Spoilers: Episode 1.03 of The Legend of Korra.
Warnings: None for this chapter.
Word Count: ~13000
Author's Note: Now, it's time to meet Kurt, and see how our boys meet each other. The main purpose here is to construct the world around our boys, and highlight their vastly different positions in it; two boys, with two loving, likable, functional families on two completely different sides of the issue. All the juicy moral gray areas and complex conflicts to come start popping in here. ;)
More things you'll see here that you won't see in Solar Winds:
Bike Chanderson friendship!
Klaine romance that doesn't involve life-threatening situations (yet)!
I've done a few calculations, outlined everything that needs to happen, and by my count, including the Prologue and Epilogue, this story will have 13 chapters. (And don't worry, I still intend to work on Solar Winds while I'm posting this.) Enjoy!
CHAPTER 2 – Thunder and Lightning
One year later…
Kurt Hummel is being struck by lightning.
Don't worry. He's used to it.
Holly Holliday, Kurt's flaky firebending instructor, draws two circles in the air with lines of energy. At the point where the circles touch, she thrusts her hands forward, sending a brilliant blue bolt at Kurt.
Kurt acts as a living lightning rod, intercepting the energy with one hand, letting it flow through his arm, down into his stomach, and up through his other arm, where it shoots out and hits a power conduit that makes a ceramic monkey bang his cymbals together.
"Thunderrific!" says Ms. Holliday. "You rode that lightning like a pro."
"Yes," Kurt sighs. "I know I can do that. I've been able to do that for years. I don't have a problem channeling electricity, I have a problem with making it."
"Hey, don't stress!" Ms. Holliday says. "All you need to do is what you just did, but backwards. Easy-peasy!"
Kurt gives it his best shot, but his cannon is all powder and no ball. His fingers produce nothing but fizzles. "I don't get what I'm doing wrong."
"Clear your mind," Ms. Holliday says. "Empty it of all thought, all emotion, all everything. Your skull should be as hollow as a coconut… that has been hollowed out.
Kurt rolls his eyes. "Explains why you're so good at it," he mumbles, closing his eyes. A couple of seconds later, he opens them again. "Yeah, I can't do it. Sorry. There's too much up here. It would take years to empty it out, and then, what would I do with all the space?"
"Aw, come on. You're not even trying!" Ms. Holliday says. "What you are experiencing is called 'meditation frustration.' It's totally normal. I will help you through it with a little meditation mediation! Can we get some incense up in this mother? Where's me some candles?"
Kurt massages his temples. "Please, no. No more candles…"
But there are candles. Lots more candles.
A few minutes later, the room is rank with incense and scented wax. Every breath is a trainwreck of fragrance, roughly the equivalent of having potpourri hooks in both nostrils dragging him through every section of Baku's Bath and Body Bonanza.
"Sing it with me if you know the words," Ms. Holliday says, flopping on the ground in front of him, her weird, silky robes shimmering in the firelight. "Ohhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…"
Kurt manages about sixty seconds of ohming before he legit starts to choke to death and runs out of the room coughing.
"I think that's enough lightning for today," Ms. Holliday says, following behind him. "Your vibes are all wrong for this lesson. We're both vibed out."
"Great!" Kurt wheezes. "Let's move on to something else."
"Nowhere else to go," Ms. Holliday replies. "You, sparkplug, are at the end of the curriculum as far as I'm concerned. Once you've got lightning gen down pat, I am fresh out of funky fresh new lesson plans. You'll need a master or a university if you want to go further. My knowledge well has just about run dry." She coughs. "Whoo, speaking of dry, my throat. I need a little drinky."
And she saunters off, presumably to go get plastered.
"Wait," Kurt says. "So what am I supposed to do with the rest of the period?"
"Whatever you want!" Ms. Holliday replies. "Get a snack, sing a song, bask naked in the sunlight… get your vibe back in order!"
Kurt can only gape after her in silence. He's 99% sure she doesn't know how she makes lightning. He's 95% sure she doesn't know how she does much of anything; she just kind of is.
Well, whatever. Advanced Firebending is his last class of the day, so he's free until Finn is done. Going back into the classroom is not an option, not unless wants to experience the joy of oxygen-deprived hallucinations. With little else to do, he decides to take a walk around the school and clear his head, his eyes unfocused, his ears listening to the sounds of Piandao Secondary School.
There's the sound of violent sloshing in the pool room, followed by a gurgled apology and a plea for mercy, which can only mean one thing; someone peed in Coach Roz's pool. Kurt sighs and shakes his head. When will they learn that she can always tell?
There's the sound of bored exasperation; yawns and heads hitting desks, accompanied by the tell-tale whoosh of Mr. Schuester blithely sailing past The Point without even braking. It's amazing how one man can manage to be so utterly clueless and still be considered a 'teacher.'
There is the sound of absolute silence, save for continuous harsh ranting and the occasional sweatdrop hitting the floor. Sue Sylvester must be subbing again. When she talks, the kids listen. Because if they don't, she might actually beat the knowledge into their heads, and they don't want that.
As he steps outside, he hears another sound; a loud clang, some rumbling, and a lot of panicked yelps. It's a sound he wishes he was less familiar with.
He leans around the corner, and there they are. Dave Karofsky and Azimio Adams, members of the school's Earthball team. Earthbenders with heads full of rocks. They've released a herd of lower classmen into the parking lot, and are earth-punting them into the dumpster one-by-one. Azimio lets the students run around, using rock walls to keep the semi-herded, while Karofsky picks them off for target practice. It's more fun when they run, apparently.
Kurt surveys the crowd. Mostly non-benders, of course. Always the kids who can't (or won't) fight back.
Which means he should probably make himself scarce before he catches their eye…
"Well, lookie here! We got us a flamer hanging around!" Azimio says.
"Hey, I know that flamer!" Karofsky says. "What's up, Hummel?"
Kurt turns archly. "Karofsky. Azimio. What are you doing out here? Don't you have skull-thickening practice to attend?"
"Not now," Karofsky says. "This is our free period."
"AKA, free range period," Azimio adds. "Show 'em, Dave-o."
Karofsky stomps the ground towards the group of younger students. The earth splits, cracks, and buckles in a straight line towards them. They try to dodge, but they mostly just trip over each other until the ground shoots up underneath them, knocking one of them straight into the dumpster.
"Two points!" Azimio says, slapping some skin with his fellow Neanderthal.
"Charming," Kurt deadpans. "If attacking helpless targets were a sport, you would surely be world-class athletes."
Karofsky cocks his head back, glaring at Kurt. "What are you trying to say, Hummel?"
Kurt groans inwardly. Stupid. He shouldn't antagonize them. "Nothing, Karofsky. Go back to your fun and games."
"No, I don't think so," Karofsky says. "Azimio, I think Hummel's trying to tell us something."
"Me too," Azimio says. "I think he's saying we should pick on somebody else."
"Yeah, maybe like a bender," Karofsky says. "Well, I don't see any benders besides Hummel around. Do you?"
"Nope," Azimio says. "Just us three. But does Hummel really even count?"
"Good question," Karofsky says, stalking closer and closer towards him. "It's not like he's gonna fight us. Isn't that right, Hummel?"
Kurt holds his head up. "Forgive me if I think schoolyard brawling is a little beneath me."
"Yeah, you know what else is beneath you?" Karofsky grins, stomping the ground.
Kurt jumps back just in time to avoid the spontaneous earthen catapult that springs up from under him. He smiles tightly. "Now, now," he says. "I've already had my dumpster dive for the day, remember? Puck says you are only allowed one."
"Pretty sure you just asked for another one," Azimio says. "And Puck ain't around."
"Hudson either," Karofsky says. "It's just us three. Come on, Hummel; let's play."
Kurt wages a fierce internal war on his course of action here. On the one hand, he has his pride. He always has. Even when badgermole-brained boulderheads are tossing him into dumpsters, he maintains poise and dignity. He doesn't run or cower or beg for mercy—he won't be cowed by these idiots.
On the other hand, he's changed into his second outfit for the day—he always has two, you know. One for the dumpster dive, and one much more fabulous one for after. He's wearing a genuine Wang Fire jacket. It cost him a hundred and fifty yuons. He cannot let them ruin it.
So it's a toss-up. Which is worth more; his pride, or his coat?
