DISCLAIMER: Not mine, possibly not even the idea. But what I did with it, that might be mine.
The wind howled, and the damp wind blew in from the watery west. It may have been Christmas, but the temperature was only fifty or so, maybe forty-five with the wind chill. And to the sullen, sorrowful, shivering boy sitting on his steps, that was more than cold enough. He was a California boy, you see, for whom sunshine and warm rays were the norm and not a vacation destination. And right now, his front steps were about the best he could do for a vacation destination – a vacation from his parents, that is.
Only fourteen years old, Alexander Lavelle Harris was at once both more mature than normal for his age, and less so. He was less mature because of his steadfast refusal to consider his future, as his friend Willow constantly reminded him, and because he clutched the things of his earlier childhood too him with a death grip. He was more mature, however, because he practically had to fend for himself. No, his parents never abused him, but their neglect festered inside, and every argument they had with each other ripped away another onion-skin layer of hope that they'd someday be a real family. Of course, he had already formed his own family, unrelated by blood. Willow Rosenberg and Jesse McNally were his sister and brother, a bond formed before either could remember. But even they weren't here this night. Jesse was with family in Oklahoma, and Willow was with her parents on a speaking engagement in Boston. So, the boy who was both younger and older than he appeared simply sat on his steps in the cold, misty wind.
A loud crash in the house would have startled almost anyone else, but he simply cocked his head, and thought for a second. “Jim Bean, half full,” he muttered after a moment.
Another crash. “Empty Budweiser.”
A third. “Ouch, one of Grandma's old plates. I'd better go to the Quick-EE-Mart and get something to eat, this one will last a while.”
Stretching his lanky frame as he stood up, the chill seemed to bite a bit deeper. He scratched his shaggy hair with one hand, then wiped his eyes, and set off down the street.
He never thought of himself as Alexander, or Alex. He didn't consider himself Jessica Harris's son, or the spawn of Tony Harris's loins. No, to him he would always and only be Xander, so dubbed by his oldest friend. And Xander started to realize that it was, in fact, getting colder the further he walked down the quiet street.
After turning off the residential road and onto a street lined with shops, he slipped. Not enough to actually fall, but enough to notice what he had stepped on. “Ice?” he squawked. “It's starting to literally get freezing cold out here, jeesh! Well, more than halfway there, may as well go on rather than go back and get another jacket.”
The wind howled, and a light freezing rain started before he had gone ten steps further. “Then again,” he muttered, “maybe home would be better right about now.” But as he turned another corner, he slipped again. And this time, he did fall. Hard.
The ice he landed on cracked, and for a moment he thought his hip had, as well. Wincing in pain, he dragged himself back to his feet, as the icy rain grew stronger. He was slightly turned around, but he was able to orient himself after a few minutes of squinting through the now painfully cold precipitation.”Joy, oh, joy. What a wonderful Christmas I'm having, yes indeedy.”
His medium-weight jacket was no match for the cold as it soon became soaked, and he found every step to be more and more painful. His teeth chattered painfully, and every joint in his body seemed to rail against the concept of moving even another inch forward. But there was no way he was going to stop, he was GOING to get to the Quick-EE-Mart, if only because it would be warmer in there than outside. And, of course, the fact that they had Twinkies was an added bonus.
Something about all this didn't feel right to Xander, and it wasn't just the cold. Even on Christmas, at least one car would have passed him by now, but it was quiet save for the whipping wind. And he should be seeing lights on in the stores, or lights and decorations on the houses he had passed on his way here, but nothing.
Finally, aching in a way he had never known before and chilled so deep his lips were probably turning blue, he reached the Quick-EE-Mart... and it was closed. “Dammit!” he swore. His shoulders slumped, and his messy bangs fell over his eyes as his head hung in near despair.
A strange whuffing noise to his right caught his attention. He glanced over, but couldn't make out what had made that noise in the now blinding sleet. “C-c-come on out-t-t,” he chattered, for now more from the cold than from the almost instinctive fear he felt beginning to grow deep within him.
As soon as the words left his mouth, young Xander realized he had made a mistake. A shadow of white on white in the swirling ice caught his attention, and it slowly emerged from wherever it was. At first glance he thought it was a husky, or maybe a malamute, but it was far too large, and too white. He quickly realized it was a wolf, but no sort of wolf he had ever seen before. Massive, it was at least the size of a small horse, and an evil grin graced its muzzle.
Step by step, the beast slowly walked up to him, flecks of drool frozen on its mouth in the unnatural cold. He tried to back up, but couldn't, and wondered briefly if it was the fear that was now almost overwhelming, or if his feet had actually frozen to the pavement. Wide-eyed, he simply stared as the monstrous wolf stepped closer and closer. It stopped with its muzzle inches away from the boy's face, and to his shock the thing's breath wasn't warm, but instead even colder than the maelstrom that now surrounded him.
