Rupert Giles sat at the desk in his office in the Sunnydale High School library, reading over a book on Sumerian mythology. Reading for pleasure was more of a luxury for him than it used to be: the majority of his reading for the last year and a half had been dictated by necessity. Such was the price one paid for being Watcher to an active Slayer, though he rather thought that the Watcher journals should have mentioned that particular price in advance.
It was January 21. The day after Buffy’s birthday. Between the threat of the Judge being rebuilt and everything else that had happened, nobody had felt much like celebrating, but he’d insisted. If Buffy Summers was to meet her responsibilities as Slayer, she needed, he had come to believe, a very real sense of what she was fighting for. Friends. Birthdays. Dates. A sense of the world she was protecting. And yet he worried. He worried about his Slayer. About her friends. About the fact that she was dating a vampire. About the fact that they had sent said Vampire to take the arm of the judge away to Tibet. About the fact that he had not heard back from his Slayer since she’d left to see Angel to the docks last night.
The bell rang. Seven fifteen. First period was about to begin. Giles set his book down on the desk, placed a book mark between the pages, and shut it with a thump.
Abruptly, the temperature dropped five degrees. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Goosebumps went up and down his arms. Fearing the worst, Giles rose to his feet and walked out into the main area of the library.
A tiny mote of light hung suspended in mid-air, directly above the point he knew to correspond to the physical location of the Hellmouth.
Rupert Giles’ mouth went dry as he stared at the point of light. “Dear Lord,” he murmured.
The point of light pulsed, growing ever so slightly larger.
The door to the library opened, and Buffy rushed through. The sight of her, alive and intact, was not as great a relief as it would otherwise have been had there not been a point of light slowly growing into being above the Hellmouth, but he took what comfort he could.
“Giles!” she called. “The Judge is...” she trailed off, staring at the point of light. “Oh God. Is the world ending again?”
He shook his head. “I, I’m not sure.”
And far, far away, in a reality far removed from the one in which Rupert Giles waited, Stephen Strange continued to chant the words of the long ritual which would open the way between worlds.
A New World in my View
by P.H. Wise
An X-Men Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 13: The Unjoining
Disclaimer: The DC Universe and its associated characters is the property of DC comics. The Marvel Universe and its associated characters is the property of Marvel Entertainment LLC. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is Joss Whedon's baby.
Karen sat at the center of a great magical seal, lines of power coursing around her, the voice of Doctor Stephen Strange rising and falling as he chanted a sonorous Latin chant. The ritual was an extended one. One that would take hours. Her home reality was a distant one, and even the likes of Stephen Strange could not open a gate between the two as easily as flipping a switch. It was now forty five minutes into the ritual. The air seemed to hum. If Kara’s body had any fillings, they’d probably have been vibrating. The device - the damaged Draconian Katra - was fitted snugly to her left hand. And she was bored out of her mind.
It might seem strange, being bored to tears sitting in the middle of a mystic circle as the Sorcerer Supreme prepared the spell that would send you home, but after the first half hour, Latin chanting and ominous pulses of energy start to lose their charm. At least, that’s how Karen justified it in her own mind. Could be that she was also just an extremely shallow person, but she preferred to think that anyone would react the same if they were stuck in a magical circle with one foot half asleep, the other fully asleep, not enough room to stretch them out and fix the problem, and kind of having to go to the bathroom.
Karen had arrived almost two hours earlier, been greeted by Wong, and then been shown into the study to wait.
Doctor Strange had arrived to meet her half an hour later. The conversation between them had been... memorable.
“I remember how to use the artifact, Doctor. You told me yesterday. I don’t forget things like that. … Not since I wound up in this body, anyways.”
The room reminded Karen of the Sunnydale library. it was the smell more than anything else. Musty old books, she supposed, smelled the same no matter which dimension you were in. The walls were lined with bookshelves, and she had only just stood up from where she'd been waiting in a very comfortable chair next to a reading desk in front of a crackling fire.
