee, cheap jeans and sneakers. The newcomer wasn't breaking any fashion barriers, but he was ridiculously tall and buff, with pleasant features and a certain rosy-cheeked freshness that many women spent a great deal of money on cosmetics trying to achieve. He was looking adorably confused, and then his eyes met Kurt's, and both Tina and Rachel held their breaths.
Kurt looked more at loss than Henry had ever seen him. Rachel pinched his hand and he spared her one brief deadly glance before answering the man.
* * * * *
In life, there are good days and bad days. Lately, Linda had only had the bad kind.
Like a perfect storm of shit making landfall, everything that could possibly gone wrong had : her mother having a meltdown, the co-worker that'd stabbed her in the back, the nigh-empty bank account, the flu she couldn’t quite shake, and so on, and so forth. The crappy birthday which everyone pretty much forgot (and thanks to some kind of bug on Facebook, no one was reminded of) was just the cherry on top of the horrible, horrible cake.
Trying not to be depressed about the unpaid overtime she'd just clocked to try and finish everything she was juggling, she hurried along towards the bus station, feeling that the jacket she'd picked this morning had let her down twice. Aside from the brownish spot on the lapel from spilling her coffee earlier, it was now proving to be nowhere near warm enough to keep her warm in the chilly autumn weather.
Linda stopped when she heard the phone ringing. The wind down the street was freezing cold and she ducked around the corner of building with a nearby alley to check it. Her dog had spent the last two days at the vet and the prognosis wasn't good, but the doc had promised he'd give her the test results before six.
She was desperately digging through her purse to get to her damn phone, hoping to find out if Thaddeus was going to be okay, but all she managed was to drop several items, and she still missed the call. Cursing under her breath, she grabbed the hairbrush and her grocery shopping list. She looked for her meds and noticed that the bottle had rolled a little further into the alley. She walked over, picked it up, and was just about to put it away when she heard the footsteps.
The first thing that struck her was how young they looked.
Linda was only thirty-four, but the five guys blocking her way out of the alley looked like they might be old enough to legally drink, with an emphasis on the might. They were dressed like your usual street toughs, wearing what were probably gang colors, but what did she know?
But there was something off about the way they looked at her.
Lately crime had been down in this part of the city. The talking heads on various local news channels were still debating whether it was the weather, or the moon, or the latest in scary urban legends, but they all agreed on the result so she hoped for just a second that her instincts were off.
She put on a polite smile and made as if to exit. The street was only twenty feet away.
One of the guys moved to block her.
She started backing off slowly as they stepped forward, trying not to stumble while keeping her eyes on them, for all the good it might do. Her fear started to overwhelm her. She felt that her heart was beating so fast, she might vomit or pass out.
One of them licked his lips in a very ugly way and, humiliatingly, she started crying.
She thought she might appeal to them but barely got out a “Please don't hu...” before one of them backhanded her right off her feet. She crumpled to the ground, her purse spilling its contents.
She grabbed her phone and started crawling backwards, trying to get some distance.
She wondered why they'd stopped walking, using their distraction to get behind the nearby dumpster, and then with shaky fingers she started dialing 911.
Her knees were scratched, her clothes ruined, and she was still terrified but after a few seconds, she realized that they should have followed.
She looked back and noticed that mist was swirling into the alley, covering the ground. Her attackers were looking at the entrance of the alley with something like dread.
The figure standing there was slender and wore a black trenchcoat and a hat, and might be a tall girl or a guy for all that she could see of it in the dim light. It was strangely non-descript, more like the idea of a person than an actual person. Its face was hidden in shadows cast by the black fedora it wore, and all she could vaguely make out was pale skin, the angle of a jaw, and a horrible open smile that showed no teeth, like a grinning comedy mask.
Two of the guys had pulled out guns, another a switchblade, but it was like they were too scared to move.
The one who'd leered at her took a step forward, raising his gun.
“Die, hijo de puta!”
He shot several times and the sound was horrible and deafening.
The figure stood there unfazed and said, The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.
Linda's brain registered the words, but she could swear she hadn't heard them.
She retreated behind her dumpster, and she could hear the increasingly agitated voice of the 911 operator, but she was too scared to speak. She didn't want to make a sound.
She heard another shot and a wet sound, and then a thump like something heavy falling down, then another shot, more muffled, and another thump of a body hitting the ground.
Two of the guys retreated far enough that she could see them again. One dropped his switchblade and walked dazedly over to a nearby wall, which he proceeded to hit repeatedly with his face, again and again and again, until he slid to the ground, twitching and leaving a dark smear on the wall.
Linda jumped as she heard a sharp high scream from further down the alley, and then horrible quiet.
The one guy she could still see was staring at the entrance of the alley with a frozen expression. He stood there, perfectly still, as if paralyzed, but with horrified shock, Linda watched his shadow on the wall as it started to move on its own.
She heard someone whisper "... that's not possible ..." and covered her mouth with her hands in fear when she realized she'd been the one to speak.
The man's shadow started wrapping its hands around its throat, and the guy wheezed, then abruptly stopped breathing, his face turning red, his eyes bulging and crying.
Then he fell to his knees, his hands suddenly moving again, clawing at his own throat as if desperate for air.
That's when the figure re-entered Linda's line of sight.
There was no motion involved: one moment it wasn't there, the next it was, looming over the dying man.
The last thug eventually stopped moving, and the figure turned slowly towards her.
She thought for an instant about how scared she should be, but at this point in time, it felt like she was floating in icy water, having reached a strange place somewhere even beyond terror.
She could still hear the tinny voice of the 911 operator trying to reassure her that help was on the way.
Linda could feel the darkness where a face should be staring at her.
She was startled by a horrible feeling, like her brain had just shivered, and suddenly she knew that she would not have been these men's first victim, that she wouldn't have lived to tell the tale.
With words that reached her while bypassing her ears completely, the figure spoke again.
It leaned slightly forward and said, Crime does not pay : the Shadow knows.
Then it was gone.
And Linda started screaming thinking she'd never be able to stop.
* * * * *
Finn was running late and it was totally not his fault.
He really thought he'd messed up his last chance to reconnect with Kurt that night in the bar. Kurt had barely exchanged three sentences with him before announcing that he had to go and leaving.
Tina and Rachel told him it was just the shock and that Kurt didn't do well with being surprised, and that Henry dude said that Kurt did it to the rest of them all the time, so he shouldn't take it personally. But the Kurt that Finn remembered didn't vanish like that, so it still felt weird. Then later that night he'd gotten a text from Kurt, who'd apparently gotten his new number from Rachel and wanted to have coffee with him, which was good.
So here he was, running late because he still hadn't quite figured out the subway yet, and praying that Kurt hadn't gone off somewhere out of reach for a few more years.
He entered the coffeehouse and looked around. Kurt was sitting in an armchair in the back, sipping his drink, and looking straight at Finn with that direct stare that always made Finn squirm a bit.
Finn gave him a little hello with his hand, went to get himself some coffee, then walked over to Kurt, who gestured at the seat across from him.
Finn nodded. "Yeah."
"It's been a while."
"Seven years and three months ..." said Finn, before shutting up. The last thing he wanted was Kurt on the defensive.
But Kurt didn't seem to react other than looking down at his mug.
"Sometimes, it almost feels longer."
Finn could believe that. Kurt looked older. Not in any kind of physical way, because physically, he was the same as ever, and Finn remembered enough about Kurt's skincare routine to know that wasn't likely to change. And the outfit was probably super-fashionable and stuff, but nothing like the stuff Kurt sometimes wore back in Lima. But there was something grim about him that hadn't been there before.
Oh, man. Before. Now there was a loaded word.
Kurt was looking at him like he was reading him like a book.
"So tell me, Finn. What brings you to New York City?"
Finn relaxed a bit. "Suzie got a job here."
Kurt gave him a friendly nod. "Did you meet her in college?"
"Actually, I knew her back in high school, she was a senior there when we were freshmen, but yeah, we only met properly in college. We knew some of the same people. We became friends, and then more than friends. You know how that goes."
"Not really," answered Kurt.
"Anyway, things kept getting more serious, and when she told me about being offered a dream job which she couldn't pass up, we decided to both come here. Me, I'm a teacher, so I can do that anywhere."
"What does Suzie do?"
"She's in medical research. She designs new drugs and stuff. She was recruited to study this rare Tibetan pepper or something that she wrote her thesis on, for like, medical puposes."
Kurt tilted his head a bit. "You must love her very much to follow her here."
Finn shrugged. "We work, you know? No drama, no angst. We've got a good life and she's a really nice person. You'll like her." Finn suddenly wondered if he'd overstepped. "I mean ... You'd like her if you're willing to meet her? I don't wanna push you to do it, but ..."
Kurt put a hand on his before he started babbling. "Finn, it's fine. I'm sure she's lovely and I'd be happy to meet her."
"It's just ... we're both new here. We're doing okay, but some pointers about life in New York would be nice. I mean, I'm sure your life is nothing like ours, what with you being a high roller, but you know what I mean."
"I do. I'll be happy to give you and Suzie some pointers."
"I missed you," said Finn, unable to hold it back. Kurt looked uncomfortable, but Finn knew that it was now or never. "I get that you were wrecked. I get that. God knows I was. Burt was as good as my dad, you know that. And I know that it was so much to face at one time. And I know that you've always felt like you've got no one to talk to about your problems, but even if I didn't get any of it, I would have listened. And I missed you."
Kurt looked even paler than usual. "Finn, after it happened ..."
"Is it about what Mom said? Because she told me and she totally didn't mean it like that. You know that, right? She's been worried about you ever since. When she found out you were in touch with Rachel, she cried for a solid hour, and then called her asking to know everything about how you were doing."
Kurt shook his head. "It wasn't just about what Carole said, Finn. I know exactly what she meant, now, but back when it all happened, I just ... I went to a very dark place. And I couldn't stay in Lima anymore. I would have dragged down with me anyone who tried to help. The things I went through after that ... I can't take any of it back and I'm glad that none of you were there for it. If Margo hadn't stepped in, I'm not sure who or where I'd be."
"Is Margo your boyfriend?"
Kurt laughed. It was a dry little sound, like he hadn't used it in quite a while. "Margo's my great-grandmother."
"Oh," said Finn. "Is she nice?"
Kurt looked wistful. "She could be, but she was always kind."
Finn wished that they weren't surrounded by all these ghosts. "So you're better now?"
"Then why didn't you call me? You know, once you were better." Finn still didn't get that. If Kurt had needed time, then fine, but why not call everyone once he sorted himself out? Finn was glad to know Kurt was okay, when he found out from Rachel, but he was still hurt that Kurt didn't get in touch with him.
Kurt's expression was a mix of awkward and bitter.
"When Margo passed away, she left me pretty much everything, and most of the family business is tied to New York. So I left France and came here to take things over, and I thought about getting in touch with people from back home. I decided I'd do a dry run by getting in touch with the one person who'd always had my back. I looked up Mercedes."
Finn nodded. "How is she? We're still friends on Facebook, but I kind of lost touch when she moved away to college."
"I wouldn't know. I went to Chicago to see her, but she told me that I was in her past. Despite the death threats, she was really upset about me going to Dalton, so when I left again, it was too much. She told me that all that turmoil had brought her closer to God and that she'd pray for me to have the strength to conquer my demons, but that she made a good life for herself in Chicago and that life had no room for me in it."
"Dude." Finn couldn't believe it.
Kurt shrugged. "After that I figured it was probably for the best if I didn't seek anyone out. I ran into Rachel socially and she wanted us to be friends again, and well, what Rachel wants ..." They grinned at each other. "She mentioned that others from Lima were now in New York and that's how our merry band reconnected."
Finn nodded. "Do you think there'd be room for me in the merry band?"
"Of course, Finn. If there wasn't, I'd make some for you."
* * * * *
Kurt hadn't felt this tired in a long time. He was glad to have Finn back in his life after so long, but dredging up all those memories, all the bottled-up feelings, it had been exhausting.
He got out of the cab and walked up the stairs to the mansion's entrance. A few seconds were spent checking his pockets for where he'd put his keys and then he let himself in.
The moment he shut the door, he realized something was off.
He rapidly shed his coat, grabbed the japanese short sword from its ornamental display and unsheated it in the same motion. The katana would have been too large to use in close-quarters. He moved soundlessly past the hall to the parlor where the sconce on the back wall had been turned a quarter of the way clock-wise, revealing the hidden passageway behind the eastern wall.
All his senses reaching out for any potential threat, he slowly made his way down the stairs to the hidden sanctum.
When he saw who was sitting in the armchair next to the fireplace, he lowered the weapon in his hand.
"You know, most people would just call instead of breaking into my secret lair."
Marion smiled, but kept his eyes on the snifter of brandy in his hand, watching the golden liquid swirl in the glass as he moved it this and that way.
"Well, I'm family after all. And who can you put up with if you can't put up with family ?"
Kurt resheathed the wakizashi. "Don't be ridiculous. You're always welcome here. You know that. I just didn't expect to see you here, especially around this time of the year. Didn't you plan on spending the colder months somewhere tropical with comely natives to help you enjoy your much-deserved retirement?"
Marion's smile widened slightly, showing a glimmer of sharp white teeth. "Other matters have caught my attention."
Kurt looked at him and he couldn't quite refrain from admiring him. Marion had the same Cranston physical traits as Kurt : pale skin, the hair, the strong features, the smile, but where they'd looked effete on Kurt for most of his life, they looked patrician on Marion. Of course, his self-confidence and smooth baritone voice probably helped. So did the dangerous-looking scar that ran from his right temple into his hair, which it should considering everything that it had cost him.
Marion finally turned his gaze away from the snifter towards Kurt. "Aren't you going to ask ?"
"Do you want to tell me?"
Marion laughed softly. "I must say, I had my reservations when Margo picked you as my replacement, but you've certainly come a long way."
Kurt couldn't deny that as his mind drifted back to the past.
* * * * *
A few years ago
Papillon came to slowly and took a few deep breaths, trying to ignore the headache that felt like boiling acid inside his skull.
Whoever had captured him, they were good. They’d extracted him from his house despite the guards and the state-of-the-art security system. It seemed they’d also done a thorough job of tying him up.
He opened his eyes and took a quick look around. He was in an airplane cabin and one of his kidnappers was sitting ten feet away, watching him. The man had an air about him that screamed ex-military. Papillon tried to ask a few questions, but got no answer.
They landed not too long afterwards.
He was carried to and thrown in the backseat of a black Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith which had been waiting on the tarmac. He smothered the irreverent thought that if you were going to be abducted, you might as well have it done internationally and in style.
Wherever he was, the sun was rising. He’d overheard nothing useful since being captured, but his captors were speaking French, and a quick check of the road signs on their way to wherever they were taking him confirmed that they were somewhere in the South of France.
After half-an-hour, they reached their destination, a mansion on top of a bluff, with what looked like a pretty spectacular view of the Mediterranean.
He was dragged inside and then out on the other side to a terrace where an elegant lady in her eighties was having breakfast. She put down “Les Echos” and looked at him with a harassed expression which managed to convey without words that he was a complication in her life she could have done without but would have to deal with all the same.
