This chapter acquired almost as much material as one where I added entirely new subplots to the story; a full third of the word count wasn't in the last version. Some of it is expansion on bits from last time, some of it is the Butterfly Effect brought on by earlier changes, and some of it is just… me wanting to make stuff better. Enjoying. Make with it.
November 19, 2011
"At this point, we're about half an hour away from Sunnydale and so I think it's time to tell you why you're here. Yesterday, the school received an email from a sixteen-year-old girl named Cordelia Chase, a confirmed mutant. Normally we would just send a prospective student some literature and then follow up with a personal visit when we had enough students in a rough area to make a flight to the region worthwhile, but this is an odd case and not just because the Professor and I have already visited Miss Chase in the past." Jean winced as she thought back; it had been her very first recruitment trip at Charles's side, as a matter of fact. Back when she'd been young, foolish, idealistic, and been genuinely baffled by the idea of not wanting to come to enroll at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. Back when she'd thought 'thanks but no thanks' meant 'be more convincing'. She didn't care what Scott said, sometimes she swore she could still feel a slight dent where that frying pan had slammed into her head…
A voice tinged with the crisp, precise tones of the Queen's English pulled Jean from her thoughts and for the briefest of seconds, she instinctively opened her mouth to snap at Emma… before realizing that this accent was far more authentic and natural sounding than the one Emma had recently abandoned in favor of returning to her Boston roots. "No offense, Professor Grey? But none of this tells us why we're here with you, or going there now for that matter. Or why Frosty took off with my boyfriend. Therefore… not really caring." Pausing, Betsy Braddock eyed the redhead sitting next to her and then nudged her in the ribs with her elbow. "Hey, do you know?"
Rachel just rolled her eyes at that before gesturing at her mother. "I won't even tell Mom who my father is to keep from messing with the timeline. If this is something important - and let the record show that I'm neither confirming nor denying that it is - why the heck would I tell anyone anything about it?"
Frowning, Betsy pondered that one for a few seconds before perking up and offering an answer to what Jean was fairly certain had been a rhetorical question. "Because if you're nice to me and tell me stuff, I'll be nice to you and buy you stuff?"
"If I was that easy, don't you think Professor Frost would be burying me under piles of expensive white stuff that'll just get incinerated when I finally head home?" Betsy stuck her tongue out at that and Rachel sighed before shaking her head and turning her attention to Jean. "Please, continue. I mean, you may or may not be telling me stuff I already know, but I can guarantee that Betsy definitely doesn't know it."
Jean allowed her mind to wander for a few more seconds, pondering what havoc Emma might wreak if she found a way to gain full access to Rachel's memories, before forcing herself back on track. Where had she left off? Ah yes. "Professor Xavier is sending us to Sunnydale for two separate but equally important reasons, Betsy. The first is that Cordelia happens to possess all the powers of her maternal grandfather, a man named Erik Lehnsherr. You might be more familiar with his current alias: Magneto. So if Cordelia ever wants to talk to us, she can tell us how high and we'll start jumping. Anything is better than her deciding that spending time with her grandfather's friends sounds interesting."
Why Betsy opted to raise her hand before speaking most of the time, Jean still didn't know. It wasn't like she actually waited until called on before sharing her thoughts with the world. "Why do we have to be the ones who jump? I mean, I know why Professor Xavier can't on his own, but… well, you're a telekine. I'm sure you two could figure it out."
Groaning, Rachel buried her face in her hands. "Oh, Betsy, you are a classy bitch."
"What? It's a valid question."
Shaking her head, Jean ignored the girls' byplay and continued on. "The second reason is that Cordelia has evidently managed to do something that even Professor Xavier using Cerebro has not: find a mutant in Sunnydale. She's declined to share their name, but apparently one of her friends is manifesting empathic powers and needs help creating shields. Thanks to the unique energy signature that blankets Sunnydale, we can't even confirm this person exists much less figure out where they live, so we'll need to do things the old-fashioned way: either pray we're lucky enough to stumble over them ourselves, or make contact with Cordelia and have her lead us to this empath of hers."
Betsy let out a soft hum before making a fist, glowing violet energy enveloping it before extending downward into a distinctly blade-like construct. "And Frosty?"