Strange smiled. "Then you also remember that there's no guarantee that you'll be deposited in the same spot as your body. You should expect a variance of anywhere from a dozen feet to a few miles. Either way, it should not prove a problem."
Karen nodded. "Thank you, Doctor."
Kara nodded her agreement. "Yes, thank you." She smiled hopefully. "It's hard to imagine this nightmare is almost over."
Karen frowned. "I haven't been that bad, have I?"
Kara gave Karen a look. "You try going from being twenty five one second, teen hormone city the next and see how you feel," she said.
Karen blinked. "... Oh."
Kara smiled apologetically. "... the whole 'I'm fully aware of everything that happens to me but a prisoner in my own body for almost three months' didn't help, either. No offense, Karen, but that's..."
Karen looked uncomfortable. "I... I guess I never thought of it that way. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"You're forgiven," Kara replied. Then she smiled. "It's not actually your fault. But I might have a conversation with that Chaos mage once we get to your reality."
Karen looked to the Doctor, then, something having occurred to her suddenly. “Doctor Strange,” she began. The good Doctor looked her way. “Back when you were helping the Fantastic Four to, er, test me, I never asked, but what would you have done if I’d failed?”
Doctor Strange met Karen’s gaze. “Understand that before your arrival, we were still reeling from the fallout of a powerful ally’s descent into madness. She was a woman with the power to reshape reality. A Chaos mage, and a mutant. In her madness, she brought untold suffering to countless others. People died. We did not want to take the risk of such a thing ever occurring again, and...”
Kara raised an eyebrow. “Would you have killed us?” she asked, interrupting the Sorcerer Supreme.
That seemed to take him aback. He replied after an uncomfortable pause. “Likely not,” he said. “Likely we would have exiled you, as we did to another who proved too dangerous to allow to remain on the Earth.”
“As you did to another?”
A look of guilt crossed Stephen’s face, then. “It was a difficult decision. One we arrived at after much deliberation.”
Kara stared at Doctor Strange, and it was Doctor Strange who looked away.
“I have preparations to make,” Strange said. “Wong will show you in when it is time.” He walked out of the room, and the door shut behind him.
“... Can we not make the man who’s sending us home angry at us?” Karen asked.
Kara didn’t reply.
So here Karen was. Here she waited. Kara hadn’t spoken since the conversation with Doctor Strange.
The chant went on.
“No, Stryker,” the Sentry said. “You and yours will not accompany me. I will go to Xavier’s at sundown, alone, and attempt to discern the truth of this.”
Stryker smiled. “Of course, son. Of course. You must do as your conscience demands.” He produced a device, then. “Take this with you. It will shield you from their telepaths. Consider it a gift from the Lord.” He pressed the device into Sentry’s hands.
As quickly as that, the Sentry was gone. There was a rush of wind, and then nothing. Stryker raised his arm, and pressed his finger into a spot just above his elbow. The tactile hologram which had disguised his artificial limb faded, revealing the new arm in its place: Nimrod’s arm. A tiny display showed Sentry’s location. Once the man was gone, Stryker produced a phone from his pocket and tapped out a text message. He dared not speak the message aloud for fear that the Sentry would hear him, but this was reasonably secure as far as Bob Reynolds went. The message read: ‘It is time to win the war between heaven and hell.’
Stryker left an hour later at the head of a small army of Purifiers.
“You must realize that we can’t release her to you,” Emma said. She, Scott and Namor were in Scott’s meticulously organized office. Namor’s honor guard waited outside. The sun had only just set, and a faint glow lingered in the western sky.
“And why is that?” Namor asked, being very, very patient.
“The Avengers gave her into our custody with instructions that she be held until SHIELD proved able to hold her,” Scott said. “She going to be tried for the murder of the New Warriors and of three hundred soldiers.”
Namor didn’t like that answer. He didn’t like it at all, and it showed on his face.
“I sympathize, but we can’t just give her to you without...”
“I had not expected the X-Men to be government lapdogs,” Namor said.
“Excuse me?” Scott asked.
“Do you also perform tricks on command?” Namor asked. “Have you grown so used to the presence of Sentinels upon your threshold that you think their presence right and natural? Do you not see what they have done to you? What they are doing to you?”