She gave her men a slight nod, and they immediately untied him and left. He got to his feet and rubbed his limbs to get his blood circulating. She took a slow sip from her tea, put down her cup and tapped her chin with her finger with a thoughtful expression.
Papillon gave her his best sneer. “Do you have any idea who I am?”
“Sadly, I know very well who you are. I wouldn’t have had to go to all this trouble otherwise.”
He flexed his muscles, looking at the elderly woman. “Then you should know exactly what I can do to you.”
She rolled her eyes. “You overestimate yourself, dear. Do have a seat. We need to talk.”
“Maybe I don’t want to talk.”
She pursed her lips. “Sulking doesn’t become anyone, Kurt. Least of all you.”
Kurt felt the blood drain from his face when he heard his real name.
“Who the hell are you ?!”
“I’m Margo Cranston, your great-grandmother. And it seems I’ll be the one to rehabilitate the thug you’ve become into a decent human being.”
Kurt felt the familiar icy rage rising. “Don’t you dare judge me. You don’t know me.”
He lunged at her and she waved negligently with her hand. He felt a wave of vertigo overwhelm him, and crumpled to the ground dry-heaving. After a short but agonizing moment, it passed, and he struggled to get back up and stared at her with a mix of dread and disbelief.
Margo seemed utterly unruffled as she stared back.
“Au contraire, Kurt. J’en sais plus que tu n’imagines. Mais ne t’inquiètes pas : tu est là pour apprendre.”
* * * * *
Kurt had come a long way. There was no denying that.
Marion gestured at the seat across from his.
"Come on. Tell uncle Marion everything that you've been up to."
"I had coffee with Finn today."
"You gave up on coffee years ago, Kurt. I doubt that's changed. Unless I'm wrong, you had chai latte with Finn today, which we'll definitely be talking about in a moment, but that's not what I was asking."
Kurt sat down. "Are we pretending that you don't already know?"
"I'm sure I know most of it, but you've been a busy boy. You've done really well for yourself. I know all too well how tough the family business is, and you've done an excellent job both of doing the work and of balancing it out with your legitimate activities, which I was never very good at. I came across as mysterious, which can make people suspicious, but no one would ever suspect what Kurt Hummel-Cranston does on his off-time."
Kurt laughed darkly. "I have previous experience in that area which you don't."
"Papillon was a long time ago, Kurt."
"Not long enough."
"Your past is part of what makes you you, Kurt. You can't ignore it, so instead you make the most of it. The shady skillset of Papillon is just as useful as the dramatic flair of Kurt Hummel, and you know that now, so both are put to good use."
"We've had this conversation many times. I know. I agree. But my feelings about all this will never be entirely rational." Then he added indignantly, "Also, did you just call me a drama queen?"
Marion rolled his eyes. "A rolling carpet of mist, Kurt? Really? What's next: a giant organ in the cellar?"
Kurt tried to come up with the cruel bon mot this clearly called for, and as he tried to focus his thoughts, he felt something brush ever so gently the edge of his mind.
He tensed instantly.
Marion stood up as Kurt jumped to his feet. "I was wondering when you'd notice, but you never pried. Too well-mannered to invade my privacy, which is sweet of you. And to think that in the end, I gave myself away. You've gotten better. Much better. Even Margo had a hard time sensing me when I used such a soft touch."
Kurt tried to process the new information, shielding his mind as thoroughly as he could.
"How is that even possible? Both Margo and you told me that the brain damage that took away your abilities was irreversible."
Marion shrugged. "We both thought so at the time."
"Is that why you're back, Marion? You want to be the Shadow again?"
"Oh, no. That's you now, Kurt. I just wanted to check up on you. I have plans, Kurt. Big plans. And it's time I stopped letting me hold myself back. And I thought you might be helpful, but you're exactly where you should be."
"I won't let you leave without telling me what's going on."
Marion gave him a mischevious grin. "My dear Kurt, whatever made you think you can do anything about it?"
And then Marion faded away in an instant. Like the Cheshire Cat, his grin faded last.
Kurt focused entirely on his abilities, casting out his mind to sense Marion's presence and felt it fading as the front door opened and shut. He sat down, shaken, trying to figure out what it all meant.
Finn stopped to look at the building before walking into it.
On TV, big international companies always had these gleaming classy buildings full of light and designer everything. It seemed that Athanor Labs just couldn't be bothered to make the effort. The building was squat, grey and ugly, and Finn knew from previous visits that the inside wasn't any prettier. Plus, it smelled like science in there, like a hospital smell, only more disquieting. Finn couldn't think of a more unpleasant place, even if he knew that Suzie loved it.
With a sigh, he started walking again, making his way inside, going through the usual visitor routine of announcing himself at the desk and getting his visitor's badge.
He'd just come out of the elevator on the fourth floor when he noticed Simon Hoskins coming towards him. For a split second, he looked around to see if there was any open door that he might duck into, but by then it was too late. Simon had seen him.
Finn felt kind of guilty about how off-putting he found Simon. Simon might be a perfectly nice guy once you got to know him better, but Finn really didn't want to. Simon kind of tended to remind him of a British Jacob Ben Israel. Not so much in looks, as in general creepiness, like those slightly too large business suits that made him look like a teenager attending a relative's funeral. There was just something about the overall blank facial expressions, the pallid skin, the weird slicked hair, the soft-spoken voice with the English accent, and those pale eyes that stared at you like you'd make so much more sense once he'd dissected you ... Finn just found him creepy.
Simon gave him a polite nod. "Good afternoon, Mr. Hudson."
Finn forced a smile on his face. "Hi. How are you?"
Simon gave him the exact same nod. "I'm doing well, and yourself?"
And then Simon didn't add anything else, or leave. Finn didn't know what to do as the silence stretched rapidly into horrible awkwardness, and he felt his eyes start to water as he tried to hold Simon's unblinking gaze.
Finn eventually decided to fake cough. "Well, I should get going."
"Of course," said Simon. "You shouldn't keep Dr. Pepper waiting."
If anyone else had said it, he'd probably have laughed. Instead Finn nodded and headed straight for Suzie's office, feeling stared at the rest of the way.
The second he got there he walked in and slammed the door shut behind him in relief. Suzie was at her desk, typing something on her computer and jumped in place at the sound.
Finn went around the desk to give her a peck on the lips, and then got himself a seat across from hers. "Hey, beautiful."
Suzie took off her glasses and gave him a dazzling smile. "Hello to you too, good-looking. Why the dramatic entrance?"
Finn felt the heat on his face as he started blushing. "I ran into Simon?"
Suzie started to giggle. "Finn, he's not some evil leprechaun lurking around." Then she added more seriously, "I know that he's not what you'd call 'social', but as his coworker, I can tell you he's very easy to work with and really dedicated to his job."
Finn tried to look as sheepish as he felt. "I know."
"Anyway, he was just by my office because our tests are looking more and more promising. We might start the animal testing earlier than anticipated."
"That's good, right?"
"Yes, it is. It's also going to be a lot of work."
"Oh." Not that Finn wasn't happy that Suzie loved her job, and the drugs and stuff that she'd help invent would save a lot of people. He just thought that she already worked a lot and he didn't get to see her much.
She tilted her head, looking curious. "So what brings you here today?"
Finn blinked. "Our lunch date?"
A horrified expression appeared on her face. "Oh, God. Finn, I'm so sorry. I totally forgot."
Finn shrugged. It wasn't the first time. "It's no big deal. Are you ready to go to lunch?"
She winced. "I'm sorry. Finn, I can't. I have too many reports to finish. I might already be home late as it is."
Finn's previous experience with relationships usually had him as the one forgetting stuff, and while he could sympathize with Suzie, he was starting to get where his girlfriends had been coming from, because this was the second time that Suzie had blown him off this week and it was only Thursday.
He tried not to sound whiny. "We haven't seen each other much lately."
"I know, Finn. I'm so sorry. It's just ... I'm the new girl around here. I have to show them that I'm taking this seriously and that I'm committed to the project."
There was lull and then Suzie forced herself to smile. "So, all the text said was that the meeting went well. When do I get to meet Kurt ?"
Finn shrugged. "I don't know. He's still kind of ... guarded I guess? He seems okay with me being in touch and said he'd like to meet you. I gave him your e-mail. I figured it'd be easier for you guys to meet if you picked a time that's good for the two of you."
There was worry appearing in Suzie's eyes. "But you're happy about how things are going?"
Finn nodded. "Yeah. I just ... he's Kurt. I never quite know if I'm not making an ass of myself, and most of the time, I am, but he's still ... I need him in my life. Some people who aren't in your life anymore, you get over, some you can replace, because you meet someone else, and maybe they don't fit the hole left in your life perfectly, but they fill most of it. But the Kurt-sized hole in my life has been right there ever since he left and I just ... I just want him back."
Suzie smiled as she patted his hand. "I'm sure he feels the same way."
* * * * *
Kurt tried not to let the aggravation about Finn being back get to him as he swallowed the aspirin and drank some water.
Finn had a way of bringing out the most spectacularly stupid behavior in him, and if something was indeed up with Marion, it would take everything he had to deal with it. Finn popping out of nowhere was a distraction he could have done without.
It was especially uncomfortable because aside from Kurt's martial arts expertise, Marion had taught him almost everything he knew. To get an extra edge, he was going to have to dig in the one part of his life he'd hoped that he'd left behind for good.
Kurt settled as comfortably as he could in one of the sitting room's armchairs, reached for the disposable cell phone he'd paid for with cash earlier today, and dialed the number.
Someone picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
Kurt waited a beat, then spoke. "Bonjour, Alec."
The person at the other end stayed silent for a long moment, but Kurt knew he wouldn't dare hang up.
"Papillon." A moment of silence. "They told me you was dead."
"And I'm sure I can count on you not to correct that mistaken assumption." Kurt gave his voice just enough edge to convey just how much of a bad idea that would be.
The voice sounded cautious. "What do you want from me?"
"You still owe me a favor. I'm calling it in."
"I'm not that person anymore, the kind that looks the other way when people are getting hurt. I'm out of the game."
Kurt tried to keep the irritation out of his voice. "We both know that you're not stupid, so you have to know that I wouldn't call you without knowing what you're up to these days. And we both know that you're still in the game, even if you're playing for a different team. I don't need anything that would compromise your shiny new morals, Alec. I just need a background check run on someone."
"That someone is so discreet that no one but you would have any chance of finding out anything."
"And what will you do to that someone with what I find out for you?"
That's a question Kurt really didn't want to think about too deeply. If Marion had gone off the rails, he was entirely too big a threat to be dealt with with half-measures.
"You should know better than to ask, Alec. For the record, I don't want to harm him. I'll just hopefully stop him before he does something stupid."
"Do you actually expect me to believe that?"
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. This isn't up for discussion."
"I think I'll pass."
Kurt was trying to keep this friendly, but now was not the time to fuck with him.
"Then I might feel compelled to come to Boston to make my case in person."
Alec's voice went a little higher in pitch. "I'm not afraid of you anymore."
"You should be. The only reason Spencer didn't lose both his kidneys the last time we ran into each other is because my target was getting away. Ask him about La Paz."
There was a long stretch of silence. "If I do this, I want to never hear from you again."
Kurt snorted. "As long as you don't share anything of what you find with anyone but me -- and that includes Ford and his little helpers -- you never will. I wouldn't even be calling now if I had any other options."
"The real name of your target is Marion Cranston, but he has aliases. Lots of them. I want everything, with a specific focus on the last five years."
* * * * *
Suzie wasn't quite sure what to make of the invitation she'd received. On the one hand, she had a certain knowledge of what she was stepping into. Finn had a Kurt anecdote for every occasion, even if he could be a pretty unreliable narrator, and fortunately for her, she'd stayed on pretty good terms with Rachel since high school. Rachel had been kind enough to paint her a clearer portrait, though even that still left a lot up to interpretation. So she thought she had a reasonable idea of what to expect.
But on the other hand, she had been invited out for tea by one of the city's leading socialites, who also happened to be her boyfriend's sort-of-brother, so no pressure.
The restaurant he'd picked was a lot nicer than any place she'd usually go to. She felt a little bit awkward, at once glad not to be footing the bill and annoyed that it gave him the home-field advantage.
He rose as she approached the table and she got her first clear look at him. He looked older that the pictures she'd seen of him, but not in the way she'd expected. He could easily have passed for a teenager still, if not for the way he dressed and a somewhat severe expression that betrayed his years.
Like a gentleman, he waited for her to take her seat, before sitting down again.
"Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Hummel-Cranston."
"Then please call me Suzie."
The waiter came over and handed them their menus. Kurt gave his a rapid glance, then put it down. Suzie picked something out as quickly as she could and put hers down as well.
They looked at each other for a moment, and then he finally asked. "Does this feel as awkward for you as it does for me?"
"More," she admitted.
"I'm not entirely sure what Finn was hoping for. I remember that freshman year you were in my Home Ec class, but I don't remember much about you, aside from the obvious, of course."
Suzie tried not to grind her teeth. All the therapy in the world and an esophagus transplant couldn't buy you a clean slate, no matter how far you moved.
Kurt tilted his head slightly. "I'm just saying that you shouldn't worry about me finding out. I already know and I don't care. Especially since I'm also told that you were the one who talked Rachel off the same ledge when she decided to follow your footsteps."
Suzie nodded, not sure of what to say.
Fortunately for her, that's when the waiter returned to take their order. By the time he left, she decided that if he was going to be blunt, so was she.
"Why did you decide that you wanted to meet me? Did you want to size up the competition?"
He let out a little bark of laughter, rough and low, as if from disuse.
"Not hardly. I have no claim to Finn. You're not my competition, because that's a race that I dropped out of a very long time ago." He paused, as if to consider his answer. "Finn hates leaving his comfort zone. He hates it. There's nothing he hates more than rocking the boat, yet somehow, he still was willing to uproot himself and follow you all the way here, so you clearly mean a great deal to him. And aside from what Finn told me, all I know about you is that you attempted to commit suicide over a crush on Will Schuester. I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt and get to know you before forming an opinion on you."
Suzie took a deep breath and set her jaw. "What happened when I was a teenager was very unfortunate decision-making, but I'm not a teenager anymore. If my mistakes have taught me anything, it's that everyone else's opinions don't matter. I'm a grown woman with a PhD, a good job, and a great boyfriend. I don't need your validation."
Kurt gave her a measuring glance, and then nodded. "Fair enough. And so you're both here now because you got a job offer?"
Suzie nodded. "It was more than a job offer, it's a dream come true. Athanor Labs does cutting edge pharmaceutical research. They usually get their pick from the best universities in the world. I lucked out because my thesis happened to be about a plant that they've been studying for a while, and when they read it, they felt I'd be a welcome addition to their project. I couldn't pass this chance, and Finn understood that."
Kurt leaned back in his seat. "I see. Well, you've been kind enough to answer some of my questions. I suppose you have some yourself. What brought you here today?"
Suzie hadn't expected that reaction and narrowed her eyes briefly, before forcing a smile on her face. The man sure had a knack for pulling the conversational rug from under you. Yet she did have questions.