"Professor Frost was originally the one assigned to handle this mission since she's also met with the Chases in the past, and left on… slightly better… terms than Professor Xavier and I did. She refused, though, claiming she had alternate plans. Shortly thereafter, she assembled a small team of students and departed to parts unknown via her private jet. Her choice of students seems to be very deliberate; I doubt I would have noticed any of them missing if you hadn't come to us to complain, Betsy." Jean found that one a bit galling to admit, personally; while she was willing to admit that Emma had her significantly outclassed when it came to telepathy, how had this slipped past Charles? And fine, she couldn't penetrate Emma's shields when the blonde actually wanted to keep her out, but why hadn't she picked anything up from the teenagers? Remy had walked right past her with his bag in hand, for crying out loud! "Presumably she's gone to Sunnydale on her own; we have to assume it's related to Cordelia and her friend, but why she felt the need to sneak around like this? We have no idea. And so while we're in Sunnydale, our primary objective is to locate Cordelia and assist her friend. If we can find Professor Frost and her little group of runaways while we're at it? So much the better. If not, we'll return to Westchester and Professor Xavier will probably send Professor Logan out to track her down. Any other questions?"
After shooting a few looks over at Betsy, Rachel rolled her eyes. "Since I can hear Betsy thinking it but she doesn't seem to want to say anything… she asked 'why us?' earlier and didn't get an answer. Would you please tell us - and by us, I totally mean her - why you picked the two of us to come along on this mission? Extra emphasis, if you don't mind, on making it clear that I'm not here because you have a warped idea of mother/daughter bonding time?"
Jean bit her lip to avoid letting out a laugh at that. As much as her daughter might look like a younger version of her, there were parts of Rachel that were pure… someone else. Who, Jean couldn't quite put her finger on. Not Scott, though. If she didn't know better, she'd say it was shades of… but that made no sense at all. Pushing the lingering, unsolvable question to the back of her mind where it belonged, Jean did her best to focus on the conversation at hand. "Professor Summers and I picked the two of you because you're essentially a pair of perfect storms for this mission. You're the same age as Cordelia - and likely her friend as well - and so you can give a much more convincing 'I know what you're going through' talk than an adult. At the same time, your experience with telepathy should make it easy for you to teach an empath to construct shields of their own. Finally, your Danger Room scores are the best out of all the telepathic students at the Institute. Which is important, because Sunnydale is what's known as a Hell-"
November 19, 2011
Cheshire Cat Inn
"-mouth. It's exactly what it sounds like, children: the mouth of hell, or at least a weak spot between our dimension and a minimum of at least one other that's very similar to the Judeo-Christian concept of Hell. All sorts of unnatural beings are attracted to the town, none of which will give a damn that you possess the X-gene. If you are attacked, do not hesitate to use your powers to defend yourselves. Because telepathic abilities are stifled by the energies the Hellmouth emits, I will be dispatching the three of you to various parts of the town during the day on separate missions so that we can cover as much ground as possible. You are, however, to stay together as a single unit as soon as the sun sets. Messrs Keller and Lebeau, I picked you for this because our target is a girl your age and you seem to have no shortage of luck when it comes to convincing the young women in and around the mansion to do what you want. Find Miss Chase and bring her to me by hook or by crook. And Ivette, if you find her and discover she's had a change of heart since sending her email, don't be afraid to be… especially persuasive."
Remy Lebeau smirked from his place beside Ivette, fanning out the playing cards in his hand before bringing them back together into a deck with a flick of his wrist. An all expenses paid vacation to California, where he and Julian were being encouraged to hit on women and their companion was being given authorization to violate another person's mind. And people wondered why he preferred Professor Frost to the stuffier - and less attractive, at least in his opinion - Professor Grey.
Although the accommodations could have been better. Remy looked around at the room they were meeting in: the dining room of the tiny bed 'n breakfast they'd taken rooms at. Professor Frost had used a telepathic suggestion to 'encourage' the owners to head out to the nearby supermarket so the group could meet and talk, since each of the house's bedrooms was just big enough to house a pair of double beds and matching dressers. After a moment, he shrugged; being enrolled at Xavier's was starting to make him soft. He'd dealt with worse accommodations in his years on the streets of New Orleans. It was well maintained and provided, to borrow the prison slang he'd heard once, 'three hots and a cot'. They didn't need much else, considering most of their time in Sunnydale would be spent on the prowl.
"Are there any questions, do I have any denials about the existence of demons and vampires that should be handled before you get attacked, and so forth and so on?" When nothing was forthcoming, Professor Frost nodded and pulled out three thick envelopes. "Very well. Now, Miss Chase's mother rebuffed me previously regarding offers to attend my school. Given that it was Miss Chase herself who contacted me about attending the Academy, I'm going to assume that Missus Chase still wants nothing to do with us. So unfortunately, we can't just walk up to their front door and ask to speak with Miss Chase. Luckily for us, I've already come up with a way to get around that. Ivette, I want you to take this money and visit the establishments listed on the sheet in the envelope. Treat yourself to a day of pampering; hopefully you'll run into her or someone who knows her. If we can establish an alternate contact, that girl can then be used to lure Miss Chase to a meeting at the time and place of our choosing."
Still wearing the dazed expression that she'd been sporting since about two hours into the previous night's flight, Ivette Frost opened her envelope and poked at the contents for a few seconds before nodding. "Yes, Mother."