In the end, it's neither of them that wins him over; instead, Kurt makes his decision based on the faces of the kids who haven't yet been trashed. If Kurt just lets A and K toss him in, they'll likely go right back to their games, and he'll have nothing to show for it but a ruined outfit. If he distracts them for a little while, the lower classmen might have time to escape.
Very well. He will put his dignity aside for the greater good. Just this once.
"If you want to play, I'll play," Kurt says. "The name of the game is 'Catch Me If You Can.' I think you can figure out the rules yourself. See ya!" And he sprints, cursing himself for his choice of footwear. These boots were made for walking, not running!
"Hey! Get back here!" Karofsky says, springing after him.
"Nobody said you could leave!" Azimio says, joining the chase.
Kurt runs clear out of the parking lot, assuming they won't stray from the school grounds. He's wrong. They keep right on coming, so Kurt keeps right on running.
"Stop right there, flamer!" Azimio says.
A wall of rock pops out of the ground in front of Kurt, but he simply flips over it as it rises. Thank you, Coach Sylvester's agility training.
"Hold still, you little dragon fart!" Karofsky says, stomping up rocks and punching them at him. Kurt ducks, bobs, and weaves, and the rocks sail past him. He jaywalks across the street, ducks around and between everyone on the sidewalk, hoping his pursuers will lose sight of him. No such luck; they just bulldoze anyone who happens to get in their way, forcing Kurt to duck into an alley.
It's times like these when Kurt genuinely wishes he could just turn around and send the idiots yelping back to school with their scorched tails between their legs. Sadly, however, that just isn't in the cards. His fire won't cooperate.
Kurt's relationship with his element is a bit… uneasy. When he was young, he caused an accident that nearly killed his father. For a year or so after, Kurt couldn't make fire at all. Despite his father's encouragement, he was too afraid of hurting anyone to produce an open flame. Then, he could only make fire when he was by himself. And then, only when he was around his father or someone else he truly trusted.
It's ironic that he can only produce the element that can cause the most pain around the people he would least want to hurt.
It's the reason he's devoted himself so fully to mastering firebending and achieving complete control over his flames; he never wants to hurt anyone he loves with firebending again. His rigorous practice regimen and sheer determination has resulted in Kurt being one of the most advanced firebenders in the school. Which does him a world of good when he can't make so much as a spark around a stranger (or an enemy).
Everyone in school more or less assumes Kurt sucks at bending. So Kurt gets picked on. A lot. Especially by these two idiots.
Karofsky and Azimio knock a few bricks loose from the buildings, trying to bean him with them, but Kurt zigs and zags through the maze of alleyways, never giving them a straight shot. It's great at keeping his head and face unbruised; unfortunately, it has the side effect of him quickly becoming more lost than Finn was that one time he accidentally wandered into an AP Calculus class.
Azimio seems to run out of breath, but Karofsky stays on his tail. Kurt takes a hard left and emerges from the alley maze in an area of the city he isn't familiar with. It's amazing how easy it is to get upside-down, inside-out lost in Republic City. You can lose yourself on the way to the bathroom if you aren't careful.
With few other options, Kurt ducks underneath and between a hand-holding old married couple and dives behind a concrete staircase.
Karofsky pops out of the alley, looking around and sniffing the air like he's trying to track Kurt's scent. Thanks to Ms. Holliday's orgy of incense, it might just work.
He's getting ready to bolt when he hears a voice.
Kurt pivots to see a rather handsome, dapper boy peeking out at him from behind a corner.
The boy glances at Karofsky, and then looks at Kurt. "Come on," he says, offering his hand. "I know a shortcut."
Kurt isn't usually one to grab the hands of handsome strangers, but desperate times call for desperate measures. He lets the other boy help him up, and the two of them take off.
Karofsky spots them. "There you are!"
So they just run faster.
Karofsky tries to earth-catapult Kurt's running mate, but to both their surprise, the boy springs off the earth piston like a pro, putting him even further ahead of Karofsky. Kurt, feeling momentarily inspired, jumps over a trashcan and kicks it right into Karofsky's path, sending him tumbling ass-over-head.
The boy darts around a corner. Kurt follows, only to be grabbed and yanked inside of a store. The two of them duck behind a bookcase, peeking between the volumes until they see Karofsky dash right past the storefront, showing no signs of slowing down.
"Well, that was fortuitously timed," Kurt says between bouts of panting. "My heart is pounding."
"Nothing like a good run to get the blood flowing!" the boy says, just a bit less out-of-breath. "Are you alright?"
For a moment, Kurt isn't even sure what the boy means. "Oh, of course! Yes, I'm fine. He's strong, but very predictable. I learned most of his tricks within a week of meeting him," he says with a smile.
The boy smiles back. "Bullies are nothing if not predictable."
They both just smile at each other for a moment, before Kurt realizes that they don't actually even know each other. "Kurt Hummel," Kurt says, extending a hand.
The boy shakes it warmly. "Blaine Anders—Chang!" he says, his eyes widening just a bit.
"Blaine Anderschang?" Kurt says.
"'Anders' is my middle name!" Blaine clarifies. "It's just 'Blaine Chang.'"
"Well, nice to meet you, Blaine," Kurt says. "Do you conduct daring rescues often, or just on special occasions?"
"I do what I can between shifts," Blaine says. "I work here, actually. Welcome to Chang's Chapters!"
Kurt looks around, taking in the warm atmosphere of an old-fashioned bookstore. Plenty of volumes line plenty of shelves, soft music playing from a radio in the background, the air full of bits of dust and paper, rich with history and philosophy and stories of all kinds.
"Blaine?" says a voice from the back. "I've been looking over the your sales sheets for the last week, and I need to—" A stern-looking man steps out of the store's back rooms, and immediately turns scrutinizing eyes onto Kurt. "Hello," he says. "May I help you?"
"Oh!" Kurt says. "I'm sorry, I just—"
"He's with me," Blaine says. "He's… a friend."
The man looks at Blaine. "The facilities are for paying customers only."
"I know, but…" Blaine glances at him for a second, and walks over to whisper something to the man. The man's gaze softens just slightly, but he refuses to relent.
"Be that as it may," he says. "Rules are rules. He must buy something if he wishes to stay."
"Oh, I don't mind," Kurt says, reaching into his pockets and finding little to brag about. "I have… one yuon. What will that get me?"
Blaine ducks around behind a counter and pulls up a small, red packet. He taps a few buttons on the register. "One packet of Fire Gummies; one yuon!"
The transaction is carried out, and Blaine turns a hopeful smile towards the man, whose dubious expression does not change.
"Michael, there is a reason we put Blaine in the front instead of you." A woman enters the room. Both she and the man are clearly of Eastern Earth Kingdom descent, though she looks much less severe. "Stop scaring the customers, dear," she warns.
'Michael's' expression warms shockingly fast. He gives Kurt a small, but benevolent smile. "You may stay as long as you like."
The woman draws him back into the back rooms, and Blaine smiles after them. "Mr. and Mrs. Chang," he says. "The store owners."
"Mr. and Mrs.?" Kurt says. "That's an awfully formal way to address your parents."
"Parents?" Blaine says. "Oh, no, they're not my parents. Just… aunt and uncle." He smiles and steps out from behind the counter, ushering Kurt to a table with a few comfy-looking chairs. "So, umm… feel free to hide out as long as you like. I've got to get back to work, but, please, make yourself comfortable. You can read any books you've brought with you, but Mr. Chang gets annoyed if you read ones you haven't paid for. Just yell if you need anything." He steps aside, and gives a gracious bow. "I am at your service."
Kurt can't help but grin at the gesture. Cute as a button on a baby bulldog's nose. "I hate to disappoint you," he says, "but I really can't stay. School will be letting out soon, and my stepbrother will worry if he can't find me."
Blaine frowns. "Oh, I'm sorry. I made you buy those Fire Gummies for nothing, didn't I?"
"Oh, no!" Kurt says. "I love Fire Gummies. They're kind of a guilty pleasure, actually." Kurt's eyes spot something, and he rolls his eyes. "Though I kind of wish I'd spent the yuon on a map, instead. I have no idea where I am."
Blaine perks up again. "Allow me to remedy that," he says, marching behind the counter and ringing up a map. He puts a yuon from his own pocket inside the register. "On the house," he smiles.
Kurt shakes his head. "Blaine," he says, mock-stern. "You're making it very difficult to leave. Please stop being so adorably nice."