“Enlighten us,” Emma said.
“How many mutants would you say now live upon the grounds of this institute?”
“As of today, six hundred and three,” Scott replied.
“And they are sending more every day. You X-Men are able to come and go provided you have a military escort. Is the same true of your refugees?” A pause, and then Namor went on, “Of course it isn’t. They’re contained here. Why would your government allow the mutant problem free access to the outside world?”
“That’s not what’s going on here, Namor,” Scott insisted.
Namor snorted. “Open your eyes, Summers. You are familiar with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are you not? Article 9. ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile’. Or perhaps your own American Constitution is more compelling to you? How about, ‘No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.’ Tell me, did this Office of National Emergency ask your permission, or the permission of Charles Xavier to quarter troops upon these premises, or did they simply quarter them and then try to convince you that it was for the best?”
Neither Scott nor Emma spoke.
“One does not garrison a school and a private residence with military forces ‘for your protection,’ Summers. Neither does gathering an ethnic group together in an internment camp ‘for their own protection’ lead to better conditions for that group. And now they’ve enlisted you in the quartering of federal prisoners, and you go along with it? The plight of mutants is indeed dire, but I had not thought it was so dire that we had lost our pride.”
Scott looked at the ground. “... You sound like Magneto.”
“Do I?” Namor asked. “Then perhaps he has a point.” He shook his head. “Give me the girl, Summers. You needn’t be your government’s lap dog. I have the means to contain her. I have read the briefing: psionics or magic. You need not fear. The greatest sorcerers of Atlantis are to be on hand for the transfer of Divine to our custody.”
Scott began to reply, but whatever he might have said was ended before it could begin, cut off by the sound of an explosion coming from outside, followed by a brief burst of gunfire. A moment later, the mansion’s alarms began to sound.
Scott glared. “What have done, Namor?!”
Namor stood. “This is not my doing, Summers.”
The caravan of vehicles inexorably made its way towards the Xavier Institute, each filled with purifiers. The Reverend William Stryker could not but laugh. Everything was going according to God’s plan. Soon, the mutant problem would be no more. Soon, they would strike a blow for heaven! Soon, they would... police barricade?
Stryker frowned deeply. The road ahead was blocked. A police barricade. God was testing him. The whole caravan of purifiers came to a halt. He opened the door of his car and stepped out. “What seems to be the problem, officers?” he asked.
“William Stryker?” a man in a black business suit stepped forward.
“Reverend, if you please,” he said.
“Reverend Stryker, my name is Special Agent Henry Dobbs. We’ve been monitoring you since you paid bail. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”
Stryker laughed. How could he not? This pathetic worm of a man thought he could stand against the will of God? “I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he said, raising once more the arm he had been granted, the arm which covered the deformity inflicted upon him by the devil who called herself Power Girl. A garish pink light flared. A deep, awful sound thrummed out from the gauntlet as it gathered power, readying itself for the task of destroying this impediment. “I AM GOD’S INSTRUMENT!,” he cried.
The last thing he saw was a muzzle flash from the roof behind the blockade. The bullet tore through his skull like tissue paper. He had no time to rail against his fate. He was afforded no opportunity to protest that this wasn’t the way he was supposed to die. That he deserved better. His body jerked, and he collapsed, dead at the hands of the FBI. A split second late, the gun’s report rang out.
The light of his gauntlet winked out.
The Sentry stood before Divine’s stasis chamber, and a trail of wreckage showed the path he had taken, stretching out through the building, out the front doors which now lay blasted off their hinges, through the wreckage of yet another Sentinel whose pilot had made the mistake of attempting to stop him. The pilot lived. The Sentinel was another story. Here he stood. She looked almost peaceful, asleep like that. Almost... beautiful.
The Void was above all else, a liar. It offended him that it would take this form. The distinction in his mind between ‘Power Girl’s Void’ and his ‘Void’ was fading. They were the same.