"You mean a lot to Finn." That got him to look away. "And he means a lot to me. We've only been together a year, but we fit. And I could make him happy, if he'd let me, but he's just so private about everything in his life. It's not that I don't understand, since every time I get him talking about personal stuff, I end up poking old scars." She sighed. "I guess I was hoping you'd give me some insight."
He was looking at her again, and for the first time it felt like he saw her.
"You really do mean that, about making him happy."
She blushed when she realized how rude she'd just been, and in what setting, but for the first time, there was the hint of a smile on Kurt's face.
"All right. Keep in mind that I've been out of the loop for years, so I can't help you with anything too recent. But ask, and I'll answer as well as I can."
* * * * *
Simon felt so tired. He checked himself in the mirror as he washed his hands. In his own opinion, he looked like a day-old corpse, but that was nothing new. The circles under bloodshot eyes, that certainly was. Other than that, he was the same old Simon, everything about him neatly groomed and in place, and he felt a little bit pathetic that he took comfort in that.
There was just so little that brought him comfort these days. He'd rather die than go back to that awful hospital where Marion had found him, lost in a haze of antipsychotics, trying to hold the voices at bay, but he couldn't deny that his life had certainly been simpler.
He tried to make himself smile, but one look at his reflection and he decided not to bother. It just made him look like more of a panty-sniffer.
He shouldn't have been entertaining such thoughts anyway. He owed everything to Marion, who was at this very instant waiting for him to come and deliver his report about Prometheus.
Simon took a deep breath to get a hold of himself, then walked out to do just that.
When he walked into Marion's office, Marion looked up at him and smiled. "What good news do you have for me today?"
Simon felt slightly self-conscious about smiling back.
"Dr. Pepper has perfected the extraction process after her tests revealed the plant's active ingredient was not relying on the plant's other chemicals to catalyze its action. The new nootropic compound is 230% more effective than the last batch."
"That sounds promising."
"It is," said Simon. "She's made some progress trying to figure out a way around the neuro-transmitter buildup. If she does --"
Marion rose from his seat to take a look outside the window. "How long before she succeeds?"
"I honestly couldn't say."
"The new more effective compound might be all we need."
Simon felt a chill run down his spine. "Might. Besides, Dr. Pepper's expertise is not something we should waste."
"I won't pretend I'm not occasionally ruthless, Simon. On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des oeufs. But I'm not a complete idiot or a raving sociopath, so please stop acting like I'm seconds away from taking a meat cleaver to her head."
Simon winced, acknowledging that he might be overreacting, but the mere memory of Istanbul and the scene he'd walked in on after Marion had expressed his displeasure with those Armenian smugglers was still enough to make him nauseous. He didn't know what you had to do to their minds to get two men to kill each other by mutual cannibalism, and he never wanted to know either.
He decided to voice his concerns cautiously. "She knows a lot about some rather significant elements of your plans."
"Yes, which is why she's an asset. There is also the fact that you're very fond of her and not very subtle about it."
Simon felt his cheeks burning. He was.
Suzie didn't think of him that way, no girl ever did - she had that brainless lump to go home to - but she didn't treat him like he was a creep either. She was a good person who cared about helping others, she liked him, she genuinely listened whenever Simon talked, and she even smiled at him when he walked into the room. Simon had never gotten that much before, not even from his own mother.
"She's ... nice."
He was mortified to say something so stupid to Marion, but Marion merely gave him an encouraging nod.
"Don't worry. I have kept a close eye on her, and with Kurt sniffing around, I plan on that eye getting closer still."
Simon cleared his throat. "Shouldn't we deal with him?"
Marion smiled. "We will. In good time."
* * * * *
Suzie was surprised to get home and find the place empty. She was never the first one home, so Finn must have gone shopping.
She dropped her purse and keys on the table by the door, quickly checked the mail for anything that couldn’t wait, and then went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine.
She walked over to the couch, took off her shoes, and then put her feet up on the coffee table and sighed in a mix of relief and pleasure.
Suzie’s lunch had run longer than she’d expected. Much to her surprise, at some point she’d just pulled out her pen and notebook and started taking notes, which Kurt had found hilarious. It didn’t matter; Suzie was a scientist and she owned it. The data she was getting was entirely too useful to waste and Kurt seemed to have a never-ending wealth of Finn facts, a mix of trivia and shocking insights, that enabled Suzie to understand so many things about her boyfriend that had been an absolute mystery up until that point.
The litany was still vivid in her mind: “…Unless you're lying to him and want to make sure he won't question what you said, use small words. He doesn't always understand the long ones, but won't ask what they mean either. / He hates being asked to sing girl songs. / If you can, use household cleaning products that are pine-scented since that's one of his favorite smells ..."”
She turned her head towards the door when she heard the lock and Finn walked in wearing the world’s most hideous shirt, striped lime-green and orange, the one that she kept ‘forgetting’ to wash. She quietly prayed he’d decided to wash it himself, but knew in her heart that he’d dug it out of the dirty laundry, and that was just depressing.
Time to turn Theoretical Finn-ics into Applied Finn-ics.
Kurt had explained that a) Finn was extremely vulnerable to flattery and b) Finn liked plaid and stripes. She was to include some in whatever he wore or he'd pick out his own outfits and that way lay disaster.
Suzie smiled as gently as she could. “Hey, good-looking.”
Finn smiled back at her. “Hey, beautiful. How was your day?”
Suzie got up and walked over to help him put away the groceries he’d brought in.
“My day was great. Honey, I think it’s time to say goodbye to that shirt. I think you put on some muscle carrying all that stuff when we moved and now it’s not the right size anymore.”
“Really?” said Finn, looking put out, but kind of flexing his muscles at the same time.
“Yes. I like the colors though. Maybe we can get a plaid cover like that for the couch if we find one.”
“Yeah,” said Finn. “We should totally get a cover like that. Those colors are awesome.”
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you give me that shirt when you go shower? That way I can look to see if I find something like it online before I throw it out.”
Finn smiled at her. “Okay.”
Suzie had wanted that shirt gone for so long that she fought down the urge to do a touchdown dance. God bless Kurt Hummel, her angel of fashion mercy.
Finn went to shower as she cooked them dinner. She wasn’t a very creative cook, but years of studying chemistry at a college level had left her capable of following any written recipe with flawless efficiency. Tonight, she hadn’t planned on doing anything complicated, just tomato and mozzarella salad with some ham, but if she was going to continue with her winning streak, she was going to have to keep following Kurt’s advice. She looked through her list of recipes for Carol Hummel’s mashed potatoes.
Dinner was almost ready when Finn walked back out of their bedroom, freshly showered, and started setting the table. She brought the dishes over and they sat down to eat.
Finn reached for the potatoes with a smile on his face. “Man, that’s great. I thought we were eating healthy at home and the fun stuff was only when eating out ?”
Suzie laughed. “Well, today’s the fifth. We’ll say we made an exception for your lucky number.”
Now Finn looked confused. “My lucky number?”
Suzie wondered if she’d misremembered that piece of information. Kurt had said a lot of stuff.
“Wasn’t 5 your jersey number in high school for all the team sports you played?”
Finn looked blank for a second, and then got kind of dewy-eyed.
Oh, yeah. Suzie was so getting laid tonight. And he’d be doing all the work too.
Feeling on top of the world, she helped herself to some ham. “Are you looking forward to karaoke night with your old friends next week? I know you loved it back home.”
Finn grinned. “Yeah! I’m totally gonna remind them why Finny D got all the solos.”
Kurt had many catty things to say on the topic of solos and Mr. Schuester’s unseemly mancrush on Finn, but then again, charming and sexy was something to look for in a male lead, and Finn could certainly carry a tune. Suzie was by no means impervious to a singing Finn.
“Do you want to do a duet?”
Finn got twitchy-eyed. “I guess.”
In retrospect, it had been a bad move to suggest that he sing Dolly Parton's ‘Jolene’ the last time she and her friends had gone out in Lima. She’d thought it was charming, Finn really had a lovely voice, but their friends had been doubled over laughing from his red face and hunted expression.
Of course, now that she knew more about Finn growing up without a male adult to look up to in his life, and the huge issues he had because of that about his own manliness, she wouldn’t make that mistake again. The fact that Finn wasn’t a macho moron was one of the things she loved most about him, but she’d never realized how badly it embarrassed him.
Time to fix that too.
“I kind of wanted to sing ‘A Whole New World’.” She reached across the table for his hand. “You do make me feel like a princess every day.”
Finn blushed crimson and looked really pleased. The smile he gave her was softer and sweeter than any she’d ever gotten before, and she felt a little flushed.
He cleared his throat. “I’d like that.”
Suzie felt elated. Kurt’s roadmap to Finn seemed to be everything that had been missing from their relationship.
“Finn, I just want you to know that I love you. I know it hasn’t been easy for you. No one should ever have to lose a dad, let alone two. And I see that sometimes, you may feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing fine. You’re a man, and better yet, you’re my man, and you’re a good man. I haven’t always made the right choices in life, but I’m thankful every day that I finally picked the right guy.”
Finn looked more vulnerable than she’d ever seen him, but there was a conviction shining in his eyes that hadn’t been there before.
“Sometimes,” Finn mused, ”when I think about what our children will be like, or try to pick out names for them …” Suzie’s eyes widened, because that was not something they’d ever discussed. “… I wonder about our future, and I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t just me wanting things instead of us. But the things you said tonight … now I know more than ever that moving here with you so we could stay together, that was the right decision, because one day, maybe soon, you’ll be my wife …” Suzie tried to look blank, but her eyes drifted down and as she looked at Finn’s hand holding hers, it started to look more and more like a bear trap. They’d been together only a year and had been living together only for a month. “.. and you get me. Everything tonight shows that. We’re on the same page. I don’t have to explain about Drizzle or about the Gaga apology or stuff …” Suzie had no idea what he was talking about, but she sure hoped it was in Kurt’s notes or she’d have to call him again and arrange a new lunch ASAP.
“My point,” said Finn, “is that I know now that you’re it for me. We can spend the rest of our lives together, and I know that we’ll be happy, from now until we’re old and grey sharing jello in our retirement home. I love you, Suzie Pepper.”
Suzie stared at him, stunned, and thankfully, Finn must have been misreading why she looked like this because he looked very pleased with himself.
* * * * *
Marion tried to will the stress into seeping out of him into the bathwater. There was just too much at stake to let emotion cloud his sight or judgment.
Kurt had been very upfront about wanting answers, and Marion should have known better than to underestimate him.
He'd been dreaming about Kurt a great deal lately, which given Marion's ability was a cause for concern.
Then someone that his internet security specialists hadn't been able to identify or trace had successfully hacked into the Athanor mainframe and had run Marion's name and all but two of his aliases as research parameters. This meant that someone had been doing a very discreet and thorough job of looking into what Marion had been up to of late. Without his notice, no less.
Now Kurt was taking Suzie Pepper out to lunch.
Marion knew better than to assume anything, but Ian Fleming's rule had a tendency to prove itself true over and over again. Once was an accident. Twice was a coincidence. Three times was an enemy action.
If you somehow dismissed the fact that Marion loved Kurt, and that he didn't look forward to their taking each other on anymore than Kurt did, fighting the Shadow was still not something one should consider doing without a rock-solid plan. However, while Marion wasn't ready yet to take him on directly, whatever Kurt had found out while snooping, it was more than he was comfortable with Kurt knowing at such a crucial stage.
Marion rose from the bath and grabbed a towel to dry himself. The water had gone cold, but it had done the trick. He was relaxed enough for what he was about to try next.
He didn't bother with clothes, just walked into his bedroom and sat down in the lotus position, letting his mind slide with the ease of long habit into a light meditative state.
Ever since the days of Lamont Cranston, each Shadow had added to the family's stockpile of unusual artifacts, and as he looked at the vast mandala painted on the ancient Tibetan tapestry hanging on the wall, he thought it would have been a shame not to put them to good use.
As he focused on it, he could feel its many layers float away as his mind and senses traveled far away, looking for the thoughts of Suzie Pepper.
Kurt tried not to let the stress get to him, but given what Hardison had forwarded him, he had every reason to be worried. None of this looked good and he hoped Tina might help him make sense of some of it.
Except Tina was late.
Kurt checked his watch yet again in annoyance. He knew that it was hypocritical to get annoyed about other people being late when his alter ego made his own schedule so unpredictable, but he was hungry and Tina should have been out by now.
It didn't take any effort to get the security to ignore him as he made his way down to the room where Tina was wrapping up her autopsy.
She wasn't alone when he found her. Gerald Van Oest, one of the senior M.E.s was also there, along with a handsome and grim-faced African-American male in his forties and a younger Caucasian male who looked like he'd much rather be somewhere else.
Everybody turned to look at him when he walked into the room, then promptly turned back to look at Tina when she burst into giggles.
"Someone's blood sugar must be too low, because you came all the way down here and you have grumpy face. How late am I?"
Kurt frowned for a moment and then reminded himself forcefully that frowning caused wrinkles. "Twenty-five minutes."
A stray strand of hair had escaped her cap and she blew it out of her face. "Sorry. We ran a little long, but I'm almost done. I swear! Unless you want me to save us some time and cut us out something for lunch. I make a mean carpaccio," she added pointing at the wide open chest of the man on her table.
The younger cop turned gray and ran out of the room, while the older one seemed amused and trying not show it.
The cop's voice was a deep bass rumble. "You're a sick, sick woman, Cohen-Chang."
Tina grinned wickedly. "Now, now, Jacob. No fair flirting with me when I can't make you deliver on it! You have our preliminary findings and Kurt is expecting me for lunch, but I'll make sure to deliver the full autopsy report myself later today." Her voice turned into a sex kitten purr. "We can talk more then."
The bright smile changed the man's face completely and for a moment, he looked breath-takingly handsome. "I'll keep that under advisement." He turned to the others in the room. "Gentlemen."
Tina stared shamelessly at his ass as he walked out of the room, and then she sighed wistfully. "I hate to see him go, but I do love to watch him leave."
Gerald rolled his eyes. "Stop sexually harassing the law enforcement personnel, and go have lunch. I'll close this one up."
Tina squealed happily. "Thanks, Gerald. You're a star!"
She pecked him on the cheek and ran off to change.
Kurt, left alone in the room with Gerald, looked briefly at the corpse and mused, "I do like carpaccio ..."
Gerald chuckled and pointed at the door. "Out!"
Kurt grinned at him and walked back up to the reception area, waiting for Tina to join him. She didn’t take long, showing up mere minutes later changed from her scrubs into a pair of jeans and a form-fitting sweater.
Kurt offered her his arm and just as they were about to walk out, Finn walked into the building, looking frantic.
He saw them and ran straight at them. “You’re both here. Thank God.”
Kurt tried to get a read as to what was going on, but Finn seemed all over the place. “Finn, what’s wrong?”
“Something is really, really wrong with Suzie.”
Tina frowned. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. Two nights ago, she was waiting for me at home and we had this amazing evening and we were talking about our future and having kids and the next morning she left for her office and I haven’t seen her since.”
“Do you have any idea where she could be?” asked Kurt.
Finn rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands in frustration. “I know where she is. She’s at work. I called there and they told me she was in but wouldn’t take any visitors, and they asked that I leave her a message! She didn’t come home last night. I called again and this time I spoke to her but she was super-weird. She seemed completely out of it, distant, muttering in French half the time. She took Spanish. She doesn’t even speak French!”