Blaine bows deeply—and, of course, adorably. "My apologies, good sir. I won't keep you any longer."
"You have my gratitude," Kurt says, literally having to force himself to turn around and leave without engaging him any further.
As he makes it to the door, Blaine calls after him. "That's a two-way map, by the way," he says.
Kurt turns around and quirks a brow at him.
"It goes from here to there," he says. "But… it also does there to here. You know." He pauses, tilting his head just so. "If you ever want to come back."
Kurt gives him the tiniest of smiles. He has every intention of coming back—especially now that he's received an invitation—but Blaine doesn't have to know that. "We'll see," he says, with a saucy little wink and a strut right out the door that has Blaine lifting his impressive brows in shock.
Kurt struts hurriedly out of sight so he doesn't giggle like a schoolboy and ruin the moment.
Number one rule of showbusiness—always leave them wanting more.
When Kurt finally makes it back to school, the Jolly Giant-in-Green greets him almost immediately.
"Dude!" Finn says. "Where have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you! I checked all the dumpsters, even the really grody one behind the cafeteria, and I couldn't find you, so I started thinking the garbage dudes had already hauled you off to a landfill…" He trails off. "What are you all smiley for?"
"Hmmm? Oh, no reason," Kurt says blithely. "How did earthball practice go?"
"Cancelled," Finn says. "Tanaka's hemorrhoids are acting up again. Uhh… how's your super-special firebending class going?"
"Terrible," Kurt sighs dreamily.
Finn blinks, trying to reconcile Kurt's words with his tone of voice. He fails. "Dude, are you feeling okay?"
"Oh, I'm just fine," Kurt says. "Let's go home, shall we?"
Kurt keeps smiling the entire walk home, and by the end, Finn is fairly sure that someone slipped him some cactus juice.
Back at the bookstore, Blaine, too, is smiling like an idiot as he absently scrubs the counter. He keeps right on smiling and scrubbing, right up until a hand waves around in front of his face.
"Blaine? Blaiiiiine? You in there?"
Blaine shakes himself out of his trance and turns to see a familiar face. Dressed in the stylish suit and hat of a door-to-door salesman is the grinning mug of one Mike Chang Jr. Blaine blinks at him. "Holy… wait, when did you come in?"
"Like five minutes ago," Mike says. "I've been trying to get your attention this whole time. You were out of it, man." He tilts his head completely sideways, trying to stare into Blaine's skull. "What is going on in that head of yours?"
Blaine blushes slightly. "Well, I… kind of… maybe… met someone," he grins.
"Oh, now I get it," Mike says. "Of course. Only a lovesick fool could wear a grin that dopey."
"I'm not lovesick," Blaine says. "And I can't look half as dopey as you do whenever you think about Tina."
"Hmmmm," Mike says, leaning back against the counter, starry-eyed and smiling like heart-shaped balloons are about to carry him off into space. "Tina…"
Blaine shakes his head. "Could you be a little more besotted? Like, just a little more disgustingly, embarrassingly in love?"
"Only if Tina asked me to," Mike sighs dreamily, swooning from side to side. "I'd do anything for her."
"I'd really appreciate it if you stopped oozing affection all over the place," Blaine says. "Seriously, I just cleaned this counter."
"Hey!" Mike says, spinning around to face him, pointer-finger extended. "You were dripping little hearts all over this thing long before I came along."
"I certainly was not!" Blaine counters.
Mike puts both hands on the counter, getting right up in Blaine's face. "You callin' me a liar, punk?" he growls.
Blaine cocks his head back. "So what if I am?" he says, his voice low and dangerous. "What's it to ya?"
Mike gives him a powerful stink face. "You think you're some kind of wiseguy?"
"Wiser than you!" Blaine says.
"Oh!" Mike says, grabbing his chest and staggering. "I am insulted by that insult! I demand compensation!" He crouches, his legs out to the side almost like a spider's, raising his fists in a blatant parody of any kind of actual fighting stance. "Put 'em up!"
Blaine takes a second to look around the store. Mr. and Mrs. Chang are nowhere to be found. There are no other customers he can see. The day has been slower than a snailsloth on painkillers.
So Blaine grins. "How's about I compensate you right in the kisser?"
And he jumps up, runs along the counter, and leaps into a flying kick straight at Mike. Mike's ridiculous crouch turns into a full-on split, taking him just low enough for Blaine to sail right over him. The second he lands, Mike is back on two legs and coming after him.
"I'm gonna punch you into the second Tuesday of next month!" Mike declares, striking at him.
The two of them begin punching and jabbing at each other at lightning speed. Arms fly all over the place, smacking into each other, hitting, blocking, locking and unlocking. Eventually, Mike slips a hand through Blaine's defenses and catches him in the chest. As Blaine stumbles backwards, he flails out and snatches Mike's hat from his head, flipping it around and placing it on his own head to taunt him.
"You got moxie, kid!" Mike says in his best gangster voice.
Blaine tilts the hat back. "I ain't even begun to mox!"
He jumps onto a table and starts kicking stray magazines at Mike. Mike spins back and forth like a human washing machine, neatly dodging them all. He catches one and sends it back at Blaine, who bends over backwards to avoid it. The move throws him off balance, allowing Mike to charge in and sweep his legs out from under him. He catches himself with his arms, but Mike grabs him and wrestles him off the table, putting him in a headlock.
"Give up, or I'll smack ya so hard, your grandkids'll need stitches!" Mike orders.
"You'll never take me alive, copper!" Blaine replies, shoving a knuckle into Mike's ribs. He hits the sweet spot—Mike's entire left side twinges for just a second, allowing Blaine to slip free. He takes advantage of Mike's momentary disadvantage by jumping onto his back and clinging to him like a monkey. Mike's legs go crazy as he tries to dance around the room and shake the Blaine off his back.
This is the position Julia Chang finds them in when she emerges from the back to see what all the fuss is about.
She is not impressed.
"Boys," she says. "Down."
Mike and Blaine separate like oil and water, standing side-by-side and looking sheepish. "Sorry, mom." "Sorry, Mrs. Chang."
"How many times has Michael told you not to spar where others can see?" Mrs. Chang asks.
"Several times," Blaine nods. "Many, multiple times."
"I've honestly lost count," Mike agrees.
"And yet, you never seem to listen," she says, shaking her head. "I know you boys are eager to practice for your evaluation, but you must do so in private. The last thing we need is rumors that we are training chi-blockers here!"
"Of course, Mrs. Chang," Blaine says sheepishly. "I'm sorry."
"I goaded him into it," Mike says, looking down. "It was totally my fault, mom."
"Just see that it doesn't happen again," Julia says. "I'll go tell your father you've returned. I trust you can manage to avoid any horseplay while I'm gone."
She heads off into the back, and Mike and Blaine look at each other for a few moments, before bursting into uncontrollable grins.
"Dude!" Mike says. "You are getting so good! I am legit amazed."
"Awwww," Blaine says. "I'm still not as good as you."
"Well, of course not," Mike scoffs. "But I've been training for this longer than you. I'm telling you, man, you're a natural."
"You think I'm good enough to get through the Gauntlet?" Blaine asks.
"Dang straight, I do!" Mike says, slinging an arm around Blaine. "We're going to take that thing together, and then, it's only a matter of time before we are the most badass chi-blockers in Amon's Army."
"Speaking of Amon," Blaine says. "Did you get what you went for?"
"But of course," Mike says, opening his suit coat and indicating four little posters rolled up in his pocket.
"Ah, my son," Mr. Chang says. "You've returned. Excellent." He looks around the store for a few moments, seeming to note the lack of activity. "Blaine, please begin closing the store."
Blaine's jaw drops. Mike spits out a mouthful of drink he never took.
"You know what time it is, right?" Blaine asks. "You actually want me to… close early?"
"Yes," Mr. Chang says.
"Dad, are you feeling okay?" Mike asks. "You look a little pale, maybe you should lie down…"
"I'm fine son," Mr. Chang says. "It isn't as if I have never closed early before!"
"Once, in my entire life," Mike says. "And only because the store was on fire."
"Well," Mr. Chang says. "Tonight is a very special night, and I want to ensure that we prepare for it properly and arrive on time. Michael, come with me. Blaine, please close the store. We will wait for you in the back."