He ripped the stasis pod out of the wall, triggering alarms all across the building. A lesser creature would have been killed by the shock of coming out of cryo-sleep in such a manner. No precautions taken. No protections. Ripped from the cryo chamber by hands harder than diamonds and cast bodily through a reinforced bulkhead.
Divine drew breath, awoke, looked about blearily. Hospital scrubs adorned her form.
“You won’t win this time, Void,” The Sentry said. “I’m ready for you. I know your tricks. You think you can fool me by using my own powers against me, but that’s not going to work again.”
Her expression seemed unreadable to him, but her eyes gained focus. “You?” she asked incredulously. “Don’t you learn?”
Time seemed to slow down for them both. The Sentry launched himself at her, hoping to bury his fist in her face. His anger bubbled and surged inside him like a living thing, egged on by the very sight of her perfection.
She moved just as fast, scrambling out of the way. His punch caved in the wall she’d come to a rest upon. It took her a full second to fully recover from being dumped from cryo-stasis into wakefulness, but for two opponents moving with such enhanced speed and reaction time, it seemed an eternity. She did not dodge his next twelve blows, caught the thirteenth in her hand, failed to she avoid the knee to the gut, and then she was fighting back, miniature sonic booms rippling through the sublevel as every punch thrown broke the sound barrier. Her eyes narrowed, fixed upon the device Stryker had given him. She feinted, and he was fooled, and she snatched the device off of his uniform.
“Why won’t you just die,” Sentry hissed. “Why must you plague me? Hound my every step? And now in THIS form? I... I want you to die!” They were comparable in terms of fighting skill. Both were more or less just one-two punch brawlers. And here, far from the light of the sun, Divine’s strength was less than his. He gained the advantage, and he flung her headlong. Divine tumbled up through five sub-levels, the ground floor of the mansion, and into the hallway where Emma Frost was even then marshaling the X-Men against the threat which had emerged. Sentry was upon her an instant later, but she reacted slightly more quickly than he, pivoted, and redirected his flying charge, sending him through the wall and into the distance outside the mansion.
Divine’s gaze met Emma’s.
Emma Frost’s eyes widened. She seemed to concentrate, and nothing happened.
Divine quickly deduced what had happened. The device! Of course, nobody who was attacking someone like that bitch who had invaded her mind would do so without a way to shield their thoughts. The device was... oh but this was too precious. “Not working, is it?” she asked, her voice filled with false pity. “Pretty sure I lifted a telepathic scrambler off tall blonde and stupid.”
“I see,” Emma said, not losing her composure. “What do you intend to do?”
Divine shook her head. “It’s nothing personal, but without the scrambler, you’re the single biggest threat to me there is. I can’t have that.” Her eyes flashed as she prepared to discharge a truly massive blast of heat into Emma’s body.
Emma smirked. "Tell me something, little girl. Exactly what kind of fool do you take me for?"
Divine struggled visibly. She lunged for Emma, but her muscles locked up and she collapsed just short of touching the other woman. “... what did you do...?!”
“I may not be able to access your mind, but I don’t have to. I've had access to it for almost twenty four hours. That's more than enough time to install a few safety protocols. You can't hurt me. Literally can't. How does that feel?"
"I'll... kill... you..."
"I think not," Emma said, a note of contempt entering into her voice. "I had time to install a few other things as well, of course."
Divine struggled with herself, trying to force herself past the block, failing.
"An off-switch, for example." She met Divine’s gaze. "Shibbole...." She was cut off in mid-word.
The Sentry was there once more, and had Emma Frost seized by the throat. “NO!” he roared into her face. “She is MINE to defeat!” He hurled her out the broken wall, and though Emma shifted to diamond form in mid flight, when she hit the ground three miles distant, the impact left her staggered and utterly disoriented. Sentry met Divine’s gaze. “This is between me and the Void.”
That was when Namor slammed his fist into the back of the Sentry’s head at full power, sending the Sentry reeling, his world tilted on its side by the force of the blow and the shockwaves it sent rippling through his grey matter. “She goes with me to answer for her crimes,” he said, glaring down at the Sentry. And then he smirked. “For a man with superhuman senses, you are remarkably inattentive.”