For one long heartbeat, everything stopped. The bloodshot eyes of the monster did not blink, Xander did not breath, and nothing at all moved. No cars drove past, no hum of electric lights, not even the howl of the wind in his ears. And in that heartbeat, he knew that he would not survive this night. Forcing his joints to unlock, forcing himself to move, he accepted the cold. He accepted his fate. But he absolutely refused to surrender to it. He managed to finally straighten himself to his full gangly height, and stared the creature in the eye. With a single breath, he managed to force out, without chattering, “Go to hell, Cujo.”
With an almost audible 'SNAP', everything started moving again – but the wolf wasn't moving towards him. Instead, it was flying sideways, like a leash had suddenly been jerked with the force of a Mac truck. The sleet and freezing rain swirled even higher, then he saw another shape, this time to his left. This time, it was the shape of a man.
Unlike before, Xander found he could move his feet, but there was no fear. “Probably used up all my fear on the wolf,” he muttered to himself. So he simply turned to face the approaching man.
He was short, and wore a cloak over a rather gaudy pinstriped suit. A beaten-up old hat was perched jauntily on the top of his head, and a triumphant grin graced his rather pinched face. He walked right up, and put his hand on the boy's shoulder. The touch of the hand seemed to drain all the cold away, and filled him with a sense of warmth. “Knew ya had it in ya, kid,” said the strange man. “Now, come on, we got places to go and people to meet.”
Part of him wanted to object, to demand to know what was going on, but the rest of him was just too tired to care. The man had taken away the cold with just a touch, and the rain didn't even seem to touch him anymore, so he just shrugged. “Whatever.”
Leading Xander down the street, the man turned a corner at an alleyway to show something he had never seen before. It looked like the entrance to a subway, like he had seen on television in shows about New York. He followed the man down, and into the darkness.
Echoing steps rang through the empty hall as the two passed by dim, flickering fluorescent lights. Finally, they reached the platform. Waiting for whatever would come, he glanced at the man standing next to him. “Erm... I'm...”
“Xander, I know,” said the man. “Also known as Alexander 'Never Admit My Middle Name Is' Lavelle Harris. My name's Whistler. My bosses owe this guy we're gonna meet a favor, so they sent me to get ya.”
“Umm... right.” Shrugging, he looked each way down the tunnel.
All too soon, a bright light caught his eye far off down the tunnel, and he watched in amazement as a strange, almost surreal subway car rolled in to stop. Where most subways he had seen on television were covered in graffiti, this one almost seemed to be built entirely out of solid graffiti. It had no windows or doors that he could see, only a body, wheels, and a single light in the front. It screeched to a stop right in front of them, and the side yawned open like an unnatural maw. The inside, from what he could see, appeared to be a normal subway train, except it had no windows.
“Okay, kid. Just climb on in, and when it stops, climb out. You'll know what to do then,” said Whistler.
“Wait, you want me to get inside that thing? Where am I going?”
“Just go, kid. Trust me, you won't regret it. Cheers,” he answered, and faded into nothingness.
Staring at the bizarre sight in front of him, Xander took a deep breath, and climbed inside. As the side of the car closed, lights at the top of the compartment came on, and he felt it move underneath him. He grabbed on to a hanging strap, and held on as it suddenly accelerated. Every few moments, it would swerve, dip or climb, and he soon lost all track of trying to figure out where exactly it was headed, and concentrated entirely on holding on for dear life.
After what had to be at least half an hour of the worst roller coaster of his life, he felt it finally begin to slow down. It took nearly a minute and a half, and the whole time he hung at nearly a forty-five degree angle, but it finally stopped. The side of the car split open once again, to show not a subway station, but a great cavern. Steeling himself, the boy climbed out of the car, and into the cavern.
As he stepped away from the subway, torches mounted in sconces flared to life. The cavern stretched on into the darkness, and further torches appeared and ignited, even as the ones he passed extinguished themselves. Statues of various heroes lined both walls, all bearing a stylized lighting bolt as a symbol somewhere on the statue. Some he recognized from the Dungeons and Dragons book he had read with Jessie, before they had agreed to much math was involved. That one was probably Theseus, since it had a bull's head under his foot, while the other Greek looking one was almost definitely Perseus, as it had a snake-covered head in its grasp. The rest, however, he had no clue about.
As he walked, he wondered what time it was. While his parents probably didn't care where he was, he should be getting some food, soon. But as he thought about it, he realized he wasn't even that hungry. Shrugging, he continued down the passage, and looked at all the mighty statues, wondering what they had done to be so immortalized, and whose hand had carved them.