The next envelope was handed to Julian, who looked slightly nervous after hearing Ivette's task. "Mister Keller, take a taxi to the local mall and buy yourself a new outfit or two. Try not to sneer at the quality of the offerings too much; this isn't Los Angeles or New York City, after all. Linger for as long as you can and see if you can get the name of the biggest teen hangout in town. Once that's done, call Remy and Ivette to see if they've been any more successful. If not? Proceed to any alternative gathering place you might have learned of and rendezvous with them there. While there - and at the mall, for that matter - do your best to charm one or more of the local girls. You might get lucky and find someone who knows our target. Assuming, of course, that you don't run into Miss Chase herself."
"I don't suppose 'charm' is a euphemism for 'seduce' here, is it? Because you did interrupt my fun with Betsy… to drag me to the mouth of hell…"
"…if you insist."
A pampered princess's day out and a boy's day out that was a bit too girly for his tastes. It left Remy uncertain; should he be glad those tasks were already gone or worried about what might be headed his way? "Mister Lebeau." He steeled himself. "Due to your more colorful upbringing, I believe you're better suited for a slightly less savory task than either Mister Keller or my daughter. Inside your envelope, you will find money, a fake ID, and the address of a bar known as 'Willy's Alibi Room'. While it does serve humans - and therefore mutants - the majority of the clientele is distinctly demonic. Go there, have a few drinks, and try to find out more about any dangers we might have to worry about when the sun sets, and whether or not Miss Chase has made herself known to the supernatural population yet. Or if they know anything about this potentially nonexistent empath or any other mutants in Sunnydale. Just try not to overdo it; I won't be able to sober you up remotely thanks to the Hellmouth and the last thing we need is a vampire biting you as you stumble through the streets drunk. I can only imagine the lecture I'd get from Charles…"
…while he'd have preferred she be worried about his well-being rather than the lecture she'd receive for getting him killed, Remy decided it was advice worth committing to memory.
November 19, 2011
Sunnydale High School - Library
"Giles! We have a problem!"
Wincing at the volume of his Slayer's voice, Giles marked his place in the text he was reading before shutting it and setting it down on the library table. Once again, he lamented supporting his Slayer's decision to use Willow's suddenly appearing family member as an excuse to push the redhead 'fray adjacent'. Not only because he knew that Willow's 'cousin' was no stranger to the supernatural and could likely handle herself better than Willow - or perhaps even Buffy herself, based on that little display back on November 1st - but because he'd gotten spoiled by having others to split the research with. If only he had additional pairs of eyes with which to investigate their newest problem, he wouldn't have had to resort to… "Yes, Buffy? I take it you received bad news from your visit to Willy?"
Buffy shrugged as she threw herself down on the edge of the table, crossing her arms over her chest as she pouted. "No. To have bad news, I'd have to have gotten news from him. But I couldn't even get him to take me seriously. He just paced back and forth while talking on the phone and staring at this giant hole in the wall. And he kept saying something about a 'mutant menace'. Place was totally dead apart from him, no pun intended, so I couldn't even ask anyone what happened. Just what I need. Am I supposed to handle mutants? What's the Council's policy on them? Because most of them look human from what I've seen on the news, but then again so do vampires most of the time and a few of the demons I've had to slay…"
"A hole in the wall..?" Giles frowned; Xander… well, Michelle now, he supposed, had a fairly passive mutation. He didn't see how she could be the one responsible for that kind of damage. Cordelia, on the other hand, had a mutation with the potential to be far more destructive. But how would magnokinesis translate into a hole in the side of a building? Maybe she'd gotten irritated and thrown a vehicle into the side of the bar? On the other hand… why would she do something like that? And better yet, how would she even know about Willy's? "I think I'll head down there myself this evening, see if I can shake any information loose. Willy won't risk closing for a night if he needs rebuilding money and one of the patrons may know something. And unless a mutant attacks you or other humans, they are not your problem. So in this case, we should watch out for mysteriously appearing holes in other buildings but if Willy is the only property owner affected, I don't believe we should worry."
Buffy blinked before nodding slowly. "So leave 'em be unless they're doing something evil. Well, evil against humans. Got it." Hopping off the library table, she got halfway to the doors before pausing and turning back. "Speaking of things that are strange and potentially evil, have you seen Willow lately? There's something majorly wiggy going on with her. I passed her on my way back from Willy's and she was coming out of the Espresso Pump with Harmony and one of the other cheerleaders. And her hair! It's not red anymore! She dyed it black, and it's really short and spiky. Plus she's got this whole leather pants, dark makeup, skanky vampire queen look going these days. I think she's possessed or something. Remember Xander with the hyenas?"