"Yes, sir," Blaine says, bowing slightly as Mike and his father head to the back. After a quick check to make sure there are no more customers, Blaine begins the process of closing the store. It's one of those automatic things, something he's done so many times that he barely has to think about it now. After all, he's been living and working with the Changs for almost a year. He knows how it goes.
Blaine would have loved to live with Coach Beiste, but her tiny apartment barely fit her, let alone her plus a teenager. Because of Beiste's obvious connection to Blaine, it was only a matter of time before the police showed up to look for him there, so he couldn't stay with her. Fortunately, Beiste had a few connections…
The Changs were more than happy to take him in. They allowed him plenty of time to continue his recovery, feeding him and sheltering him for free with only a promise that he would work for them in their bookstore when he was able. Things were… strange, at first. Everyone required some adjustment. Blaine wasn't just recovering from physical trauma; he also had mental scars. He would freeze up any time he saw bending. Lightning terrified him beyond all reason. He felt weak and useless, and though he was endlessly polite, he did not want to bother the Changs, so he kept mostly to himself.
Mike was the one who finally coaxed him out of his shell. He came into Blaine's room while he was busy brooding, acting like such an utter goofball that Blaine couldn't help but hate him and love him at the same time. He gave Blaine his first lesson in chi-blocking, and was the main force in convincing him to take lessons.
"The greatest power benders have over us is fear," Mike had told him. "Fear kills us without even throwing a punch. If we can overcome our fears, we can overcome anything."
As it turned out, the main reason that Beiste knew the Changs was because she taught chi-blocking classes in their basement at night. She'd been conspiring with Mike to get him down there once he felt strong enough. With Beiste as his coach, and Mike as his training partner, Blaine slowly learned to face and overcome his fear of bending by learning how to fight benders. How to predict their every move before it happens, how to use that knowledge to get in close and take them out. The training made him faster and stronger than ever, effectively superceding his physical therapy. Blaine somehow went from re-learning how to walk to flipping off of walls as a matter of course.
As he trained with Mike and Beiste at night, he began working for the Changs during the day. Mrs. Chang was warm and understanding, always willing to listen. Mr. Chang was a bit more difficult; a very exacting taskmaster, and somewhat difficult to please, but always clear with his expectations, and very fair. They were both patient with him as he learned the ropes.
Even now, they often act more parental than his own parents did.
And Mike… Mike is the brother Blaine always wished Cooper would become. Mike goofs off and pokes fun at him, but is never, ever mean. Mike makes him laugh when he's sad, and laughs with him when he's happy. When there is a thunderstorm, Mike lets Blaine sleep in his room, where the thunder isn't as loud. Mike has never once said a disparaging word about any of Blaine's fears.
Mike Chang is Blaine's best friend in the world.
Blaine smiles as he finishes closing and heads to the backrooms. They aren't perfect, of course. The arrangement is still a little odd at times, and it has taken some getting used to. But every day that passes makes Blaine feel more at home with these people. There isn't a doubt in his mind; the Changs are the best thing Blaine has ever had, and he wouldn't trade them for the world.
The Changs are gathered around a table, pouring over what looks like pieces of a map.
"So," Blaine says. "What, exactly, is doing on tonight?"
"No one knows for sure," Mr. Chang says. "All we know is that it is very important. Amon himself will be there."
"Hear that, Blaine?" Mike asks with a grin. "You'll finally get to meet your hero!"
"He is not my 'hero,'" Blaine scoffs.
"You have a poster of him in your room," Mike says.
"I do not!" Blaine says, blushing slightly. "How did you find that? I mean… it's… it's not a poster. It's just a pamphlet—"
"—that you pinned to a wall," Mike finishes with a smug grin.
Blaine crosses his arms. "Amon is just... a symbol. He represents the Equality Movement, which is something that I really believe in and admire—"
"Blaine," Mrs. Chang says, "it's alright. You don't have to explain yourself to us. We all admire Amon."
"Yeah," Mike says, teasing. "Just not as much as Blaine."
"Watch it, Mike," Blaine says. "I know where you sleep."
"Both of you, settle down," Mr. Chang says. "I want you to go upstairs and finish your readings before dinner. We must leave at eight PM if we wish to make it on time, so I want you done, dressed, and at the table by 7:30 for dinner, is that clear?"
Blaine and Mike bow and speak in unison. "Yes, sir."
"Good," Mr. Chang nods. "You may go."
Both boys head upstairs, Blaine's mind reeling with possibilities. Both he and Mike are homeschooled—Mike because he wants to help with the family business and Blaine because he is technically a missing child. Mr. Chang assigns them readings every evening, but he's never asked them to finish before dinner, and Blaine never thought he would see the day that man closed down early.
He doesn't know what 'the Revelation' is, but for Mr. Chang to be acting like this… it must be something huge.
Miles away, Kurt Hummel contemplates his own family as he helps cook dinner. In the Hudson-Hummel household, Kurt and Carole are masters of the kitchen. Cooking, after all, generally involves plenty of fire and water, no matter what the dish.
Carole carefully levitates the boiling water and vegetables into the strainer, while Kurt strategically sears his scallops with a little blowtorch at the end of his fingers. Contrary to common belief, firebending doesn't necessarily make cooking faster or easier. You can't just blast something with a huge amount of heat and expect to be cooked; it has to be applied carefully, in the right amounts, at the right times, in order to have the right effect on the food. Kurt's firebending enables him to employ more precision in cooking, but it doesn't really change the process. Open flame is no substitute for an oven or a good stovetop.
As he finishes the scallops, Carole brings her boiled vegetables to the table and begins setting everyone's places. She sets down a few candles just as Kurt arrives with his plate of seafood.
Kurt gives her a look.
"What?" she smiles innocently. "You know what to do with these. Light us up, lightbender."
He rolls his eyes, smiling against his will. With two fingers on each hand, he tosses a brilliant orange spark onto each wick, lighting the candles one by one.
It's no secret that Carole loves to watch him firebend, for many reasons: one, because Kurt's ability to firebend around her means that he is truly comfortable in her presence, and two, because… well, Kurt's firebending is pretty spectacular, and somewhat unique. Because he's so focused on controlling the flames, the fire Kurt makes is very compact and tightly woven, fanning and flaring out very little. As a result, according to Carole, Kurt's firebending looks more like streams of liquid light than fire. Hence her little pet name for him, lightbender.
"Nicely done," Carole says.
"As always, you are too kind," Kurt says, with a little bow.
"Oh, on the contrary," Carole says. "You are too good."
Kurt shakes his head and starts helping her set up plates. "I'm not that good," he says quietly.
"Still having trouble with the lightning, I presume?" she asks, bending ice water into everyone's glasses.
"I don't get it," Kurt sighs. "I have airtight control over electricity. Dad uses me as a human jumper cable in the shop. I control it so easily; so why can't I make it?"
"You're asking the wrong person, honey," Carole says. "I don't know how to make water. I just know how to slosh it around." She demonstrates by filling his glass with an extra flourish. "Whatever the problem is, I'm sure you'll get it eventually. You've never let anything stop you before, and I see no reason for you to stop now."
"There's a first time for everything, I suppose," Kurt mutters. "Failure doesn't need a reason."
Carole squeezes his shoulder affectionately as she passes him by. "You aren't a failure until you stop trying, and we both know that will never happen. Now, wash up. I'm going to go fetch the greasemonkeys."
Kurt smiles and watches her go. Carole is a very nice woman. Strong, supportive, with a very firm grasp of herself. She's good for his father, and good for Kurt, as well. The two of them bonded in the kitchen over the art of cooking, and Kurt has recently taken to giving her fashion tips, which she is surprisingly receptive to. He likes her, he really does.
But he still misses his mother.
Kurt Hummel and Finn Hudson do not have much in common, but they do share one big thing; a bending parent who died and left them with an element they do not wholly understand.
Kurt's mother was a fierce firebending fashionista. His memories of her are hazy and indistinct, growing fainter with every year, but there is one thing that always stands out to him: the color red, bright, vivid, so powerful it is almost warm to the touch. Though she occasionally branched out and experimented with other colors, she always came back to red. It suited her; even when the illness seemed to make her fade away before his eyes, her reds remained as strong and vivid and perfect as ever. Kurt doesn't feel quite as comfortable in it, but he always wears at least a little red with every outfit to keep her in his memory. He was only eight when she died.