Kurt had a bad feeling about this. “It’s a new job. She’s under a lot of pressure. Maybe she’s just stuck on a project and it will be better once crunch-time is over.”
“The brain-enhancing pepper thing she’s working on is not a big deal, and the project just started a few months ago! It doesn’t make any sense! I called the police, but they said there’s nothing they can do. I figured Tina has cop friends so maybe ...”
Tina looked sympathetic as she shook her head. “Finn, the police could only help you if she’s actually missing, and for more than 48 hours. Do you think she’s being held against her will?”
Finn looked ready to scream in frustration. “I don’t know!”
Tina gave him a helpless shrug. “I’m sorry, Finn, but I don’t think that the fact that your girlfriend is acting weird is something that the police can help you with.”
Kurt knew deep in his bones that something strange was going on, but just as he turned to make a quick exit, Finn grabbed his arm.
“Kurt, come on, man. You’ve got to know what to do.”
Kurt sighed. Time was of the essence and Finn in a panic wasn’t helping anyone. Kurt stepped back, looked deep into Finn’s eyes, and let his voice drop to a low drone.
“I have to go.”
Finn looked dazed for a moment, and then pressed his hand to his temple. “Papillon! Wait, who’s Papillon?”
Kurt felt like his blood had just turned to icy water. He made his tone sharper. “Listen to me. You will go home, and stop worrying about this.”
Finn looked affronted. “Dude! Have you listened to anything I said?”
Kurt focused even harder. “You will give this no further thought.”
“Are you drunk? I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I don’t like it that …”
Kurt didn’t have time for this. He rushed out the door.
“Hey!” yelled Finn, somewhere behind him. “Come back here!”
Kurt saw an empty cab in front of him and jumped in, barking the address for Athanor Labs.
* * * * *
Kurt didn’t have the time or the patience for subtle. He used a red scarf to hide his face, knowing there would be security cameras that his abilities couldn’t fool, and put on the black fedora. He used a suggestion to get the taxi driver to keep this ride off the books, and another one to make sure the driver would remember him as an obese asian woman.
As soon as he got out, he walked straight through the main doors to the security desk, ready to pluck out all the information he might need out of the guards’ heads.
Unfortunately for him, the guards were already unconscious.
Kurt picked up the key card from one of the unconscious guards, and then moved swiftly further into the building, seeking out conscious minds. He sensed Suzie’s presence a few floors up. By the time he reached that floor and what must have been her office, he could see that the computer’s drive had been removed. Open file drawers with gaps in them made it clear that whoever was behind this had decided it was time to grab whatever was valuable and run.
He tracked Suzie down a floor below, to a place which must have been her lab. Her face was slack, her eyes vacant, and she was putting away vials in a containment case with the strange purposefulness of a sleepwalker.
This close, her mind reeked of Marion, and he might have tried doing something about it if it hadn’t been for the men with her. There were seven of them, all rough-looking, with short haircuts and bulges under their jackets that made it obvious that they were packing. They were just the sort of ex-military types that Marion liked to keep around to run shady errands. Clearly, the fact that Kurt might interfere had been anticipated. There was no other reason for this many of them to be here.
Kurt knew he needed to hit them hard and fast. He pulled out two throwing knives, took aim, and threw.
The second that two of the men collapsed, clutching at the knives sticking out of their throats, the rest of them pulled out P-90s and sprayed gunfire in his direction. Two down, five to go.
Kurt cursed under his breath as he took cover. He couldn’t throw off their aim because they weren’t aiming, and the many flammable substances in the lab were making this more dangerous by the second.
Wreathing himself in illusion, he let out a maniacal laugh, amplifying it with his gifts to send his foes’ lizard brains into a frenzy, and following a wall on the side of the room, he closed in on them.
The next goon never even got the chance to realize what happened before Kurt’s knuckle-punch crushed his throat. Kurt kicked another one in the jaw, sending him flying backwards, and his head made a loud crunching sound when it hit one of the lab tables behind him.
Four down. Three to go.
By now, Suzie and one of the goons had gone. Kurt would catch up as soon as he was done here, but the two fighters left in the room definitely knew what they were doing. At such close range, illusion was almost useless, so they would have to be dealt with the hard way. Kurt smiled viciously as he traded blows with them. The hard way was Kurt’s way.
Jumping over a leg sweep, ducking under a roundhouse punch, Kurt punched one of them in the solar plexus, ducked under the other one’s left hook, grabbing his arm, using the grip for leverage as he jumped, wrapped his legs around the goon’s neck, twisted in mid-air and flipped him, smashing him brutally on the debris-covered floor. Kurt heel-kicked him in the temple for good measure and then bounced back to his feet.
Five down. Two to go.
The last guy was barely getting his breath back, and looked ready to run for it.
Kurt didn’t even give him the chance, moving with soundless grace until he was behind the man and kneed him violently in the kidney. The man collapsed in agony, and Kurt jumped on him, making direct eye contact and invading his mind.
“Tell me everything.”
Kurt saw a lightning-quick series of images as the man’s life seemed to flash before his eyes. He saw Marion briefly, and places abroad, and then New York, and a garden.
The moment the man remembered the garden, something seemed to go horribly wrong. His eyes rolled up and he started to convulse as his mind was overwhelmed with absolute terror. Kurt broke off contact and stepped away as the man thrashed on the floor, foaming at the mouth, having what looked like a grand mal seizure. It lasted a few more seconds, and then it stopped, and the man lay very still.
Kurt knelt by him and checked for a pulse, but he couldn’t find any.
Rising to his feet, Kurt looked at the wrecked lab, the small fires, the bodies everywhere and hissed under his breath. There might be some piece of evidence here that police scientists might use to identify him and he couldn’t risk it. He walked to the exit, tossed a grenade into the room and ran.
Hearing the explosion behind him, he didn’t slow down until he was out of the building. Once outside, he tried to sense Suzie’s presence, but she was gone, along with whatever they had taken from Athanor Labs.
Kurt bit back a foul curse and walked away, praying that a taxi would show up soon.
* * * * *
As Tina finished applying the butterfly bandages to Kurt’s back, she idly wondered if you could consider it a blessing when someone scarred well. Looking at the thin lines criss-crossing Kurt’s skin, she wished somehow that Kurt had not been hurt so often that they could both state it for a fact.
Then again, that ship had probably sailed way back in high school.
And the world needed him badly. Tina had walked into her dorm room back when she was an undergrad with no major to find her roommate dead on the bed, a suicide note in one hand and an empty pill bottle in the other. The guy who’d raped her roommate at a party earlier that semester had gotten away with it on a fucking technicality.
There were way too many monsters out there, and one Kurt isn’t much, but it’s a start.
She checked to see if she’d missed anything, but couldn’t spot any untreated injury. She slapped Kurt’s shoulder gently. “Unless you’re hurting somewhere else, I think I’m all done.”
Kurt walked over to the closet to get himself a clean shirt. “Thanks, Tina.”
She sat on his bed. “I’m happy to help. I just wish that I didn’t have to do this for you so often. What happened?”
Kurt walked back towards her, buttoning up the shirt. “You first. What happened with Finn after I ran off?”
“You mean after your epic psychic fail?” Kurt winced. “I lied and told him that I’d talk to my cop friends just in case. He bitched about you running off, so I made excuses. I’m not sure it worked. He told me he was going home and left.”
Kurt nodded. “Thanks.”
“By the way, what happened back there? I’ve seen you push people’s minds around more times than I can count, and it’s the first time I’ve seen someone resist you.”
“Finn has psychic potential. He’s untrained, so it doesn’t do much for him, but it makes him resistant to suggestions. So short of going all out and bludgeoning his brain with mine, my powers barely work on him.”
Tina thought about it for a second. “I kind of always thought Finn’s brain was on underdrive, what with cheating off Becky and stuff, but I suppose this goes a long way towards explaining how he could always read everyone so well.”
Kurt frowned. “Finn isn’t stupid.”
Tina smiled. “Sorry, I know. He’s your brother and you love him the way he is.”
Kurt sighed. “Well, yes. But, no. I literally meant: Finn isn’t stupid. I used to think that he was dumb too, but if you help him study, he actually does okay. Not great, but okay. He has Asperger’s. He’s at the very high-functioning end of the spectrum so most people never notice, but that’s why he gets easily distracted, has trouble with social cues, and is so clumsy.”
Tina raised an eyebrow. “Well, it seems Finn Hudson is full of surprises. Who knew?”
Kurt shrugged and sat next to her on the bed. “Is he really mad at me?”
“I think that he’s mostly freaked out about his girlfriend. What is going on with her anyway?”
“I’m not entirely sure. She seemed sweet and harmless and really into Finn when I met her, but I do know that Marion has taken an interest in her. She wrote her thesis on a Tibetan pepper that is used by monks over there to stimulate psychic abilities, and he recruited her to have her study it more in depth. According to my hacker, Marion owns Athanor Labs, but he hides behind a smokescreen of shell companies, through which he owns most of his properties this side of the Atlantic. I went there tonight, but Marion had gotten to her. By the time I dispatched the escort he’d sent with her, she was gone, along with what I’m guessing was all of her research. Luckily my guy stole everything before they could hide their tracks. Did you have a look at the data I gave you?”
“I did.” Tina tried to sum it as clearly as she could. ”That girl is brilliant, and her research’s potential is huge. She basically isolated the plant’s active ingredient to see if she could use it in fashioning a nootropic drug, which is a drug that improves mental functions. She performed a bunch of tests which indicated that the active ingredient found in that plant had two effects. The first is the most important, it only happens if the active ingredient is extracted from the plant first, and if it’s not bullshit, it’s huge. Neurons of the adult brain do not generally undergo cell division, and usually they can’t be replaced after being lost, although there are some rare exceptions. That molecule somehow changes that, creating stem cells and causing neurons to start reproducing again, allowing regeneration. It’s … Can you imagine? The amount of diseases this could potentially cure is just … and the surgical applications … This could get people with injuries like Artie’s on their feet again.”
Tina tried to wrap her mind around that. She had some uncharitable thoughts about that bitch Pillsbury walking all over Artie’s hopes a decade ago, when now, maybe …
Kurt got up again and started pacing around the room. “I guess this goes a long way towards explaining Marion deciding to travel after retiring. He was looking for a cure all this time. And he finally found it.”
Tina tried to focus. “Yes. Given what you said about the brain injury that took away his abilities, this is the most likely explanation for him getting them back.”
“You mentioned that the molecule or whatever had two effects. What’s the other one?”
“It increases activity in the frontal lobes. She hasn’t been able to determine to what effect.”
Kurt seemed to take the news pretty badly.
Tina frowned. “Why do I get the feeling that there’s something that you’re not telling me?”
“The frontal lobes seem to be the part of the brain where psychic abilities are found. That’s where Marion was injured and back in the day, when the first Shadow took down Shiwan Khan, he took away his abilities by stabbing him in the head. Guess where?”
“Well, it’s not all roses and psychic parties. The stuff you got from your hacker indicates that there’s a catch.”
“What is it?”
“The molecule is more effective at higher concentration, but it’s very unstable once you extract it, and the chemicals she uses to stabilize it aren’t toxic … in small doses. You can build a bigger tolerance for them, but it takes time. Otherwise, well, it’s Flowers For Algernon.”
Kurt looked relieved. “So he can’t use it too much or he’ll hurt himself.”
Tina nodded. “She perfected a new formula that can be used in higher doses, but she was still working on perfecting a compound that would allow the drug to be injected in very high concentration.”
“And I’m guessing Marion didn’t want me interfering with that, which is why he took her.” Kurt took a deep breath and let it out, as if steadying himself. “All right, so, psychic-boosting drug. And the artifacts. Not good.”
Tina was confused. “What artifacts?”
“Once I realized that Marion had gone off the rails, I tried to secure the most dangerous items that the various Shadows collected over the years. Some of them are missing.”
“So what’s your next move?”
“Hunt them down, save the girl, stop the bad guy. You know, the usual.”
Tina grinned. “Can I help?”
Kurt scratched his chest where some of the bandages she’d applied earlier were hidden by the shirt. “You’re a lot of help already, but I’d rather you stayed on the sidelines. Marion having Suzie is already a complete clusterfuck. I want you safe.”
She got up and gathered her coat and her trauma bag. “Well, you’re the superhero. I’m just hero support. I trust you to know best. But if you need me, I’m here.”
Kurt walked over to her and gave her a quick hug. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She walked to the door, opened it and stopped. “Oh, and Kurt, when you do finally find Marion?”
She smiled at him. “Kick his ass.”
* * * * *
Kurt woke up suddenly.
His senses alert, he tried to figure out why.
He was lying in his bed and there was no one in the room with him. His alarm clock indicated that it was just a little past 3am. Through the half-drawn curtains, the streetlights created a strange gloom in the room that was not quite darkness, and the headlights of the occasional car driving by outside would make the shadows in his room move strangely.
He listened slowly but heard only the sound of his own respiration and Cranston Hall, slowly settling around him as old houses do.
Then, at the faint edge of his hearing, he heard it, the sound that had dragged him out of sleep.
Soundlessly, Kurt slid out of bed. Dolce & Gabbana pajamas weren’t the outfit of choice to deal with intruders, but there was no time to change. He grabbed a few pillows and arranged them to look like a human shape beneath the covers, then moved to the fireplace to grab a poker and retreated to the darkest corner of the room.
The footsteps were louder now. The intruder was closer, and no lightweight by the sound of it. Kurt stood very still, making sure he had a solid hold of the poker.
The doorknob turned slowly. The door opened.
In the darkness, Kurt didn’t see much of the intruder other than the fact that he has very tall with broad shoulders. The man held up a gun capped with a silencer, pointed it at the bed and opened fire, emptying his clip.
The moment the intruder was out of bullets, Kurt moved. One kick to the wrists and the gun went flying. Kurt twisted in place, sending his elbow straight into his gut. The moment the assassin doubled over, Kurt flipped him over his shoulder and slammed him on the floor.
Still holding one of the man’s arms, Kurt used a wrist lock to hold it, pinning the man in place by placing his foot on the man’s throat. At that very moment, a car drove outside and shifting light revealed the face of his attacker for the first time, causing Kurt’s jaw to drop in shock.
Finn’s face was as slack as Suzie’s had been, his mouth half-open, his eyes lost in a haze. He was squirming, as if trying to escape, but there was little strength behind his attempt.
Kurt recovered and locked eyes with Finn, focusing to snap him out of his trance.
“Finn! Wake up!”
Finn went suddenly limp, and Kurt released his arm and stepped back.
Finn looked confused as he slowly sat up . “Kurt? What are you doing here?”
“Finn, this is my bedroom. What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Finn, this is important. Who sent you?”
“I DON’T KNOW!” Finn grew more and more agitated. “I went home and this man was waiting in front of my place and then there was this voice in my head, telling me over and over that to get Suzie back, I had to kill the Shadow!” And then Finn stared at Kurt. “I had to kill the Shadow and I came here.”
Kurt could see where this was going, and he stepped back further, straightening his pajamas. “Finn, I need you to leave. Now.”