Privately, Giles was a bit surprised that Buffy even remembered Xander; as best he could remember, she hadn't mentioned the boy once since his disappearance. But while he didn't particularly understand Willow's new taste in friends, he doubted there was anything remotely sinister behind either that or her new look. "Actually, she's been like that for…a minimum of two weeks, if I recall correctly. Which is to say that she could have dyed it some time before that, but I saw it for the first time two weeks ago. As for her spending time with Miss Kendall and her ilk, you did push her away, Buffy. It's only natural that she would seek out new friends to combat her loneliness. After being accepted by Cordelia, Michelle was likely able to facilitate Willow's acceptance into the group as well." Buffy just stared at him and Giles sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Willow's not possessed, she just decided to replace you with her cousin after you stopped being friends with her. And her cousin just so happens to hang out with people you don't like. As for her appearance… I'm well aware that you children find me unfashionable. I dare say I'm not in a position to critique her choices in that area."
"Oh." Buffy pondered that for a moment before scowling. "That's not fair at all. I save the world from being sucked into hell and stuff, and I can't even get a date from the chess club president while Willow's hanging with the most popular girls in school. Whatever happened to karma?"
"I do believe you used up most of yours when Xander had to resuscitate you after the Master drowned you."
"Oh. Right. I think I'm going to go home and clean up, then head over to the Bronze. Maybe I can find some vampires to slay in between sitting there and being ignored by everyone."
November 19, 2011
"So, any word from either of the schools?"
Cordelia shook her head and Michelle fought the urge to curse. They were running out of time; Willow's parents would be home tomorrow afternoon - or evening at the latest - and then she would be well and truly screwed. Unless, of course, it was another of their 'reload and dash' visits that lasted a matter of hours, but what were the odds she'd be that lucky? She couldn't even just avoid the house for the duration of the Rosenbergs' return, she'd realized later: both the made over guest room and the entire spare - and vastly different - wardrobe just screamed 'second inhabitant'. How would Willow explain that to her parents?
Speaking of Willow… Michelle's eyes scanned the dance floor in search of her supposed cousin, and then she snorted as she realized why she was coming up empty-handed. It was still strange to have to look for short black hair instead of a long red mane, but she was starting to get used to it. Barely. Eventually she spotted Willow, who had migrated from dancing near Harmony and Aphrodesia to a spot closer to the stage. Where she was dancing in the arms of a dark-haired boy. Interesting. Yet another facet of the New Willow was rearing its head, evidently: the confidence - and desire - to talk to boys.
So many changes in such a short period of time. Leather and dark colors had replaced bright, soft, fluffy sweaters and corduroy jumpers. Long red hair had given way to shorter black spikes. Now shyness and stammering had evidently gone the way of the dodo, replaced by a girl who could - and would - chat comfortably and dance with boys. To be honest, the constant and rapid evolution of Willow's personality worried Michelle a bit… but on the other hand, she'd been held back for so many years by her parents and her own neuroses, essentially rendering her socially retarded. Maybe this was all for the best? Better late than never? Michelle shrugged. She'd keep an eye on Willow and if things got weird between the girl and her dance partner - or any future ones - she and Cordelia could step in. Until then… go Willow?
As the song came to an end, Michelle turned to Cordelia to take advantage of the momentary drop in the noise level for further conversation, but the green-haired girl's eyes were fixed firmly on Willow as the black-haired girl allowed herself to be led to a table across the room by her dance partner. "I take it back. We haven't heard from either school yet, but I have a feeling we might soon."
Michelle gave Cordelia an odd look before returning her attention to Willow. That was a hell of a non sequitur. Or was it? The table Willow was standing in front of had two people sitting at it that the boy was introducing her to. One was a long-haired boy who took her hand, raising it to his lips for a kiss. But it was the sole girl at the table that captured Michelle's attention and not just in a 'wow she's hot' sort of way. Granted the girl was ridiculously hot, but Michelle was actually managing to look past that somehow because… she knew that face. Both from flashes of foreign memories, and memories of her own. Television. Magazines. Dirty magazines, even. Yet while it was familiar, it was also… not. "Is that..?"
"One of Emma Frost's quintuplets, yeah. Well, either it's one of her daughters or it's Emma herself and I really need to get the name of her plastic surgeon." Cordelia slowly scanned the club, Michelle following her gaze as the cheerleader sought out each of the Cordettes in turn. Thankfully they were all either occupied with their respective boyfriends, out on the dance floor, or - in Gwen's case - trying to hustle some dumb frat boys at pool. Good. The last thing they needed were the others coming over to see what was going on and hearing something they shouldn't. "C'mon, Red. Let's go meet Willow's new friends. Especially the Frostlette. I mean seriously, white after Labor Day? Emma can get away with it because she's Emma freaking Frost, but they're nowhere near that famous. Plus it totally screams individuality issues and…"