Soon, the statues ended, and a bare stretch of wall led to a bend to the right. Following it, what met his eye was not statues of heroes, but statues of monsters, with their names inscribed therein.
First, marked “Pride”, was a bloated, frowning figure made of pale jade. Next came a glaring yet cowering figure of some sort of pinkish agate whose base called it “Envy”. Following that was a cackling, grinning shape carved from malachite called “Greed”, and a crimson fanged, horned figure scowling at its name plate, which read “Hate”. The slender, self-absorbed figure of “Selfishness” almost glowed the blue luster of turquoise, and a sulfurous, corpulent figure barely supported itself above the name “Laziness”. But it was the last figure that caused something inside him to grow angry, for it was a pouting, cross-armed figure of dull granite marked “Injustice”.
“Ah, Xander, my dear boy, I should have known that one would be your least favorite,” came a tremulous voice from further down the cavern, as a final torch lit itself. Seated in a stone chair, or maybe a throne, was possibly the oldest man he had ever seen, wearing a long, white robe. Wispy hair fell from his head and cascaded around him, and his beard hung down to flow across his lap, and spill onto the floor. “You are perhaps too young for the second meaning of some of those to be clearly seen, but you have seen injustice in your life, that is certain.”
“S-sir,” he stuttered, then chided himself. He wasn't cold anymore, he had no reason to chatter – or stutter. “How did you know my name?”
“I am a wizard, young man. Though not the sort that even your legends tell of. I am a servant of an ancient power, one that chooses only the bravest, most noble of hosts. And my name, and that of the power I serve, is Shazam.”
The old man laughed, a warm, friendly sound. “Come now, Xander. Surely you did not believe the events of this evening were explainable by your science, did you? A subway station in the middle of Sunnydale? A train made out of spray paint and swirls of color? No, my child, I have brought you here with my power, that you may be the last of my proteges.”
“Xander,” said the old man, “my time draws near. Once, the stone above me was held by the strongest of cables, and now hangs above my head by the merest of threads.” With a wave of his hand, he drew the young man's attention to a huge stone block that hung above the old man, which was held up by only a single, slender thread, fraying even as they spoke. “I have not much time left, so I must give to you what must be.
“The powers I shall name are not truly granting you their powers, they are merely to reference, that you may better understand what you have been given. To you, I give the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury! Say my name aloud, boy, for we have little time left!”
Stunned by the proclamation, he took half a step back. Taking a deep breath, he called out, “SHAZAM!”
A peal of thunder called out in the depths of the cavern, as lightning sprang from nowhere to strike the boy. Fire filled every nerve ending for an eternity-long second, before he realized he had changed. He now stood nearly six and a half feet tall, and would now be easily mistaken for his mid-twenties. Every muscle in his body was fully developed and coiling with immense power, even as he felt the weight of the responsibility thus thrust upon him. He wasn't wearing the clothes he had left the house in, but rather a dark blue set of leather pants, black leather boots, and a dark red leather jacket buttoned up at his right shoulder. A golden pin in the shape of a lightning bolt adorned his chest just to the left of his heart (where the Next Generation crew wore their communicator pins, he idly noted), and a dark gold belt wrapped around his waist.
All in all, he thought he looked pretty durn good.
“Now... now, you are Captain Marvel!” wheezed the old man. “But you are not ready yet. When you are, you shall know!”
“Ready? What?” came the baritone voice that took Xander a second to realize was his own.
“When you are ready... call my name!” wheezed the old man, as a very faint snapping sound was heard. Horror in his eyes, the boy turned man could only stare as the multi-ton block of pure granite slammed into the old man and his throne, completely burying both and pulverizing them beyond all hope of identification.
And with that, he finally passed out.
A wet sensation on his cheek suddenly woke Xander up, and for half a moment he looked around to gather himself.
He was not underground, there were no deformed monstrous statues, and no stone block under which the mortal remains of an immortal wizard lay. There was also no ice or sleet, and it was in fact slightly warmer than when he had decided to head for the Quick-EE-Mart. And fortunately, there was no massive white wolf, about ready to freeze him into a Xandersicle and chow down on the tasty treat. Instead, there was the friendly black lab from down the street curled up against him, licking his cheek.
“Wow... now THAT was a dream. Wouldn't you say, Princess?” he asked the dog, chuckling as he scratched her behind the ears. She responded by licking his cheek again and leaning into him, and he simply laughed to himself, as his parents continued to fight inside.
“Merry Christmas, Princess,” he muttered to himself.
“Merry Christmas, kid,” said a man across the street, smirking as he tipped his beaten-up hat. “You're gonna need that Christmas Gift someday, when you're old enough to remember it.”
Turning around, the man began walking down the street, whistling a tune that would never be invented in this reality.