Finn, on the other hand, was only a baby when his father, a Metalbending Policeman, was killed in the line of duty. For Finn, his father doesn't exist at all outside of stories and a few old, faded photographs from cameras not quite as advanced as they are now. In spite of that (or maybe even because of it), Finn feels the weight of his legacy more and more. Finn used to be a dumpster-tosser himself; now, he tries to put a stop to it whenever he can. Kurt likes to think he is at least a little bit responsible for awakening his stepbrother's sense of justice. Finn has a tendency to throw his weight around where it isn't wanted, and he occasionally causes more problems than he solves, but he has a good heart, and that counts for a lot.
Both Finn and Kurt grew up in houses without a bending parent to mentor them outside of school. Carole is a waterbender, and Burt isn't a bender at all, so both have struggled, at times, with how to manage their children's powers. It's just so much easier when there is at least one parent of the same element in the house. That was one of the first things Carole and Burt bonded over after Kurt introduced them a couple of years ago.
Now they're married, and so happy together it borders on tacky. Whether or not they realized it at the time, their union essentially created the ultimate blended family; three benders of three different elements, and one non-bender to round out the group. If Carole were to somehow pop out an airbender baby, they'd be five-for-five.
Kurt looks out the window as Carole calls for her son and husband. Burt and Finn drop the rags they're using to polish Burt's Satomobile and try to head in. Carole, of course, stops them at the front door, demanding that they go around the back and wash up. Finn tries to reason with her, throwing his hands out to the sides, blasting the dirt on his body off in all directions… and getting it all over Burt and Carole as a result. Burt holds his arms out and gives him an expectant look, so Finn blasts him clean as well, while Carole waterbends herself off.
Naturally, she still makes both of them go wash up.
Kurt washes up himself, finishing just in time for Finn and Burt to come in and sit down.
"Oh, man," Finn says. "I am so freakin' hungry."
Kurt gasps, positively scandalized. "Finn Hudson, hungry? Get out of town!"
"Stop the presses," Burt jabs gently. "We got a breaking news story over here! Teenage Boy is bottomless pit! World food supply in danger!"
"Hey," Finn grumbles. "It's not my fault. I'm a growing boy!"
"Oh, please don't say that," Carole groans. "I don't know what we'll do with you if you keep growing. You practically have to duck under all the doors as it is."
"Well, if you're gonna turn into a giant, I can always use some extra muscle around the shop," Burt says. "Especially once you learn to metalbend, right kiddo?"
Finn sighs and looks down. "Right," he mumbles.
"Well, at least I'm not the only one having bending troubles," Kurt says.
Finn decides to disengage from the subject entirely, reaching out to grab at the scallops, only for his own glass of water to betray him by snapping at his hand. "Ah-ah!" Carole says. "We bless the food first. Then we eat."
The Hudson-Hummels close their eyes and bow their heads as Carole intones a prayer to the spirits. Kurt is a bit skeptical of this practice, but he indulges it nonetheless. It's not that he doesn't believe in spirits; he's fairly sure they exist, but he's also fairly sure that they don't particularly care whether or not people thank them before they eat. It seems like they would have better things to do than listen to everyone's prayers. But then, he isn't a spirit, so what would he know?
Carole finishes her blessing, and they all dig in. Conversation is easy and light, but Kurt finds he has little to say. Instead, his mind wanders back to the bookstore, and the boy who works there; his handsome, sweet samurai-in-shining-armor. Part of him wants to gush to everyone about the adorable boy he met today, but part of him wants to keep it secret. Partly because he doesn't feel like explaining how he got to the bookstore. Karofsky is a problem Kurt does not feel comfortable sharing with others, though he can't quite place his finger on why.
Finn finishes first, of course, followed by Burt, and both head back outside to finish polishing the car. Kurt offers to help Carole clean up, but she refuses, as always, so Kurt heads into the living room to run through his firebending forms and spend a little quality time with the radio before Burt and Finn hijack it for the evening.
Every night, the family ends up in the living room, listening to the radio together. It's just something they all like to do together. Occasionally, Kurt will convince them to let a little jazz into their lives, or Carole will get them to listen to one of her cheesy-but-fun radio dramas. For the most part, however, family radio time is pretty much dominated by one thing…
Kurt reaches up and turns the radio on, and sure enough, there it is.
"…evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is Shiro Shinobi, coming to you live from the Republic City Pro-Bending Arena, and I tell you, we have got a hum-dinger of a match tonight…"
"…some of the brightest up-and-comers in all of pro-bending will be battling it out for the chance to compete…"
"Ugh," Mr. Chang says, reaching for the knob and looking for some nice, relaxing music. "Such drivel."
The Changs are all piled in the family Satomobile, heading for the Revelation. Blaine and Mike have changed out of their work clothes, both wearing thick overcoats. As usual, Mike gets the nicer hat; he wears a stylish fedora, while Blaine makes do with a simple newsboy cap.
There's only one stop they need to make along the way, and they're almost there.
"Why don't you ever hear broadcasts about martial arts tournaments, or dance contests, or volleyball, or things normal people can do?" Mike asks sadly from the backseat.
"Just one more thing the benders get to have that we don't," Blaine says. "Sports coverage."
Mrs. Chang changes the subject. "Mike, you did remember to call Tina and tell her we were coming, didn't you?"
"Of course," Mike says. "She'll be waiting for us out front."
And sure enough, there she is. "Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Chang," Tina says politely as she opens the door, her all-black ensemble making her almost difficult to see in the dim streelights. "Thank you for inviting me along with you tonight."
"It is our pleasure, Tina," Mrs. Chang says.
"We are glad you accepted our invitation," Mr. Chang nods. "It is good that you are showing interest in these things. Movements like this can change the course of history. It pleases me greatly that both you and Michael are so invested."
"Well, I'm not quite as invested as Mike," she says, shooting googly-eyes at the boy in question as they rub their noses in a disgustingly sappy North Pole Kiss. Blaine plays the part of the little brother perfectly, retching in the seat beside them.
"Jealousy is so unattractive, Blaine," Tina says, giving him a withering look that lasts about three seconds before she breaks into a smile, which Blaine mirrors.
Tina is a native of the Northern Water Tribe. Her family moved down to Republic City for a fresh start after Tina nearly drowned as a little girl. A very young waterbender held a bubble of water around her head, intending to annoy her, having no clue how dangerous that was until it was almost too late. Tina was barely revived in time, and has been terrified of water ever since. She will not approach large bodies of water on her own, and has to close her eyes and chant to keep herself from thinking about it whenever she goes over a bridge. Even something as simple as a pitcher full of ice water can cause her nerves to act up, resulting in a noticeable stutter. Her family had to move in order to allow her a chance at a normal life; she does well in Republic City, as long as she stays well away from Yue Bay.
Tina has always been supportive of 'cutting down the bending oppressors with the Righteous Blade of Equality,' to use her own words, but she has only recently began to consider becoming directly involved with the movement. Mostly because Mike keeps bugging her about it.
"So, Tina," Mike says. "Have you thought about joining one of Coach Beiste's classes?"
Tina looks at him, unsure. "I don't know, Mike… I support the movement, but I don't think I want to become a soldier like you and Blaine do."
"You don't have to become a soldier," Blaine says. "Beginner classes are for anyone who wants to learn."
"Please, Tina?" Mike asks. "You live in such a dangerous part of town. I'd just… I'd feel better if I knew you could protect yourself."
"No one bothers me," Tina says quietly. "Most of the time, I don't think people even see me."
"That doesn't mean they never will," Mike says.
Tina seems to take this into consideration.
Blaine jumps on the opportunity. "Look, it's super-easy. In fact, we can give you a little mini-lesson right now, can't we, Mike?" He gives Mike a significant look.
Mike gets the idea. "Oh, yeah!" he says. "A basic lesson. It won't take a few minutes."
"Alright," Tina says. "I'll bite."
Blaine and Mike grin at each other, knowing what comes next. A year ago, Mike gave this exact lesson to Blaine. It was the beginning of their friendship.
"Hold out your arm," Mike instructs. Tina does so, and Mike grabs her hand to keep it stretched. "Now, fair warning; I'm going to hit you. I won't hit hard, but I want to warn you and make sure it's okay before I go ahead. Do I have your permission?"
"Sure," Tina says. "I trust you."
Mike extends a knuckle on one fist and hits the underside of Tina's arm with an audible thwap!