Finn was still staring at him. “I came here and there’s no one here but you. You’re the Shadow?!”
Kurt turned away. “Just go.”
Finn reached for his shoulder. “Let me see your face!”
Kurt turned around and he knew that his face was now half-hidden in eerie darkness as he put on his ugliest smile. Finn stepped back in fright, but Kurt followed.
“Are you sure, Finn? Do you want to look into my eyes? Because I promise you: you’re not going to like what you see.”
Finn seemed completely lost. “I knew something was wrong. I knew you were keeping secrets. I just … I …” Finn’s eyes rolled back as he crumpled onto the floor, unconscious.
Kurt tried to get himself under control, feeling all over the place. Not even in his nightmares did he ever imagine that Finn would find out. What was he going to do?
He looked at the 220 pounds of passed-out Finn on his bedroom floor and at the ten feet he was going to have to carry him to get him on the bed and sighed.
“Fuck my life.”
The instant the elevator doors slid open, Joey rushed out of them like a bat out of hell. He was so nervous that he practically dropped his keys before finally opening the apartment door and walking in.
The place was dark, the only light coming from the flickering screen of the TV and through the windows from the street below. It was on mute and he could see the back of Sarah's head. She was sitting on the sofa and either she hadn't heard him, or most likely, she'd fallen asleep waiting for him to come back.
He felt a great wave of fatigue sweep through him along with the sharp relief of knowing she was safe.
He closed the door quietly behind him and pondered what their next move should be. He didn't want to wake her up, and yet, Papillon may have figured out something was wrong, in which case one of his men was probably looking for Joey by now. No one knew where they were, but that could change and they needed to move.
He approached her and ran his hand gently though her hair. Sarah had the softest hair of anyone Joey had ever known, fine and silky like a baby's. He walked around her as he reached for the remote to turn off the TV. Somewhere in the distance, he heard police sirens and he looked out the window before turning towards her.
"Hey, kitten. Wake up. We need to ..." The rest of the words died in his throat.
Sarah's eyes were wide open, her face frozen in an expression of stark terror, and she wasn't breathing.
There was a soft click in the corner of the room as someone turned one of the lamps on. Joey stumbled backwards rapidly and tipped over the glasstop coffee table, which shattered in a loud crash.
The man sat there, apparently unarmed. He was long-limbed, svelte and elegant, dressed in black designer jeans and a dark blue long-sleeved tee that complimented both his build and his pale complexion perfectly. His hair was down to his jaw and with his soft cherubic face, he should have looked harmless.
The assassin’s expression was utterly unreadable, a slight smile devoid of any warmth, and his voice was strangely smooth. "Mr. Lawrence, I presume?"
Joey took exactly one step towards him before the man was on his feet, a dagger having appeared in his gloved hand out of thin air, all of it done with the casual ease of a veteran stage magician.
Every muscle in Joey's body locked violently in place and for a moment, he could barely breathe.
The assassin tilted his head in a way that conveyed idle curiosity. "Or perhaps I should say Mr. Franchetti?”
Joey hoped his face didn’t give anything away, but apparently in vain.
”Oh, yes. I know who you are and who sent you. I am sorry that we meet in such unpleasant circumstances. Your reputation precedes you. If it's any consolation, your partner did not suffer much. She was scared, but the poison I used causes a complete muscle paralysis that kills pretty quickly."
Joey tried to process what he'd just heard, and the man must have perceived Joey’s confusion, as his generous lips widened into a more genuine smile. "You still haven't guessed?"
The man used his free hand to lift the bottom of his tee to reveal a multicolored butterfly tattooed slightly above his left hip.
Joey realized he was as good as dead.
"I want you to know that I was very impressed with how efficiently you tried to disrupt my plans for expanding my operation. You are undeniably a man of great accomplishments and I want you to know that I saw in you a worthy adversary. It's almost a shame that I can’t let you escape with your life ..."
A loud hiss came from the streets. A couple of cats fighting over trash, no doubt, but the unexpected sound was enough to make Papillon look away for a fraction of a second and that was all Joey needed.
He let himself drop to the ground, pulled out his gun and tried to aim at Papillon. He let off two bullets before he felt Papillon’s blade severing the tendons of his right hand, while a brutal kick shattered his left kneecap.
Joey collapsed to the floor in agony.
Papillion stood unharmed and relaxed. He smiled kindly at Joey and his voice held something almost like approval. "Very nice! You saw a chance and you took it. I appreciate a man with initiative. A shame you’re not working for me. Unfortunately, I'm afraid this is where it ends."
Joey used what little breath he had to give it one last shot.
“If you kill me, my family won’t ever stop until they’ve avenged me.”
Papillon’s answer was strangely genial. “And as a token of my appreciation, Mr. Franchetti, I promise you that I’ll dispose of their corpses in the same location where I will dispose of yours.”
In one eerily fluid motion, Papillon knelt by his side, grabbed his head, and snapped his neck.
Then Papillon turned his ice-cold eyes to the corner of the room where Finn stood.
"You're not supposed to be here."
Finn snapped awake.
* * * * *
Kurt opened his eyes and looked at his bedroom's ceiling.
After getting Finn on the bed, which had taken no little effort, he'd decided to catch a little sleep himself. The bed certainly was large enough to accomodate them both. In retrospect, it had been a stupid move, but as Carole used to tell him, it was no use crying over spilt milk. He's walked into a lot of other people's dreams over the years, but this was the first time in a very long while that someone else had walked into one of his.
He didn't like it one bit.
Kurt felt Finn sit up on the bed, so turned his head to look at him. "I don't suppose that you forgot anything since yesterday?"
Finn seemed unable to articulate whatever he was feeling. Kurt didn't see how pressing him would help. Instead, he tried to rub the sleep away from his eyes and took a deep breath, before going for what little damage control could be done.
"Listen. There's a reason I stayed away. What you found out, that's just the tip of the iceberg, and don't think that it will get any better." Finn's breath hitched, and Kurt knew he was trying not to sob. "I'm sorry. I really am. Just ... go home, Finn. Let me handle things. It's what I do."
Finn said nothing and just sat there, shaking slightly, his skin unusually pale, and he was hunched over himself in a way that didn't bode well for his emotional well-being.
Kurt thought it best to let things go. He got out of bed and went to the bathroom to get ready to start his day. He'd been playing fast and loose with his skin care regimen lately and that just wouldn't do. There wasn't a lot he could control in this world, but how he looked was one of them, and he wasn't going to go out and face the world looking less than his fabulous best.
He had it all down to an artform at this point, so it took him less than half-an-hour to get ready; what took him the longest time was changing the bandages that Tina had applied.
When he finally came out, Finn was still where he'd left him.
Kurt had expected him to leave.
He stepped towards Finn. "Finn, do you need a doctor?"
Finn looked about to say something, then seemed to reconsider, then spoke anyway. "You're the Shadow."
Kurt stood very still. "Yes."
"What I saw last night--"
"That's not up for discussion."
Kurt hadn't meant to snap, and he felt like a complete asshole when Finn started crying. "Suzie's missing and I don't understand what's going on. And that man made me try to kill you." Finn shivered. "Kurt, that man ... He was waiting for me at home." He wiped the tears off his face with the back of his hand. "I don't have anywhere else to go."
Kurt forced himself not to show weakness. The safest place for Finn to be was far away from this mess. "Ask Tina to put you up for a little while. I'll handle things. You'll be able to go home in a few days."
Kurt moved to the walk-in closet and finished getting dressed. He was going somewhere public, so he needed to look good, but things could get ugly, so he needed something fashionable that wouldn't get in the way if he had to fight. He found some Jean-Paul Gaultier pieces which he'd thought he'd donated a while back. They were old but somewhat classic in cut, and he didn't plan on going anywhere where there'd be anyone able to tell anyway.
He walked back into the bedroom and spared a glance at Finn, who looked small and lost on Kurt's ridiculously large bed.
Kurt squared his shoulders. "Just be gone by the time I get home."
Kurt walked out of the room wondering if he'd ever see Finn again.
He refused to let himself dwell on that thought.
* * * * *
At some point, Finn must have gone so deep into shock that he came out from it on the other end, because shortly after Kurt left, doing his typical "Nobody-knows-the-trouble-I've-seen" bullshit, Finn felt like he could move again and tried to decide what to do.
Except he didn't know what to do.
He was just a substitute teacher without a job, so for now, he has nothing but time, but he couldn't figure out what his next move should be. He wished he could ask someone for advice. It wasn't like he could though: he had to protect Kurt's secret identity.
He remembered Puck and him drinking beer and talking about his move and they'd talked about how cool it was that he was going to the one city in the world rumored to have its own superhero.
And it's Kurt.
So Kurt was out superheroing or whatever it was he did, and really, what the fuck? Finn felt like he should be able to do something useful himself.
Okay, fanboying was not helping. Plus, the dark tragic hero backstory sounded a lot cooler in comic books. Clearly everything that had happened had left Kurt completely fucked up. Finn wasn't sure what to say. He wished he could ask Burt what to do. Burt had been the only person in the universe who always knew what to say to Kurt. Or to Finn.
What would Burt do?
Well, he wouldn't run from talking to Kurt for one. He also wouldn't pussy out of talking about his feelings. And he certainly wouldn't leave Kurt in danger without helping, no matter how much Kurt thought he could handle it. Kurt always thought he can handle it.
That settled it. They'd talk it out, and then Finn was going to help Kurt and they'd totally kick ass. As a family.
Finn fished his cellphone out of his pocket, texted his mom that everything was fine and that he'd call her later. Then he decided to go and get a shower, because he hated that grimy feeling you got when you slept in your clothes. He took off all his clothes, putting them on the bed, and walked towards the door behind which Kurt had disappeared for a while this morning.
Kurt's bathroom was just as ginormous as his bedroom.
Finn stepped into the shower and looked at the nozzles embedded in the walls with curiosity. The controls for the shower were kind of weird, but Finn figured out the temperature control and stepped under the showerhead.
He turned the shower on.
It was like a spaceship's shower was attacking him from all sides. He reflexively grabbed the loofah to defend himself, and then somehow got his bearings and managed to shut down the water.
He examined the shower controls again.
The next attempt went better. It turned out that Kurt's space-age shower? Totally awesome. And the hot water never stopped either, which was great, because there was a lot of Finn to wash.
* * * * *
Marion uncorked the bottle, poured himself a glass and took a sip. The sweet taste of the sauternes provided a sharp contrast with the foie gras on toast he'd just had a bite of. Sitting on the bench, enjoying his lunch, Marion let himself relax for a moment.
Despite the cool autumn weather, it was a nice enough day.
His second sight kicked in unexpectedly and the glimpse of the future which he caught made him want to smile.
He reached out with his mind, trying to sense the hidden presence, but could find nothing. He was impressed. Then he let himself drift into the outer layers of the minds of the people around them and even there, the echo the newcomer had left hiding his presence from them was ever so faint, it might as well not be there at all.
Marion smirked. "No one likes a wallflower, Kurt."
The air rippled like a heat mirage and Kurt was standing ten feet away. Marion felt a little smug and indulged in another sip from his glass, but when he saw what Kurt was wearing, the wine almost went up his nose.
"Really, Kurt? The world's gayest ninja called: he wants his outfit back."
Kurt looked down at his black asymmetrical couture coutfit, with all the purposeless zippers and what looked like sheer black lace. Then he looked back at Marion and shrugged.
"I am the world's gayest ninja."
Marion coughed with laughter. "You really are." He gestured at the bottle. "Un peu de vin? I brought a glass for you too."
Kurt looked at the bottle with a mix of incredulity and bitter envy. "Château d'Yquem 1989. I'm almost sorry that I didn't come here for the wine. Where on Earth did you get it?"
"I have my ways."
Kurt's eyes moved from the bottle to Marion again. "You sent Finn to kill me."
Marion sighed. "All work and no play makes Kurt a very dull boy."
Marion almost pursed his mouth in annoyance, but reminded himself not to. That led to wrinkles. "How did you find me anyway?"
Kurt gestured at the photoshoot taking place nearby. "I know you."
That he did. No one else would have known enough about his love of art photography to think of tracking him down here, where he'd come to watch one of his favorite artists in action, doing a photoshoot for a fashion magazine. Marion had the uncomfortable realization that Kurt was possibly the only person left in the world who knew him that well.
"I didn't send him to kill you."
He hadn't. Not really. Sending Finn had been a statement, more than a threat. And as dangerous as he realized it was, it just wouldn't feel right to arrange Kurt's demise and not be the one to kill him. They were family, and as fraught as their relationship was, there was still a great deal of love there.
Kurt tilted his head, like a bird of prey trying to decide whether the snake he spotted below is lunch or too much of a threat.
"Then why did you send him?"
"For you to kill him I suppose. He knows everything now. And his memories can't be reliably erased. He's a threat. And you used to be more practical about those."
"So you expected me to murder a loved one out of practicality?"
Marion let all emotion leach out of his voice. "Is his life more valuable than mine? What do you have in store for me, Kurt?"
A little bit of Kurt finally showed through the mask, banked fire in his eyes. "I am trying to find a way to save you, you moron."
"Save me from what, Kurt?"
Marion took another sip from his glass, looking at the photographer directing the models, but any enjoyment he would otherwise have had was now ruined.
"You're years too late for that. But I appreciate the sentiment."
"What are you hoping to accomplish, anyway? You have your gifts back. You were a hero and you could be one again."
Marion exhaled slowly, then met Kurt's eyes. "That ship has sailed, Kurt."
Kurt retreated behind his icily neutral mask once again. "Make no mistake, Marion: I can and will stop you if I have to."
Marion laughed darkly. "You really couldn't. And certainly not here."
Kurt tensed. "Don't be so sure."
"Then please allow me to demonstrate." Kurt looked ready to dodge an attack, but Marion merely picked three targets at random around them, and aimed a fingergun at them in rapid succession. "Bang. Bang. Bang. I win."
Kurt looked confused. "What?!"
Marion smirked as he explained. He indicated his first target, a confused-looking street performer. "Overwhelming sexual fetish for being sodomized by a horse." Then he pointed at the second target, a jogger in her thirties who'd stopped in her tracks with a haunted expression. "Daddy never loved you. That's why he raped you every chance he got. Your children born of incest just found out." Finally, he pointed at a male model who was staring at himself looking sick. "This skin isn't really your skin. You will never be happy until you carve it off." Marion turned back towards a stunned-looking Kurt. "So tell me, hero. Do you really think you can take me down while keeping these three from killing themselves?"
He got up and gathered his things. "I didn't think so. Well, I have errands to run, so I think I'll be going now. Have a nice day."
* * * * *
Finn had a plan. It was totally clear in his head. Sure at first, that plan had involved him having clothes, but he could work with this; it certainly wasn't the worst he'd had to deal with the last few days.
And even if Kurt's maid had disappeared with all his stuff, well at least he had Kurt's fuzzy dark blue robe to cover himself with so he wasn't completely indecent. Well, not completely indecent as long as he didn't sit down. Kurt's robe was kind of short on him and didn't close that well, so that would probably put everything on display, which ... no.
But if years around Kurt has taught him anything, it's that you can pull off almost any outfit with the right attitude.
He tried to hang on to that thought as he heard Kurt come up the stairs.