Divine began to move, now fully recovered. She lifted into the air and fled the building.
Namor was fast on her heels.
The forces of the Office of National Emergency opened fire, and Namor’s honor guard as well, concentrating their fire on Divine, hammering her with bullets and electrical discharges from power tridents. She gave them little more thought than she would have a buzzing fly. Namor was more of a threat to her. His strength was problematically high, and he was fast, though not as fast as she was, and she might have been able to capitalize on it had she been more than the one-two punch brawler that she was. Even as Divine and Namor clashed, the Sentry came flying out after the battling pair like a golden thunderbolt, barreling into Divine and taking her straight into the ground from six hundred feet up. The impact destroying several refugee tents. The so called 198 were stampeding away from the conflict now, people panicking, screaming, being trampled. The O*N*E soldiers did what they could to maintain order, but it wasn’t enough. One of the surviving Sentinels attempted to engage the brawlers only to be sent back to the Earth in a rain of fiery metal bits.
“You have NO RIGHT to be here!” The Sentry screamed, his mind cracking even further even as he fought against Divine. It was the power. Using so much energy: if he were to lose control, even for a millisecond. It had been much longer than a millisecond, now. “NO RIGHT! The Sentry and the Void can’t be copied! Can’t be DUPLICATED! I KNOW IT’S YOU!” His eyes blazed like living fire, his skin cracked and glowed as if some impossible internal heat radiated out from within. The air seemed to grow thick. Smothering. Filled with rage.
Irma and her sisters and the New X-Men fled from the school building, heading for the rendezvous point Emma had established outside the zone of conflict. And as explosions and gunfire went off around them, as gods did battle in the skies above, a single thought was broadcast from the mind of the Three-in-One, driven by Irma but amplified by the others: ‘... Karen. Help me.’
The ritual now neared completion. In a matter of moments Karen would be returned to her world, and with it, her original body. The portal crackled with power as Doctor Strange continued his chant, titanic mystical energies swirling around him as he brought the rite towards its end. And in the midst of that chaos, Irma’s voice: ‘... Karen. Help me.’
Karen’s eyes widened. “Doctor!” she shouted, her voice barely audible above the roar of the gathering energies. “Doctor, wait!”
Doctor Strange did not stop. Could not stop. Another six sentences and the ritual would be done. Time seemed to slow.
Karen looked at Kara. Kara looked at Karen.
“... What do I do?” Karen asked.
“The right thing,” Kara replied.
Kara nodded, clenching her fist as determination welled up within her. “The right thing,” she echoed.
Karen broke the circle, and the ensuing mystical backlash was visible from orbit, pouring upwards in a great pillar of fire which drew in every ounce of magical energy in its path in a self-consuming discharge, and Karen in the eye of the storm.
The discharge flickered, vanished.
Stephen Strange collapsed, clutching at his head in agony.
Karen was gone before Doctor Strange’s knees hit the floor.
An explosion ripped across the side of the Xavier mansion, raining flaming debris down upon fleeing students which were caught in mid-air by a controlled gust of wind. Storm ascended into the sky, and with her, clouds began to gather, the night growing darker and then darker still as the wind picked up. “Goddess protect us, the Sentry has gone mad! Psylocke!” she called. “Join your power to Rachel’s! Stop them before there isn’t a school to save!”
The combined telekinetic might of the two mutants lashed out at The Sentry and Divine, and for one shining moment, they were held in place. Namor ascended, almost a walking (or in this case, flying) bruise now, but taking the opportunity to deliver three crushing blows to Divine’s chest, and a fourth to the Sentry. They struggled against the telekinetic grip, Sentry’s screams now completely incoherent expressions of rage. His shadow seemed to swell, taking on greater and greater definition, growing ever darker as he screamed.