"Ow!" Tina says, flinching away and socking Mike in the shoulder.
"Ow!" Mike says, rubbing his arm. "What was that for?"
"You hit me, you jerk!" Tina says.
"You told me I could!" Mike says.
"Yeah, but I didn't expect it to hurt that much!" Tina says, shaking her arm.
Blaine laughs at the two of them, and receives two punches for his trouble. "Ow!" he hisses. "So violent…"
"Children," Mrs. Chang says. "No horseplay in the car."
"Sorry, Mrs. Chang." "Sorry, mom." "Sorry Mrs. Chang."
Satisfied, Mrs. Chang resumes quiet conversation with her husband in the front seat.
"Anyway," Mike says. "Your arm feels funny, right? A little tingly, a little sore?"
"Yeah," Tina says.
"That's because I hit a pressure point," Mike says. "There are pressure points all over the human body that regulate the flow of chi. When you hit those pressure points just right, you block them up for a while. Blocked chi can weaken or even paralyze limbs," Mike says. "But that's not all…"
Blaine jumps in. "If you were a bender, you wouldn't be able to bend out of that arm," he says with a smile. "Bending depends on chi to function. If chi can't flow, then bending can't happen. Any bender, no matter how powerful, can be disabled by this technique."
"All Beiste's classes do is teach you where these are," Mike says, gently rubbing Tina's sore arm, "and how to hit them most effectively. That's it. You don't have to become a soldier." His arm rubbing eventually turns into a full-on massage. "It's free for anyone who supports Equality. The benders aren't going to give us anything without a fight. I just want you to be able to fight back."
Tina leans into the massage. "I'll think about it," she says quietly.
"Coach Beiste will be at the rally tonight," Mike says. "You can meet her yourself and see if you want to learn from her."
"She is the best teacher ever," Blaine says. "No lie. I love her to death."
"She is pretty awesome," Mike agrees. "Not as awesome as you, of course… but close."
Tina looks up at him. "I'll think about it," she repeats, inviting him in for another nose-rub.
They park a good distance away from the rally, not wanting to draw attention to the building itself. Mr. and Mrs. Chang seem lost in their own world as the family walks together. Honestly, they've seemed like that all night to Blaine. They look at each other adoringly, sharing little whispers, just like a young couple in love. Mike and Tina are almost their perfect mirror image; looking at the four of them is like looking both ways through time. In Mr. and Mrs. Chang, he sees Mike and Tina in the future. In Mike and Tina, he sees Michael and Julia, decades younger.
With all the couples and couple-feelings going around, Blaine feels a little left out. Maybe Mike and Tina are right. Maybe he is a little jealous.
As he walks between the happy couples, he imagines the boy from the bookstore walking beside him, looking at Blaine the way everyone is looking at everyone else. And he immediately blushes, feeling silly for even thinking about it. He doesn't know Kurt. They barely even spoke to each other, and yet…
Well, it's a nice image. It feels… nice.
When they get past the enormous bodyguard and head into the rally, Blaine finds himself stunned at the size of it. He's been to Equalist rallies before, but never one this large. There has to be tens of thousands of people here, from all walks of life. He's so busy gaping at the crowd that he doesn't even notice Coach Beiste until she reaches out and yanks him into a hug.
"How's my favorite pupil?" she says, shaking him like a sack of potatoes and seeming to rejoice in him not coming to pieces.
"I was pretty great, until this crazy person walked up and started shaking me," Blaine laughs.
"Ha!" Coach Beiste says, slapping his back almost hard enough to knock him over. "You might be a little shaken, but you ain't bakin'."
"I… suppose that is true, yes," Blaine agrees.
"Just think," she says. "A year ago, I could've knocked you over with a dirty look. Now, you and me could go a round and you might just be standin' when the bell rings!"
"And I have you to thank for that," Blaine says. "I never would've come this far if it wasn't for you."
"Aw, don't say that," Coach Beiste says. "You're punching me right in my heart-guts. Now I'm getting' all wibbly-eyed and emotiated!" She wipes a little tear from her eyes, and Blaine laughs.
The rest of the Changs show up shortly afterwards. Mr. and Mrs. Chang try in vain to offer her a handshake. She hugs both of them off the ground, and has a little mock-spar with Mike. Tina is the only one who gets off with a handshake, having just been introduced.
"So you're the one Mike's been going all floaty and stupid over," Coach Beiste says. "He tells me you might be interested in taking a class or two."
"I really don't know," Tina says. "I still get a little nervous around water. I-I-I don't know if I c-c-could…" She looks down.
"Hey," Coach Beiste says gently. "Don't look so down, sweetie. You got nothin' to be ashamed of. We were all afraid once. That's what these classes are for. The greatest power benders have over us is fear. Fear kills us without even throwing a punch. If we can overcome our fears, we can overcome anything."
Mike and Blaine share a look, Mike grinning guiltily as if to say 'yeah, I might have cribbed my little speech from Coach Beiste, but hey, it's still true, right?' Blaine rolls his eyes at him and turns back to Tina.
"I used to be afraid," Blaine says. "After I was attacked, I would freeze up or flinch anytime I saw bending of any kind. It took me months to get over that, but with Coach's help… I did."
"You really think it might help?" Tina asks.
"There's only one way to find out," Coach Beiste says. "But listen to me, sweetheart; I don't want you to feel pressured or nothing. Ain't nobody here to push you into doing anything you don't want to do. You can lead a gorilla goat to water, but you can't float his boat, am I right?"
"I wish you'd tell that to my boyfriend," Tina mutters.
Beiste glares at Mike. "You been pressurin' this girl?"
Mike blinks. "I haven't… have I? I mean… I have been asking a lot and… but I didn't mean—that is, I was just worried about; I don't… oh, crap." He looks positively miserable. "I'm sorry, Tina. I didn't realize I was making you feel like that. From now on, my lips are sealed on the matter." He zips his mouth shut. "Hw's thht snnnd?" he asks through his zipped lips.
"That sounds like my perfect boyfriend," Tina says, taking his hand. "It was nice to meet you, Ms. Beiste."
"Please, call me Coach," Coach Beiste replies.
Coach Beiste—first name Shannon, apparently—engages in friendly chatter with the adult Changs, while Tina, Blaine, and Mike take turns marveling at the size and scope of the rally, wondering what is about to be Revelated.
Soon, the lights go down, and everyone falls silent.
"Please welcome… your hero… your savior… Amon!"
The crowd cheers and Blaine is awed in spite of himself. This is the first time Blaine has ever seen Amon in person. He looks small from a distance, but his presence is positively enormous. He commands the room. Everyone listens as Amon tells his story, as he tells all of their stories. Because everyone in this crowd has lost something to the benders; Amon lost his family and face (taken by firebenders), Mike lost every home he has ever known (taken by the Triads), Tina lost her ability to function around water (taken by a waterbender), and Blaine lost over a year of his life (taken by all three elements, and that's not counting all the time wasted with people who thought not dumping him at an orphanage was an incredible act of generosity). Every loss, no matter how big or small, is important. Every loss matters.
Blaine gets caught up in the crowd, booing along with everyone else at the mention of the Avatar. He finds himself nodding as Amon says that bending brings only pain and suffering and destruction.
And then he falls silent, as Amon says something that changes Blaine's entire world.
"Since the beginning of time, the spirits have acted as guardians of our world… and they have spoken to me. They say the Avatar has failed humanity. That is why the spirits have chosen me to usher in a new era of balance. They have granted me a power that will make equality a reality. The power to take a person's bending away… permanently."
Blaine's jaw drops. He looks at Mike, who is still staring at the stage in shock. Tina's eyes are wide, one hand over her mouth. Even Coach Beiste seems a little taken aback. "Is that possible?" Blaine asks Mr. and Mrs. Chang.
"If you had asked me ten minutes ago," Mr. Chang says, "I would have given you an unequivocal 'no.' Now, however…"
"Just watch," Mrs. Chang says.
Blaine turns his eyes back to the stage as Amon brings forth what are apparently several benders. He hears Mike whispering behind him. "No way. No fucking way! Mom, dad! Look, it's—"
"Heavens above. Julia, do you see—"
"I do. I don't believe it…"
A mere second later, Blaine understands their reaction.
"Now, for a demonstration. Please welcome Lightning Bolt Zolt, leader of the Triple Threat Triad and one of the most notorious criminals in Republic City."