Kurt walked into his bedroom and froze, staring at Finn as he blurted out, "Finn, qu'est ce que tu fous dans mon peignoir Hermès?!"
Kurt gestured frantically. "Take it off. You're stretching it out!" An embarassed Finn reached to untie the belt and Kurt slapped a hand over his eyes and hissed. "Not. Here." He pointed towards the bathroom with his other hand. "In the bathroom! Where you'll be kind enough to put on your own clothes, Wal-Mart horrors such as they are."
"Okay, first of all, fuck you, Mr. Silver Spoon. If your maid hadn't run off with my cheap-ass clothes while I was in the shower, I wouldn't be wearing your Hermes whatever."
Okay, that was probably not the approach Burt would have gone for, because he could see a fuming Kurt winding himself up for a hideous hissy-fit like Finn hadn't seen since the mayonnaise-skinny jeans incident of Thanksgiving 2011, which had been a total accident and how many pairs did one guy need anyway?
Time to get the convo back on track. "So you're the Shadow."
Kurt was looking at him again. "Yes. We've established that. Please stop repeating it."
Finn nodded. "Well, that's cool, right? Whatever is going on, you're a superhero, so I'm guessing the bad guys have better look out, especially now that you have a sidekick."
Kurt's hands were clenched tightly at his side and he was breathing deeply. "Sidekick?"
"Yeah," added Finn. "I mean, I'm no Robin, I know that. Not until you train me." Kurt's eyes bulged out a bit. "But I am going to rock being Alfred: you just watch!"
"And yet, strangely, I distinctly recall asking you this morning to leave and stay out of it."
"Dude, I remember you asking. I don't remember saying yes."
Kurt closed his eyes and looked like he was counting backwards from ten before saying. "Finn, I work alone. There are very good reasons for that. I don't need a sidekick."
Finn crossed his arms. "All right. Let's hear them."
Finn waved at him to carry on, before crossing his arms again. "Come on. Let's hear it. It's not like I haven't heard it all before anyway. You have gay manpain and no one gets it and that's why you're all alone in the world, despite all the people who love you and would give their left nut for you to just give them a chance to help you. Blah blah blah."
Kurt was livid except for points of color high on his cheeks. "Fuck you, Finn Hudson! Fuck you hard with a broomstick!"
"Whatever, dude. Was that it?"
"Listen to me. You have no idea what's going on. This is the kind of dangerous where you getting killed is not actually the worst thing that could happen to you. After everything went down back in Lima, I lost it and spent the next few years in Cali as a drug dealer, which you got a glimpse of when you poked your big nose in my dream. Trust me, what you saw was not by far the worst thing I've done."
"You're not a bad guy anymore, Kurt. You're a superhero now."
Kurt looked ready to pull his hair out in frustration. "I'll be the Shadow for the rest of my days as a penance for the things I've done, but also because there's a darkness in me now." Kurt was looking him straight in the eye. "I hurt people and I enjoy it, Finn, and being the Shadow means I only take it out on people who have it coming. Make no mistake: I am not the Kurt you remember."
"Seriously? Because the ridiculous outfit, the tantrums, the French, the giant vats of weird creams in the bathroom, the ridiculous martyr complex, that's all pretty familiar. I'm flashing back to high school right now."
"Well, it cuts both ways. I know you too, Finn, and this is absolutely not something that you can handle."
"Why won't you give me a chance?!"
"Because you'll let me down!" Finn felt gut-punched. "I can't hope that you'll see me for what I am and you'll accept me. It's fine, Finn. I don't blame you. But I'm not putting myself out there again."
"That's a horrible thing to say."
Kurt blinked away angry tears. "You like me, Finn, but you don't love me. We work best at a distance. Me being gay disgusted you so much you used to shower with your clothes on! I wouldn't even hold hands with my boyfriend around you because the PDAs made you act like a freak."
"That was years ago. How are we still on this?" Finn untied his belt and took off the bathrobe, angrily throwing it on the floor. "There! Happy now? Do I look like I care if you get an eyeful?" Kurt's jaw was slack with surprise. "So I was insecure. I was sixteen. Maybe if you'd stuck around, you'd have known why! Sophomore year in college, I had a boyfriend for half a semester!"
Kurt looked wrecked. "What?"
"Don't judge me, okay! I'm not you! I'm not smart, and I'm not fearless, and I didn't have everything figured out in high school! I'm sorry that I couldn't cope with being bisexual, and that you being out there made me feel like a confused coward. Maybe I was a confused coward, but I was still on your side, and maybe I wasn't the best brother in the world, but I love you. You don't get to say I didn't!"
"Finn, I ..."
"Just drop it, okay? Because who's a coward now?"
Kurt glared through the tears. "I've always done what I had to."
"Then do it now! I'm offering my help, so take it! Maybe you don't need me, but I need you. We shouldn't be fighting, Kurt. We should be doing this together! Why can't you see that?"
Kurt was hugging himself, looking shame-faced and sad. "I don't want you involved in all this Finn. You're a good guy, and I'm ... not. I can handle things on my own."
"No, you can't! Don't you see that this is eating you alive? So you've done bad shit. You and I both know Puck and I were horrible to you way back then. I'm scared to think of what we might have done if we'd been just a little older. I don't care about what you did, and maybe it makes me a crummy human being for not caring more about the people you hurt, but I just want you back. I. Don't. Care."
Kurt nodded hesitantly, so Finn stepped forward and hugged him.
After a little while, Kurt hugged him back, and then said in a small voice, "This would probably be less awkward if you weren't naked."
"I know. Shut up."
* * * * *
Kurt stood outside the restaurant and waited. Once upon a time, he had been wild and impulsive, but Marion had taught him the patience of a spider. It was fitting that Kurt would use it now.
There was a certain comfort in it too. He'd spent the better part of the day trying to fix the three minds that Marion had warped, only to get home and step on the well-intentioned emotional landmine that was Finn Hudson. He still felt raw and exposed from the way Finn had stripped away all his beloved layers to bring up all the things that Kurt didn't care to discuss but one, and when that wasn't enough, he'd collapsed all the comfortable lies that Kurt had relied on to help him cope. Finn was a fucking emotional wrecking ball.
Still, Kurt would deal with his issues about intimacy and loss and family, with knowing that Finn maybe loved him, but never that way, and that he hadn't rejected Kurt because he was straight, but because Kurt was Kurt. Kurt would deal. In time.
But not right now.
He'd sent Finn home on the off chance that Suzie had left anything useful at their place, but mostly so he could do this on his own.
According to Finn, if anyone knew anything worth finding out about this whole mess, it'd be Simon Hoskins. Kurt had tracked the man down easily enough, and the moment Kurt had sensed those simple and painfully inadequate psychic barriers, he knew he'd found Marion's little helper.
His prey had walked into the small Korean restaurant and instead of going in, Kurt had been ever so patient, slipping in and out of the minds of the patrons and the staff, gradually emptying the restaurant while maintaining the illusion that all was well. Simon had yet to realize that the server who'd just brought him another beer to wash down the bibimbap had walked out of the restaurant instead of back into the kitchen. Simon was alone in there and he had no idea.
Kurt smiled faintly, walked in, and shut the door behind him. Then he switched off the lights and released Simon from his mirage, letting reality set in. The spike of terror made Kurt smile wider as he stepped into just enough light to let Simon catch a glimpse of him.
“Didn't Marion warn you, Simon? The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.”
He let the terror rise in Simon's mind, stirring echoes of other fears and Kurt seized those as well, using them as his palette to paint beautiful nightmares until Simon's mind could hardly contain them all, occasionally plucking out memories which he found interesting. It was so easy. Simon stared at him for a moment, shaking, and then somehow those pathetic mental shields tightened, and Simon ran to the kitchen trying to escape.
Simon was trying desperately to get the door open, but he couldn't, because he didn't see the very simple lock that Kurt was hiding from his mind. He was blinking away tears and kept muttering under his breath the same sentence over and over again.
Kurt laughed long and loud. “I beg to differ, Simon. This is very real.”
Simon turned around and his mind was a whirlwind of fluttering panic, animal instinct telling him to run from the predator.
A large metal wok spun off a shelf and slammed into Kurt, throwing him back and breaking his concentration.
Simon could now actually see him instead of his Shadow guise, but he didn't look any less terrified. Kurt wasn't about to give him another chance, but the second he took one step forward, Simon turned to look at a nearby set of knives and they started to float up eerily, reorienting to point at Kurt.
Kurt ducked as the volley of blades flew straight through where he'd been standing, and stuck themselves in the door behind him. Grabbing a frying pan, he stood up. Simon launched another knife, but Kurt slammed it with the pan and it went flying off course. Satisfied to know his improvised shield worked, Kurt moved to attack.
Unfortunately, so did Simon. Several other knives joined the party, floating at Kurt from all sides, and soon enough he had a pan in each hand and was whirling frantically in place trying not to get stabbed. He could see Simon getting more and more scared, and the knives were getting slower and weaker. Kurt was going to make him pay dearly for all this and let it show on his face.
Suddenly, there was a loud whooshing sound behind Kurt, and Simon threw his hands towards him. The blast felt like a giant had casually swatted him, and Kurt was brutally hurled backwards, his lungs emptying upon impact as he landed on his back. He didn't even get the chance to recover before the metal door slammed shut, trapping him inside the walk-in freezer.
Overflowing with rage, Kurt reached out beyond the door and let his psychic talons slowly rake on the blackboard of Simon's mind, inflicting maximum pain while tearing out information. He heard a long agonized shriek that didn't sound quite human, and then a door slamming open. Kurt tried to hang on as long as he could, but the sound of rapid footsteps told him that his target was running away.
He watched his breath fogging briefly. He wasn't wearing much and his outfit had been unfortunately ventilated by several close calls with the floating knives.
A fucking telekinetic.
Where had Marion even found him? Out of the six Shadows before Kurt, only two ever had that gift and one of these was Lamont Cranston himself.
Rubbing his arms trying to stay warm, Kurt reminded himself not to get distracted. He needed someone to let him out, and the sooner, the better. Except, he'd used his powers to empty the restaurant and there was no familiar mind within range.
He cursed quietly and tried to think of another solution. Long-range telepathy was a gamble at best. Kurt had only ever done it with Margo, who was a telepath herself. He could try it, but the only other psychics he knew of in the area were Marion and the little weasel who'd trapped him in here. Well, and Finn.
Kurt sat down in the lotus position and focused as intently as he could.
~~Finn! Finn, if you can hear me, I need your help!~~
* * * * *
Finn was almost at Kurt's place when he felt like someone had just rung his skull like a gong. He managed not to fall flat on his face, shaking his head slowly, hoping to clear it, and then he waved frantically at an approaching vehicle.
* * * * *
Marion couldn't quite put his finger on it, but something was off. He'd felt it all night, this creeping unease that pressed down on his chest. He'd gone to bed early, tried to distract himself with some light reading, but it stayed there.
He put down his book as he sensed another presence nearby.
He turned the light off, grabbed the Ka-Bar combat knife hidden under his pillow and listened, but he heard nothing. The apartment was as quiet as ever, but he knew he wasn't alone.
He walked out of the bedroom, silent as a church mouse, senses alert, and when he reached the living room, the first thing he noticed was the smell. Dried urine is hard to miss. The second was the person sitting on the end of his couch.
Marion put down the knife and turned a small lamp on.
Simon looked like hell. His clothes were dirty and torn, his face was paler still than usual and dried tears were plain on his cheeks. Now that he was closer, Marion could almost feel shock, exhaustion and misery coming off of him in waves thick as molasses.
His bloodshot eyes followed Marion across the room, but seemed to see someone else there, and when he spoke, it was in a tired whisper. "He knows who I am."
Marion nodded. He didn't need to ask who they were talking about.
It was unfortunate that Kurt knew. Marion had hoped to keep Simon and his unique gift as his ace in the hole. And clearly, his antagonizing Kurt earlier was going to come back to haunt him.
Simon started to shake uncontrollably and as he did, objects in the room did as well.
Marion looked at him and projected calm and safety as much as he could. "He can't get you here, Simon. Calm down. I need you to talk to me."
The room quieted down as the objects went still, but there was still a faint tremor running through Simon, and in a hushed broken voice, he told of his encounter with the Shadow and the nightmarish figure appearing out of nowhere, revealing his whole surroundings to be illusions. He spoke of the threats, the voices whispering to him like he was back in that psychiatric hospital. He described how he'd run, how he'd tried to escape and had been cornered, how he'd fought back and watched Kurt use a cooking utensil and somehow resist what to anyone else would have been certain death. He mentioned his desperation and lashing out, trapping Kurt in that walk-in freezer, only to feel him reaching out from behind the metal door, like some terrible kraken coiling tentacles around Simon's mind, unleashing horrors on him until he wanted to scream. He'd run out of the backdoor, stopping at the edge of an alley a few blocks away to vomit his dinner, before making his way back to Marion.
Marion listened carefully.
Marion himself could do terrible things to people with his gifts and he had, but he was a charmer by nature, and his gifts reflected that. He could charm, he could beckon, he could enthrall, he could deceive, he could in an instant twist a mind on itself in impossible ways, something which would take even someone as gifted as Kurt long minutes to achieve, and hours to undo.
Kurt had no use for charm. Growing up as the school fag in Lima, Ohio, there had been no point in it. Kurt was a creature of loyalty, of pride, of stoic suffering and bleak despair, and he understood those things better than anyone. The terror lingering on Simon's face was his gift, and even Marion himself couldn't match his skill at it. Kurt could reach inside a mind and bring it so much terror that by all rights it should snap. But it didn't, standing instead on the knife's edge where even one tiny drop more of fear would stop your heart, except that drop never came, the fears never abated, and they never would. The moment they realized that, Kurt's victims gained a glimpse of hell.
Marion steeled himself. He could admire Kurt's disturbing artistry some other time. He was going to have to get Simon back on his feet, and that was going to require a great deal of effort. Simon would end up losing the spontaneity that came with free will, but at least he wouldn't continue to slowly fall apart, the way he was doing right now on Marion's couch.
Marion sighed, feeling mildly vexed at this setback. Then he shrugged to himself and got to work.
Greatness required sacrifice.
Kurt grunted quietly as he made his way down the stairs to the hidden sanctum. His stiff and aching muscles were reminding him with great insistence that in this fight, he was depressingly outgunned by the opposition. He didn't want to think about how much worse off he'd be right now if Finn hadn't come to rescue him.
Finn. Ugh. Kurt knew there'd be no getting rid of him now.
On the plus side, despite Simon getting away, his fishing expedition had paid off. He knew what Marion had planned. In fact, Kurt had found out many useful things while digging into Simon's mind, among them was where the enemy was based, and how they'd managed to hide their base. Technology being what it now was, Kurt would never have even imagined that it was still possible to reproduce Shiwan Khan's feat of making an entire city forget one of its buildings. The secret was that the building had no cameras aimed at it, and Marion had put in its place an illusion of the fenced garden that actually existed on the roof of the building, so that even satellite imagery wouldn't reveal the deception too easily.
Kurt had to give it to Marion, it was impressive. In fact, it was all at once astonishing, impressive, clever, and utterly vain, which fit Marion to a 't'.
Having reached the bottom of the stairs, he found Finn there, sitting in the same leather armchair where Marion had been waiting for Kurt a few days ago. Finn was probably going for something approaching solemn, but it was painfully obvious that he could hardly contain his excitement at being in a 'secret superhero lair'. Kurt felt a mix of irritation and overwhelming fondness, which in turn made him a little maudlin. He could at least take comfort in the thought that the emotional tailspin that he now seemed to be stuck in meant that even Finn couldn't shake him any more.
It was a pretty small comfort, but it would have to do.
He cleared his throat; Finn's attention focused on him, sobering up instantly as he examined Kurt from head to toe.
Kurt had put on the outfit that he'd started referring to as his "Sunday best". It was as close to a superhero outfit as Kurt would ever get: a perfectly tailored black tuxedo over a fitted black shirt, black boots, black gloves. The red scarf around his neck was an homage to Lamont that Kurt had chosen for good luck, and it would hide Kurt's face if he needed it hidden.
The outfit was too classic and dark to be truly fashionable, but it had a certain elegance, and more importantly, strategically placed body armor, as well as hidden pouches and holsters for Kurt's weapons and tools of the trade. Even the gloves and boots were discreetly reinforced to give Kurt a little extra edge if he was at any point forced to rely on fisticuffs. Kurt hadn't bothered with his habitual fedora and coat. Their purpose was mostly theatrical, and tonight, he wasn't out to scare anyone straight. He planned on taking down anyone who got in his way fast and hard.
However the outfit wasn't what Finn was interested in. Kurt had looked at himself in the mirror earlier, and he knew he seemed tired and stiff. Probably because he was in fact tired and stiff. But in Kurt's not-so-humble opinion, he still cut a dashing figure, though Finn seemed to disagree.
"Kurt, are you sure you shouldn't be resting?"
As if that was even an option. Ah, the innocence of civilians. "I should definitely be resting, Finn. I just can't afford to. Marion is about to make his move."
Finn looked mulish. "I don't like it."
"Neither do I," said Kurt with a shrug. "We play the hand we're dealt. It's not a great hand, but if we play it right, who knows?"
Finn raised an eyebrow. He was unimpressed.
Kurt waved off Finn's unspoken concern. "Just stick to the plan. We'll be okay."
"It's a dumb plan."
"It's a simple plan. And in this case, the simpler the better. Less chances for things to go wrong."
* * * * *
Kurt had known the very second he'd said it that what he had told Finn would come back to haunt him.
Things going wrong was just the way of the world, and he'd just roll with it. He always had. In an ideal world, inside that building there were only Marion, Suzie, and possibly Simon, but Kurt knew better. Without even trying to scan the place, he knew deep in his bones that Marion had muscle, loads of it, and as many nasty surprises as he could cook up without interfering with his plan. If Kurt had been doing this solo, he might have considered the easy way. Human guards were not even a speedbump when Kurt could cloud their minds into ignoring him.
Unfortunately, there were Finn and Suzie to consider. Any guards that Kurt bypassed was another solid chance that Finn and Suzie wouldn't make it out of the building alive.
Kurt didn't like taking chances. What he did like, were his classics. So in this case, he'd go with a classic, a French one at that, namely Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.
Looking at the door of the building that no one but he and Finn could see, he knew that he wouldn't survive the night. It was fine, so long as he didn't fail.
He walked up to the building's front door, opened it and stepped in.
The lobby was empty and Kurt let his mind unfold outside the boundaries of his own brain, reaching out, looking for security. There were two men in the next room, and there was something wrong about them. Their minds weren't shielded but they were like smoke: there, but blurry and impossible to touch. Kurt tried and tried and realized that tonight, nothing would be easy.
He opened the door and stepped into the room, walking towards them without hesitation.
The guards recovered in a tenth of a second and rushed him. Kurt used an Aikido throw to toss the first one out of the way, buying himself a little time. Kurt then grabbed the arm of the second one when he tried to punch him in the face. Kurt counter-attacked with a Bokator double-elbow smash. That dazed him long enough for Kurt to get a good hold of his head and snap his neck.
The first one was back on his feet and attacked again. He stuck to rapid punches, just basic Krav Maga. It wasn't fancy, but it was effective. Still, Kurt was unimpressed, because if this man had bothered to study any of the Chinese southern styles, he probably would have lived longer. Kurt waited for him to burst into another double-punch, got him into a basic Wing Chun Chi Sao roll, and then Kurt went for an elbow smash to the throat, which his opponent barely dodged, allowing Kurt to snap his right wrist, then his right elbow. The man went livid with pain right before Kurt smashed the heel of his palm under his nose, driving the bone straight into the mercenary's skull.
The man collapsed to the ground, convulsing for a few seconds before laying still.
Kurt didn't move, didn't breathe, just listened.
He tried to notice any abnormal sound that might indicate that someone had heard them, but it seemed he'd made a clean entrance. No one had noticed him yet. That would change soon enough, but for now, he'd make the most of it.
First, he needed to find out why his powers hadn't worked on Marion's men. He checked the corpses quickly for any clues, and there was only one, but it was telling. Both had a recent scar above their right temple. A scar which was in fact right where Marion's was. Kurt couldn't hold back a shocked laugh when he realized what it meant.
Elective brain surgery.
Knowing that the brain damage he'd suffered way back then had taken away his telepathy, Marion had purposefully inflicted the same damage on his guards' brains to make sure Kurt couldn't use his powers on them. Kurt knew Marion was a sick fuck, but this took it to bold new heights.
It also meant that fighting his way to Marion was going to be a pain, because now, Kurt had nothing to rely on but his combat skills to take on however many mercenaries Marion had hired. It was a good thing that Kurt was a lot better than Marion gave him credit for.
Kurt checked the time. He still had seventeen minutes before Finn followed him in. He'd have to make them count.
Kurt moved deeper into the building and once he'd ensured that there was no other threat on that level, Kurt cautiously went up a flight of stairs.
He felt more people on this floor, a lot more. Most of them were in one room south of him, and Kurt considered a grenade. Taking out this many opponents at once would make things a lot easier, but he realized that he couldn't risk it. Suzie might be in there.
Kurt smiled when he remembered that he did have a smoke grenade.
He rapidly opened the door, tossed the grenade in and shut it, jumping away as bullets from inside the room shredded the door. The gunfire stopped and Kurt could hear loud noises and confusion as black smoke escaped out of the room and into the corridor. Kurt unsheathed his knives and waited for the men to step out.
He made sure that they didn't have time to scream.
* * * * *
Finn stared at his watch and tried to stay calm. Only one minute to go.
The superhero business was superstressful, and maybe Kurt thrived on stress, but Finn? Not so much.
Finn had tried to argue again that they should go in together. It made more sense. Kurt had said he wouldn't be stealthy enough.
So maybe Finn bumped into furniture. He was a big guy. But it's not like he had to be noisy about it, and Kurt could use someone to watch his back.
At that point, Kurt had used a snake-like ninja move that ended with Finn on the ground on his belly with his arm twisted behind his back and Kurt sitting on top of him. Kurt had asked if he wanted to help or if he wanted to wait at home for Kurt to do it all himself, so Finn had agreed to stop bitching about Kurt's plan. He'd also blamed the unfortunate boner he got from Kurt manhandling him on all the trauma and stress and stuff. Besides, he'd repress it soon enough. It's not like he hadn't spent most of high school repressing vaguely incesty boners for Kurt.
Seriously, just that slinky sweater with the inappropriate handprints all over Kurt had given Finn enough material for, like, a year of therapy.
The minute was up, and Finn walked nervously up to the door and let himself into the building.
Kurt wouldn't even give him a weapon. He'd just said that if Suzie wasn't out after twenty minutes, Finn could go in, find her, and get her out. Kurt had made him swear he would try to avoid a fight if he could.
Well, he could hear fighting upstairs, but it was far away, so he started looking for Suzie on the first floor and found the two dead bodies in the next room.
Finn had never seen a dead body before. He almost held it together, but then he noticed the odd angle of the neck of one of them. Finn had seen Papillon use that move before and he found himself vomiting in a corner of the room.
He took a few moments to get a hold of himself and then went looking again. Some fucking hero he was. Kurt was out fighting supervillains to save Finn's girl and here Finn was, tossing his cookies the second things got real. Finn hoped that wherever they were, his dad and Burt weren't watching.
He kept moving through the building and then walked upstairs. It was unreal, like some movie set for an action flick, with like smoke, and carnage. Finn hadn't seen any fires yet, but he was kind of worried. There was blood on the floor, blood on the walls, there were bodies all over the place. Fuck, two of the bodies had been in several places at once.
He found Suzie in one of the rooms of the third floor.
It was like her lab back at Athanor, and she was curled up under on of the tables. At first it was like she didn't recognize him, and then she did and she burst into tears, jumping into his arms. Finn held her as she sobbed and made soft soothing sounds, passing his hand over her hair.
"Shhhh. You're safe. It's over."
She slowly pulled back and showed Finn what was in her hand.
"No, Finn. Not yet."
* * * * *
Dealing with what seemed to be the last five guards in the building, Kurt had to say he was not impressed.
Then again, since the reason he was not impressed was that he was still alive and mostly unharmed, maybe he should just be happy and leave it at that.
At one point, three of the guys must have rubbed their brain cells together because they tried to rush him all at once. Kurt couldn't help but feel that they should have tried this two dead guards ago. It would also have worked better on a martial artist who hadn't learned the hard way that high school jocks attack in packs.
Kurt did an effortless front flip over them and watched them trip each other and sprawl to the ground. He fought down the urge to sigh in second-hand embarrassment as he snapped his leg towards one of the two guards still standing. The front heel kick hit right between the eighth and ninth ribs on the man's right side. The satisfying crunching sensation under Kurt's foot let him know that the man wasn't getting back up. In fact, unless the trauma surgeon fairy paid him a visit to remove the broken rib fragments stuck in his liver, he'd be dead in a few minutes. These guys may have been ready to throw down with experienced military combatants, but this national cheerleading champion was clearly too much for them to handle.
Somewhere in Ohio, Sue Sylvester was smiling.
The one guy still on his feet looked like he wanted nothing more than to run, but didn't. Kurt wouldn't have put it past Marion to lay down a few solid compulsions before cutting out pieces of the guards's brains, but it's not like it made any difference from his end.
The other guards were getting back on their feet, so Kurt used the sticking hands again, this time to lock his opponent's arms in place with one hand while moving past and around him. Then Kurt dug the fingers of his other hand in the soft flesh of the guard's throat and tore it out.
The three remaining guards were still trying to blink their friend's blood out of their eyes when Kurt took them down.
Kurt tried to locate any other enemies, but he sensed no immediate threat. He wiped his bloody hands on the shirt of one of the dead guys and looked down at himself in annoyance, wishing yet again that you could have your vigilante outfit dry cleaned.
Suzie was fine. Kurt had broken Marion's hold over her, and he'd sensed Finn coming in a while ago. Everything should be fine.
And then he sensed someone else approaching, coming down the stairs from the fourth floor.
Simon looked at the bodies lying around, then at Kurt, and there was something about his blank expression that hinted at distaste.
Kurt sneered. "I've been looking forward to a rematch."
Simon nodded with surprising detachment. "I suppose I have too."
Kurt prepared himself to tear his mind apart and then realised that his mind too was out of reach.
"I can't believe you let Marion damage your brain to keep me out of it."
Simon pointed his finger at the side of his head where there was no scar. "It's not permanent. Marion just gave me a small aneurysm. Regular injections of Prometheus will heal the damage soon enough. But until then, no telepathy."
Kurt was almost amused. "And what's to keep me from killing you then?"
Simon stretched a hand towards a nearby armchair, then moved it in a slicing motion towards Kurt and the armchair went airborne. Kurt barely dodged it in time.
Simon gave him a wide vacuous smile that gave Kurt goosebumps. "I said no telepathy. I didn't say no telekinesis."
Kurt was glad he'd taken several smoke grenades. The one he threw at Simon exploded in mid-air instead of upon impact, and the smoke swirled oddly before pouring down the stairs in a strangely liquid motion, leaving behind them perfect visibility. Kurt moved to close in on Simon, and the second he did, pieces of furniture took off from every direction. Kurt dodged, rolled and flipped, but all the tumbling only managed to save him from getting crushed.
Simon was still smiling. "Anything else you'd care to try?"
There was. Kurt reached into another pocket and threw the new grenade at Simon who caught it with his mind as easily as he'd caught the last one. Kurt covered his ears and ducked. The blast of sound was still enough to make his bones shake.
Simon was on the ground, looking shaken, and there was blood dripping out of his nose and ears. Kurt ran towards him ready to finish him when the same overwhelming sensation as last time made him relax in preparation for the impact. He smashed into the wall behind him and stayed pinned there, limbs spread, unable to move so much as a finger and barely able to breathe.
Simon was up again, his hand shaped like a claw and pointed straight at Kurt, staring at him with a mix of respect and loathing. "It was a nice try indeed. I don't think that I'll let you try anything else."
Kurt tried to think of something. Anything.
"Look at you. You still think you can win? I could crush your chest with a thought."
Simon tightened his fingers and breathing became even harder. Kurt was growing light-headed. There was literally nothing he could do. Finn was safe. So was Suzie. Marion and Simon would do whatever they would, and someone else would have to stop them. Kurt had tried his best. He felt strangely liberated, and he let himself relax even as he could feel the darkness creeping in on him. It felt so good to give up.
And then there was a sound as loud as thunder and Kurt crumpled to the floor.
He took in a huge gulping breath, and he and Simon stared in amazement at the growing red spot on Simon's white shirt. Kurt's eyes drifted past Simon to Finn, standing in the corridor. His clothes were a mess. He looked pale and tired, and there was something haunted and undefinable in his eyes.
But the hand holding the still-smoking gun was steady as a rock as he pulled the trigger again.
The second bullet knocked Simon off his feet, and he collapsed.
Kurt tried to speak, but all he could manage was a groan. Finn immediately moved to join him, kneeling by his side. He checked Kurt for injuries in a well-meaning haphazard way. Finn was apparently worried by all the blood, either because he thought it was Kurt's, or possibly because he'd realized it wasn't. "Are you okay?"
Kurt tried to keep it in, but in the end the laughter spilled forth. Kurt felt kind of bad because he could see it was freaking Finn out. After a little while, he managed to stop and started to get back up. Finn looked like he might object but helped him anyway.
"Finn, I'm all right. You saved me."
Finn blushed beet red. "Well, I had to."
Kurt wanted to smile and ruffle his hair, and maybe plant one on him. Fucking Finn Hudson. "Not that I'm complaining, but why are you still here?"
Finn looked serious again. "When I found Suzie, she told me to warn you. About the Prometheus." He reached carefully inside his pocket and pulled out a small syringe full of orange liquid. "Simon and Marion have been on it for a while now. She made it better for them and they wanted to make it even stronger. I just, she said other stuff. I can't remember, Kurt. I'm sorry."
"Calm down, Finn." Kurt took Finn's hand in his. "You're doing fine. Do you trust me?"
"Of course," said Finn.