The Changs have been hounded by the Triads since before Mike was even born. Every home Mike has ever known, he has lost to those criminals, whether through extortion, threats, or out-and-out violence. Three times, in three different locations, the Changs' bookstores have been burned to the ground by the Triple Threats or the Agni Kais. One of those times nearly killed Mrs. Chang through smoke inhalation. The Changs have only recently been able to find a location outside Triad control, and their territory has been steadily expanding towards them.
"Zolt has amassed a fortune by extorting and abusing non-Benders. But his reign of terror is about to come to an end…"
Mr. and Mrs. Chang draw closer together as they watch what happens. Mike stands in front of them, his eyes shining with emotion, overwhelmed at the prospect of justice finally being served. Tina seems to understand, quietly taking his arm and offering herself as a pillar of support.
Blaine can hardly breathe.
Then, something Blaine does not expect.
"Now, in the interest of fairness, I will give Zolt the chance to fight to keep his bending."
And Zolt is released. Blaine tenses up immediately.
It starts out simple enough; fireballs, fireballs, and fireballs, Amon dancing effortlessly around each one. But they don't call him 'Lightning Bolt Zolt' for nothing. Blaine knows what's coming. He tries to prepare himself.
He fails. The second he sees the first blue spark, hears the first crackle of electricity, his entire body goes rigid and he forgets how to breathe.
Of all the things he has faced over the past year, of all the fears he has learned to overcome, lightning is the one thing he absolutely cannot handle. Just the sight of it sends him spiraling back to that final moment before the end, beaten, broken, hanging onto consciousness by a thread, Sebastian's cold, merciless expression in the flickering blue light…
An arm wraps around him from behind, holding him up. "Breathe," Coach Beiste says. "Keep breathin', buddy. You're safe. You're okay."
A hand finds its way onto his shoulder, squeezing it gently. It's Mike's. He understands. Even now, in a moment that seems like it has been coming Mike's entire life, he is there for Blaine.
Blaine's eyes stay rooted to the stage. Amon dodges even the lightning, dashing inside of Zolt's range and grabbing his arm. Zolt continues to fire voltage into the air, unable to stop, rendered helpless in Amon's grasp. Amon twists his hand around, and his body with it. The lightning blasts into the stage, dances dangerously close to the crowd, flickers up the wall and begins destroying the lights hanging from the stage. Amon pushes Zolt down to his knees, and puts a hand on his forehead, and…
The stream of energy sputters and fizzles, weakening, no longer able to reach the ceiling. It grows dim, fading into a continuous burst of fire.
And then the fire dies.
Amon releases Zolt, and he falls to the floor. In vain, the man tries to pick himself up and resume his bending offensive. Nothing happens.
"What… what did you do to me?" Zolt asks weakly.
Amon stares down at him, the cold white mask containing not even an ounce of pity or remorse. "Your firebending is gone. Forever." He looks out over the crowd, and proudly announces, "The Era of bending is over! A new Era, of Equality, has begun!"
The crowd goes wild.
When Blaine said that Amon was simply a symbol to him, he wasn't lying. Amon represented everything Blaine wanted the world to be. He was a face on which Blaine could affix his hopes, his dreams.
Now, however, that is no longer true. As of this moment, Amon has become Blaine's hero.
Because as Blaine watched him on that stage, draining out Lightning Bolt Zolt's power, it was as if he was draining every bender Blaine had ever met. As if Dirk was kneeling in front of him, gaping in fear. As if Mark was on his knees, helpless and paralyzed, his eyes wide with terror. As if Sebastian was wearing that same expression of absolute helplessness as the power he so loved to lord over others was taken from him, never to be returned.
It was as if Amon's hand were on Blaine's forehead, not to take away his bending, but to take away its effects, its power over him. All of the fear, the pain, the anger, and the sorrow that has built up over the course of his life seemed to drain away, if only for a second.
It's an incredible moment.
And then, just like that, it's over. An explosion of steam erupts from the wall, clouding the room and sending the crowd into a panic.
Benders, as is their wont, have ruined everything…
"Miko takes a splash to the legs! He's stumbling, teetering, tottering over the edge! Soza goes for the old one-two firepunch—and Miko goes for a swim! It's now a one-on-two battle; the Pumakeets still have Sakura and Soza, water and fire, while the Lizardcrows have only 'Rock'em, Sock'em' Roji. OH! Roji nails Sakura with his signature Dynamite Double Disc Deluxe! Sakura goes from Zone One straight into the drink! It's down to the wire, folks, a one-on-one battle of earth and fire with two of the fiercest competitors in the business! Roji goes for a rebound shot; Soza flips aside, strikes back with a firekick! Roji takes a hit, but he refuses to go down! He counters with two discs low; Soza flips up, but Roji catches him in mid-air, and it's back to Zone Two! Oh, you can feel the tension in the air tonight, folks! This match could go either way! Fifteen seconds left; Roji curves a shot, but Soza smashes it, takes cover in the dust! He's shooting at Roji, but Roji can't tell where he is! Roji kicks up three discs and charges to the line. Soza comes out to meet him! The fighters clash, and—"
The feed cuts.
"And? And what?" Burt says, on the edge of his seat.
"Come on! Don't stop there!" Finn shouts, flailing his hands at the radio
Carole tilts her head and examines it. "The power didn't go out. Is it still plugged in?"
Kurt hops up to check. "Looks like it."
Finn flails some more. "Then why'd it sto—"
Another voice comes out of the speakers. "We interrupt this program to bring you a breaking news bulletin!"
"You're freakin' kidding me!" Burt says, tossing his newspaper at the speaker.
"What in the world could possibly be this important?" Finn demands to know.
"Shhh!" Kurt says, turning up the volume.
"We've just gotten word that the Equalists, Republic City's anti-bending movement, have taken a great leap forward in their crusade to bring down the bending establishment!"
"Those yahoos? Again?" Burt groans.
"Ugh!" Finn grunts. "Equalists ruin everything."
"According to eyewitness reports, the Equalist Leader, the masked terrorist known only as 'Amon,' has just revealed a terrifying new ability; the power to remove a person's bending, permanently!"
Kurt stares at the radio, stuck between skeptical and shocked.
"Bullshit!" Burt scoffs. "These sensationalist wackos'll publish anything…"
"These reports have been confirmed by none other than Avatar Korra herself, who witnessed the ability demonstrated as she broke up an Equalist rally. As a result, Republic City Authorities have issued an advisory warning to all benders to lock their doors and windows and have their telephones ready. If you suspect any Equalist activity in your area, please notify the authorities immediately. Do not attempt to engage the Equalists yourself! If you have any information on the identity or whereabouts of Amon, please, call this number…"
Kurt's mouth falls open just a bit as he looks to his family. Everyone is on edge; Burt dances between confused and pissed, Carole treads the line between concerned and shocked, and Finn just looks on the verge of passing out.
Kurt is reeling. The shock throws him for so long that he completely misses when the emergency broadcast ends and the post-match commentary resumes. Neither Finn nor Burt seems to notice or care who won the match, which really says something; anything that can get them to ignore pro-bending is a big deal.
He flicks the radio off, and gently sits on the couch next to Finn. For several seconds, they all just sit in silence.
"I don't believe it," Burt says, shaking his head. "Not a chance. It's gotta be a hoax."
"Avatar Korra confirmed it herself, Burt," Carole says. "She hasn't been in town long, but she doesn't seem like the kind to just make this up."
"But… there's, like, no way," Finn says. "Right? I mean… that can't happen. They can't just… take my bending away."
"Calm down, Finn," Kurt says.
"But they can't!" Finn shouts. "That's—like, that's just…" He can't quite seem to finish, his mind too overwhelmed to think straight.
"They have those… those chia blocks," Burt says.
"Chi-blockers," Kurt corrects.
"Yeah, those," Burt says. "How do we know he ain't just doing that?"
"I would hope Avatar Korra could tell the difference," Carole says. "They wouldn't make an announcement like this if they didn't think there was real cause for concern."
The room lapses into silence again.
The Equalists have been around for a while, but no one really paid them much heed; Burt always said they were thugs and cowards for hiding behind masks. Finn said they were a bunch of whiners. Carole shrugged them off as nothing to worry about, likening them to a passing fad.
Kurt just thought they were jealous. Even if he isn't always at ease with his element, he's glad he has it. He loves all the things it enables him to do, even if he can't do them all the time. He can hardly imagine life without it. He thought the Equalists were bitter over being born without bending, and instead of trying to find their own natural gifts, they attacked benders for theirs.
That's what they thought before.
Now, they don't quite know what to think…
"So," Mr. Chang says during the car ride home. "What do you kids think about all this? We've barely had a chance to discuss it in all the commotion."
It took them quite a while to find their way out of the building and make it back to their car in the chaos of the rally's end. They're only just catching their breath.
"I still can't believe it," Mike says, shaking his head. "Lightning Bolt Zolt chased us out of house and home more times than I can remember. Besides that, he has harassed hundreds, if not thousands of families over the years. To see him finally get what's coming to him… it's almost too good to be real."
"That man has caused a great deal of pain," Mrs. Chang says. "I can think of no more appropriate punishment."
"But is this right?" Tina asks. "It seems almost like chopping off someone's hands for stealing something."
"That was once a very real possibility, Tina," Mrs. Chang says. "This is comparatively much less severe. No actual harm is being done."
"The only other way to stop Zolt would've been to kill him," Mike reasons. "That guy has a laundry list of crimes a mile long, and everybody knows about them, but nobody can ever keep him behind bars. Nothing sticks. He always walks, and the people who went after him usually wind up missing."
"His firebending skill would have made him incredibly dangerous no matter what the situation," Mr. Chang says. "Even if imprisoned, he likely would have caused suffering through his many sycophants and those who feared his power. Now, his power is gone, and his followers have no more reason to look up to him. He must walk as we do, and know the fear that we know. His many enemies will crowd around him, and he will understand what it is like to feel powerless." Mr. Chang nods sagely. "A punishment this appropriate can only be the will of the spirits."
"I guess…" Tina says.
The gentle rumbling of the engine is the only sound for a few moments.
"Blaine, you are awfully quiet back there," Mrs. Chang says gently. "Are you alright?"
Blaine turns from the window and smiles at her. "I'm fine. I'm… I'm great, actually."
"Heh," Mike says. "It got to you, too, didn't it?"
"I feel…" Blaine says, shaking his head, unable to contain his grin. "I feel like I've just witnessed history. Like… like I've seen the future. A world where everyone is on an equal playing field. No more benders and non-benders. Just… people. Everywhere. We would all just be people." He sighs. "Just imagining it gives me goosebumps…"
"With any luck," Mr. Chang says. "You will not have to imagine it for much longer…"
"I can't even imagine what that would be like," Carole says quietly. "Waterbending has been a part of me since I was just a little girl at the South Pole. I use it as naturally as my hands and feet, I even feel it. It affects every aspect of my life. To just have that stripped away… I can hardly think about it."
There are a few moments of silence, tempered only by ticks from the Hummel grandfather clock.
"Lots of people live without bending," Burt says. Carole gives him a powerful squint, and he quickly raises his hands. "I'm just saying; would it really be that bad?"
"Yes!" Finn says immediately. "It would suck. It would be awful. How can you even ask that?"
"Finn, I'm not saying you oughta lose your bending," Burt says. "I'm asking a question. I'm the only nonnie in the room, kid, cut me some slack. I'm trying to understand."
"Dad, people who live without bending are people who've never had it," Kurt says. "It's never been a part of their lives. To us, it's as natural as breathing. People who are born blind don't miss being able to see; for them, there's nothing to miss. But if you lost your eyes, you'd miss them. You wouldn't even be able to function for a while. You might learn, eventually, but it wouldn't be easy. Because losing a part of yourself—a part that's always been with you, that you've never lived without before—is a major blow."
Burt nods silently, deep in thought.
"They're not gonna take my bending," Finn says, trying to puff himself up. "I'd smash those guys. I'd bury them a hundred feet underground. No way am I letting them get to me. Or you!" he adds, looking at Kurt.
"I hope I wouldn't need you around if I ever met an Equalist," Kurt says. "I'd like to think that if I really, really needed it, my firebending wouldn't let me down."
"I'd bring the fury of an icecap down on those bastards before I let them touch any of my boys," Carole says intently.
"Same here," Burt nods. "Y'know, without the ice thing. Maybe I'd hit 'em with my Satomobile, or whatever. I'd do something, though. I might not get this whole bending thing like you all, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna let anybody take something of yours that you don't want to give. I love every piece of my family. No Equalist scumbag is taking that away."
Finn perks up a bit. "So… we've got nothing to worry about," he says. "We've got fire, earth, water… and car. We're the most awesome family ever. Nobody could take us down!"
"Here, here," Kurt says.
"Dang straight," Burt says.
"I'll drink to that," Carole nods. "Now, you boys are up way past your bedtime; if you don't want me to have to ice you awake in the morning, I suggest you get to bed."
"Good idea," Kurt says, standing up. Finn yawns and stretches beside him, hitting his hand on a light fixture.
"I'll lock everything up," Burt says. "Night, boys."
Finn and Kurt head upstairs to their rooms.
"Night, dad. Night, Carole."
"Night, mom. Night, Burt."
"Night, mom, night dad."
"Goodnight, Mr. and Mrs. Chang."
"Goodnight, boys. Sleep well," says Mrs. Chang as she closes the door to the bedroom at the top of the stairs.
When the door closes, Mike and Blaine take a second to just look at each other, basking in the glow of everything that's happened.
"Dude!" Mike says, shaking his head in awe.
"I know!" Blaine says. "This is amazing. This is the best news ever."
"Amon is officially the coolest guy on earth," Mike says, bouncing up to Blaine and grabbing him by the shoulders. "And just think; soon, you and me will join the Revolution as actual soldiers. We might even get to meet him!"
"Gosh," Blaine says. "I don't even know what I would say. I think I'd be too awestruck to speak."
"Ah, he'd probably understand," Mike says. "I bet he gets that a lot."
"You think he'd sign my poster?" Blaine asks.
"Ha!" Mike says, pointing a finger. "You admit it's a poster!"
Blaine blushes. "Yeah… I guess it kind of is."
"And you know what?" Mike says. "After tonight, I might just get one myself. Amon is awesome. Soon, he'll be everybody's hero."
"Everybody except benders," Blaine says smugly.
Mike grins at him and makes like a ninja, creeping around the room. "Benders beware!"
"The Equalists are coming for you," Blaine says.
Mike starts spider-crawling up a wall. "We're climbing in your windows, snatching your bending up…"
"To bed, boys!"
Mike freezes mid-climb and immediately falls off the wall. Blaine suppresses a cackle at his antics as he helps him up.
The two of them share one last look of camaraderie before heading to their rooms.
Kurt starts to close his door, until he notices Finn lingering in his doorway across the hall. Kurt looks up at him.
"I mean it, you know?" Finn says. "If you needed me… I'd totally throw down for you."
Kurt smiles. "I appreciate that."
"I know we haven't always had, like, the easiest relationship," Finn says quietly. "But you're my brother—like, not even step. I don't want there to be a step between us. You're my full-on brother. So, you know… if you need me, I'm here for you."
Kurt nods at him, feeling just a bit better. "Thank you, Finn. I'm here for you too."
They close their doors.
Kurt sits on the edge of his bed, bending up a small flame between his hands, letting it fan out and flare up a little more than usual. The motion of the flame is almost hypnotic.
After lighting a candle and setting it on his nightstand, Kurt falls asleep staring into the flame…
…while Blaine falls asleep staring at the poster of Amon beside his bed.
That night, Blaine Anderson sleeps like a baby. In his dreams, he dons a white mask, and benders of every element flee from him in terror as he pursues them through the city, relentless in his hunt…
…and miiles away, Kurt Hummel sleeps fitfully, his dreams haunted by visions of himself and his family being ruthlessly hunted down by a man in a white mask.
A/N: And thus, the stage is set! I won't have too many chapters that involve the Glee characters reacting to canon Korra events, but this one is basically the central conflict of the story; Blaine had to be there to see it.
Up next: Kurt returns to the bookstore, and he and Blaine spark a friendship with a healthy side of flirtation, growing closer without realizing the secrets that could drive them apart. How close can they get before seeing the truth? How far will they fall for each other before they realize who, and what, they are falling for?
Reviews make my day. ;) I hope you enjoyed this, and thanks for reading!