Kurt placed a hand on each side of Finn's face. And he let himself sink into the mind of Finn Hudson. Despite the resistance, it felt cool and soothing and pleasant, and it made Kurt feel better, like he was indulging in the world's best mudbath. Once he was deep enough, Kurt reached for the recent memory he was looking for and heard Suzie talking to Finn just moments ago, explaining how she'd perfected the Prometheus drug.
She'd explained how Marion had wanted to take it to the next level, but the active ingredient broke down too fast outside the plant until she had figured out how to stabilize it with capsaicin, the 'burning' molecule found in peppers. In its purest form, the drug was incredibly efficient. It could achieve results in instants instead of weeks, but it would have to be given to someone put beforehand into an artificial coma, because it would otherwise cause the recipient unimaginable pain. There was also a limit beyond which stimulating any brain was dangerous. Marion had been taking strong doses of Prometheus for a while now. His brain was swimming in it. A dose as concentrated as the one in the syringe would overwhelm his brain. Combined with the side effects of capsaicin, he'd be incapacitated for hours and uable to use his abilities for days, maybe even weeks. He saw Finn escorting her downstairs to the door, making sure she got out safely, and kissing Finn goodbye.
Kurt backed off, retreating quickly from Finn's mind until they were staring at each other again.
"Oh," said Finn.
"Yeah," said Kurt, taking his hands off Finn's face. He took the syringe from Finn and hid it in one of his pockets. "You should probably go."
"Yes, way. Finn, Marion is still up there, and if I don't take him out now, all this was for nothing, and you and Suzie will never be safe. But you can't be here for this. I can't fight him and worry about you at the same time. If I try, he'll crush me."
Tears were rolling down Finn's cheeks and his voice was low and rough with anger and fear. "What if he does what Simon did?"
Kurt felt so weary. "He can't. People like Simon, they're extremely rare. I can't do what Simon did and neither can Marion. Finn, I am begging you. Please go somewhere safe until it's over."
"Fine, but there's something you need to know first," said Finn, squaring his shoulders and looming over him. It shouldn't have been effective but it was. "You remember how you felt when Burt died? All the guilt and the sadness and the rage? Even though it wasn't your fault, did you ever forgive yourself? Do you think you ever will?" Kurt barely kept himself from punching Finn in the jaw, and Finn didn't stop there. "I want you to remember that feeling because if you go out there and I'm not there with you, win or lose, you'd better survive. Because if I do what you want and you don't make it home, Kurt, I swear I will never get over it, do you understand? Never."
Kurt took a deep breath to try and calm himself, before answering in a small voice. "I understand."
Finn leaned back, but he still looked angry. "Good. I'm going home to check on Suzie. Then I'm going to your place and if you're not there, I will wait for you there. It doesn't matter how long I wait, because I'll wait anyway."
Kurt looked down and whispered, "I know."
Finn nodded to himself. "All right then."
Finn turned around and Kurt watched him walk down the stairs.
* * * * *
ESP was an ability in which Kurt was sadly lacking, beyond vague precognitive flashes of the "someone nearby is in trouble" persuasion. Marion, though, has never seen the point of video surveillance. He liked his privacy and cameras were never secure enough. He just didn't want to risk anyone getting any evidence of what he did, no matter how legitimate. Besides, if he ever felt curious about what was taking place a few floors down, well, that was what clairvoyance was for.
Today, Marion quietly wished that he hadn't looked.
It was a strange feeling to be proud of the man you were trying to kill, yet there was really no other way to describe it. Marion's well-trained mercenaries had been specially prepared to square off with him and while Marion wasn't sure they'd be enough to stop Kurt, he'd certainly expected them to soften him up. By the time the last one died choking on his own blood, Kurt barely had a few bruises and a couple of shallow cuts on his left forearm from that ex-Spetsnaz knife-fighter. It was pretty remarkable actually. Marion at his age in the same situation would have been in a lot of trouble. Of course, Marion was practical enough that he'd probably have switched his approach to something a little more subtle. Not Kurt though.
God bless him, but Kurt Elizabeth Hummel-Cranston had all the soft yielding nature of an angry charging rhino.
And then there was the new and improved Simon, who would have dealt with Kurt without much trouble, if Kurt hadn't picked today of all days to break pattern and bring along a partner. So here they were. Marion wasn't really worried. The amount of Prometheus in his veins had steadily increased over the last few weeks and he'd just taken another dose. Soon, he'd be able to operate the lens and it would be game over. Until then, he was as good as he'd ever been and his abilities stronger than ever.
In a way, it felt kind of right.
So he just stood there, in his garden on the roof, watching the city's skyline, and waited for Kurt to come to him. He didn't have to wait long.
Kurt walked out on the roof looking like the survivor of a zombie movie. Or maybe like one of the smarter, meaner zombies. He was covered in blood, with little splatters of gore. His face was strangely blank and his eyes seemed to look through Marion, like Kurt was elsewhere in his head.
"Nice entrance, by the way. Understated. Subtle."
All he got from Kurt in return was irritated silence.
Marion reached out to touch Kurt's mind but it was closed, his shields tight and seamless and hard as steel. Like biting into a fruit and cracking your teeth on the pit.
Marion smiled. "No more tricks, I take it?"
Kurt nodded. Then he darted across the garden towards Marion with grim fury in his eyes.
As the sixth Shadow, Marion's combat precognition had been his most secret and deadly edge. It used to let him see five, sometimes ten seconds into the future. Now with Prometheus, he could see twenty, thirty seconds ahead, but Kurt was a terror. Marion had been impressed by what he'd seen him do to his guards, but that had been nothing. Kurt's hands were a blur. They moved so fast that Marion could barely block them even though he knew where they were going next. There were so many moves, so many possible attacks, that Marion's second sight was down to eight seconds, and he couldn't even rely on his eyes to track the blows anymore. There was also the occasional kick and Marion didn't need to be a psychic to know to watch out for those. Kurt kicked like a Clydesdale on steroids, and if one of his kick were to land, bones would break and Marion was as good as dead.
Kurt kept flowing from one attack into another, relentless and precise, and though there seemed to be openings here and there, Marion had his second sight to tell him just how much of a bad idea it would be to act on them. After maybe two minutes of this, Marion was sweating, his muscles ached, and his lungs burned in his chest. He could see that keeping this up was also taking a toll on Kurt, who'd slowed from about six attacks per second to five or four. Time to regroup and recover. Marion foresaw a future that allowed him to put some distance between him and kurt by way of riding out a straight heel kick. It was dangerous, but it didn't look like he could take Kurt in a straight fight, and he wasn't willing to match his stamina against Kurt's. However, he could easily win this if he could get at Kurt's mind, and if he couldn't do it with his powers, well, there was more than one way to skin a cat.
The moment the kick came, Marion caught it in his hands and used it to augment a jump backwards while also pushing Kurt. Kurt recovered with an aerial that would have been ridiculously showy if it hadn't been so effortlessly smooth. As for Marion, his jump landed a few feet back and he rapidly increased that distance to make sure there was a good twenty feet between them.
They looked at each other, each considering what the first engagement had taught them.
Marion tried to sound rueful. "Kurt, why don't you join me?" There was no reaction except for a slightly raised eyebrow that clearly conveyed how unimpressed Kurt was by Marion's approach. "I mean, you're trying to stop me, and you don't even know what I'm trying to do."
Now that got him a hint of a smile, and yet there was no way Kurt had figured it out. Kurt finally spoke and that little shit was barely out of breath. "You hadn't brain damaged your little helper yet the first time that I ran into him."
Fucking Simon. If he wasn't dead, Marion would kill him just for this. "Then why aren't you joining me? Together we could change the world."
"I won't because it's wrong."
Marion pushed down his anger. "I plan on building a fairer tomorrow."
"You're going to do it by using the lens to brainwash anyone anywhere at any moment into becoming your mouthpiece. That's not the way to do it."
"I plan on making sure that children no longer sicken and starve in the streets of the world's wealthiest nation. I plan on enshrining into law equal rights that should be there already. I'm building a better tomorrow, one in which a childhood like yours wouldn't happen. It's a dream worth fighting for."
"It means nothing if people do the right thing because you compelled them. You mock the very liberties to which so many of us aspire. People aren't puppets."
Marion laughed. "That's very high-minded. Is your way so much better? Do you really think you can punch the world into becoming a better place?"
"There are bad people out there. It's up to me to stop them if others can't. That's my contribution to improving the world. It may not be much, but it will have to do. I know my place in this world. I'm the garbageman. I take out the trash."
"That's so simplistic, it's appalling."
"Then I suppose we have nothing left to discuss."
"Don't you see that I'm trying not to kill you? You've somehow become the most spectacular martial artist I have ever seen, and I'm still standing. I'm a precog, Kurt. It doesn't matter what you do, I'll always be one step ahead. You think I don't know about the syringe in your pocket? I do. It's never going to be a threat."
Kurt seemed to pause and Marion felt something like relief and a little like smugness at talking him down, but then he felt the future change, a great shift of all futures like a landslide as Kurt pulled the syringe out, jabbed it into his own neck and pressed the plunger.
* * * * *
Kurt hadn't imagined it was possible for anything to hurt this much. Every last nerve in his body was alive with pain. For a moment, he thought he might give in to the agony and go mad and then there was a little voice that rose above the din, probably because it spoke through a bullhorn.
"I'm all about finding a freakish depressed kid and showing them what winning's all about." Kurt felt the urge to laugh. "Porcelain, you think that this is hard? Try killing a bear in a cage match with one arm behind your back. That's hard! Now, I don't care about your disgusting teenage mating failures, about your hurt feelings, about your aches and bruises. I picked you for my squad because I needed a winner to win this. And so help me Me, you are going to win this. NOW GET TO IT!"
Then another voice rose, saying "... if you go out there and I'm not there with you, win or lose, you'd better survive."
He could envision his mind ablaze as the drug coursed through it, burning away all limitations, reshaping him into something unique and new, something wonderful. He could feel life, vibrant and strong in every cell of his body. He could feel aches floating away as everything out of place moved back to where it was meant to be. He could sense the chemical causing him pain and one thought was enough to instantly metabolize it into something else, something harmless. He felt beautiful and perfect and free.
He opened his eyes.
* * * * *
Marion was shocked. He probably also looked shocked, which was not a good look for him.
"Why on Earth would you do that to yourself?"
Kurt smiled as he pulled the empty syringe out of his neck. "Because I have something you don't."
Marion looked at him with perfect terror. "And what's that?"
"Someone to fight for."
The future had changed and Marion could see it now clearly. This Kurt had used Prometheus to bring forth his own gift, and that gift was healing. Any cut would close, any broken bone would mend, any burn would fade, fatigue would roll off him, all in an instant. Marion had somehow made Kurt pick the one option that ensured Marion's failure. He gazed at all the endless possibilities, looking for one in which he didn't fail and all he found was one great void. One option that gambled everything, but didn't promise failure. He took it.
He pulled the medallion out of his shirt. Kurt didn't recognize it, but he recognized the feel of it. Before it had been reforged, that medallion had been the Phurba, and just like the enchanted dagger, it responded to your thoughts.
"Is that the lens?"
Kurt moved across the garden faster than he'd ever moved before, but he still got there too late. No one can move faster than the speed of thought.
One hand raised was enough to toss Kurt back. The lens was Marion's pride and joy, his perfect design. With the lens through which to channel his gifts, he was stronger than he'd ever been, than anyone had ever been. It was the power of the gods at his fingertips. He could see all of Creation unfolding before him like a giant tapestry. It was magnificent. It was too much for any human mind to take in.
Too late, Marion realized his mistake.
* * * * *
Kurt got home and he felt exhausted. Physically he felt fine. But mentally, he was on his last leg.
True to his word, Finn was waiting for him. They sat down together at the kitchen table.
"What happened after I left?"
"It was pretty disappointing really. You turn yourself into a formidable killing machine, get ready for the dramatic nighttime fight on a scenic rooftop no less, and then your archenemy makes a bad call, gives himself an aneurysm and you end up standing there like a moron, all dressed up with nowhere to go."
Finn seemed confused. "That's ... bad?"
Kurt smiled. "Nah, it's okay. I'm just grumpy from the cleanup I guess."
"Well, once Marion went down, the building wasn't invisible anymore. Given that said building was full of dead bodies and I'm the one who killed them all, not good."
"Holy shit! What did you do?"
"Well, I got out the three survivors. Marion, who's now in a vegetative coma, Simon, who lost a lot of blood but made it, and ..."
Finn jumped to his feet. "He's alive?!"
"Sit down, Finn. Don't worry." Finn sat back down. "You put a bullet in his hip and another in his shoulder. If I hadn't stabilized him, he would have bled out long before reaching the hospital. He's not going anywhere any time soon, and with all the transfusions, I'm guessing he doesn't have much Prometheus left in his system. Without his powers and Marion pulling his strings, he's just another guy. And I apparently failed to kill one of the mercenaries, so I got him out too. I searched the place for anything I needed to get out, which I put in my car, and then I torched the building. I'll keep an eye on the investigation, just in case, but it looks like we're in the clear."
Kurt grinned. "I guess it is. How's Suzie?"
"Good, I guess."
Kurt looked at Finn strangely. "You guess?"
Finn shrugged. "Well, she was fine when I saw her at home, but kind of traumatized. Right after thanking me for saving her, she dumped me, so I didn't get the chance to ask anything more."
Kurt rubbed his eyes with his fingers. "I'm sorry, Finn. She must be pretty shaken. I'm sure she'll come around."
"I kind of doubt it."
Finn looked down at the table and rubbed the tip of his fingers on it nervously. "Well, I kind of told her I loved her and that right before everything went down we really seemed to finally be in sync and this could go somewhere, you know? So she asked me what I liked about her and so I told her. And I'm being serious, so I don't go for the obvious, but instead I mention all the little things that make me happy that she's been doing and all the stuff that she knows about me that almost no one does. She totally cried."
Kurt smiled at him. "Well, they could be happy tears."
Finn shook his head. "Those were not happy tears, man. Instead, she goes to get something from her purse and it's a notebook filled with everything I just mentioned and more. And then she dumps me."
"Really," said Kurt mildly, idly casing the kitchen for escape routes.
"So at what point were you going to inform me that I was in love with you and not with my girlfriend?"
Kurt wished that something would go right in his life for once, just for the novelty of it. "Look, Finn. She doesn't know our history, so she's imagining things. Everyone knows you've never felt that way about me. I'll talk to her."
"I kind of think you talked to her enough, Kurt. This is about us, now."
Kurt wanted to crawl into a small space and curl into a tiny ball and have a good cry. "I'm sorry, Finn. I'm really truly sorry."
"Do you actually think that what I want from you is an apology?"
Kurt was confused. "It isn't?"
Finn sighed in frustration. "Well, it's a good thing you're pretty, because you sure ain't smart."
Before Kurt even had a chance of protesting this as loudly as it called for, Finn had pulled him into his arms and was kissing him. And kissing him. And kissing him. When Finn finally let him go, Kurt was too stunned to talk, which Finn apparently took as permission to swoop Kurt up into his arms and carry him upstairs to the bedroom. That behavior was completely inappropriate and he'd have to explain to Finn that he was not the girl in a Harlequin novel.
But Kurt was no ogre, so he'd let it slide just this once.