The X-Men opened fire with everything they could throw at the pair. Concussive blasts. Electricity. Bullets. Fire. Telekinetic blasts. Organic spikes. An angry Wolverine traveling at 300 mph with claws extended. Only the last seemed to have an effect, his adamantium claws leaving shallow gashes across The Sentry’s ribcage but failing to do anything more. Blood began to seep down Sentry’s uniform. The storm grew ever darker. Thunder roared, and lightning struck the Sentry six times in a row.
His body was almost entirely obscured in darkness now. Shadows writhed about him. … and then a thousand tendrils of darkness burst from his body and flooded down towards the mutants on the ground. They scattered. Not quickly enough. Rachel Grey and Psylocke were impaled. All their fears, all their nightmares flashed before their eyes at once. The hold was broken. Divine and the Sentry were free.
Namor fell. Still more tendrils. Still more mutants impaled. Screams shook the very air as horror built upon horror.
Irma saw a tendril moving towards her, and another for each sister. Knew they could never escape it.
Karen slammed into the Sentry going somewhere near Mach 17. He tumbled head over heels for a mile in the air before he managed to right himself and arrest his movement. The tendrils retracted into the Sentry’s shadow, and his skin cracked further, fire blazing around him, eyes glowing red as he turned to look at the newly arrived Kryptonian.
And suddenly, he seemed very lost, and very afraid. “... I can’t stop it,” he whimpered. “It’s too much! I... I can’t control it. It’s coming back. The Void is...”
A blast of full strength heat vision nearly knocked Karen out of the sky. Her clothing half burned away, she whirled around to face Divine, who floated some one hundred yards distant.
“I was wondering when you’d show up,” Divine said.
The molten cracks spread further through the Sentry’s body, and he shuddered, a fiery nimbus appearing around him once more. “... Oh God... oh God help me...!” A yellow corona flared into being around his body, bringing with it horrific molten heat... and the power of a yellow star.
Karen could feel her energy stores being boosted by his presence. By whatever was happening. The corona grew more intense. The thrum of energy more dire.
“ENOUGH!” A girl’s voice cried. The corona winked out. From Sentry’s left eye blazed the tell-tale electric blue Phoenix emblem which was the sign of Rachel Grey using her powers.
“We’re not going to let you hurt anyone else!” three voices said in unison. Irma. Phoebe. Celeste.
More voices joined in. Some Karen recognized, some she did not. Every telepathic X-Man had joined forces for an all-out assault on the Sentry’s mind, and he was fighting them with every ounce of strength that he had.
Divine sized Karen up. “... Looks like it’s just you and me now,” she said.
Battle began between the two daughters of Krypton, and once again, the earth did tremble beneath their feet. The battle quickly became a mobile one, the Kryptonians pursuing each other at hypersonic speeds as they engaged in what was part brawl, part aerial dogfight across the face of three continents. It ended where the fight between Power Girl and Divine had begun, months ago and a few realities sideways: Antarctica.
Each was bruised and battered, and neither’s clothing had survived, but Divine was the stronger of the two: she had absorbed more Solar energy, and though the impact of her trip to the sun had faded almost to nothing, there is space between the ‘almost’ and the ‘nothing;’ her blows were ever so slightly more telling.
Karen was losing.
But as she fought, as she evaded another piledriver blow, as she half-evaded another blast of heat-vision, Karen looked thoughtful.
“... What are you thinking?” Kara asked.
“That watching two gorgeous girls wrestling naked in the air across three continents is one of those ‘things I want to see before I die’ that I can now check off the list?” She swerved to avoid another blast of heat vision.
Kara rolled her eyes. “No. What are you thinking?”
“Something dumb,” Karen replied, glancing down at the artifact that still adorned her left hand.
“No, Karen. Absolutely not. We’ll find another way.”
Karen smiled. “... There isn’t another way.”
She was slowing down. Her attacks coming in less quickly. She couldn’t...
Divine moved in for the kill, seizing her by the throat with one hand.
Karen clasped the other with the Draconian Katra, and the world went dark.
Xander Harris woke suddenly to the sound of his parents arguing. He was in his bed, staring up at the ceiling of his parents’ basement in Sunnydale. He sat up, then stood up, rubbing his head, and a sense of vertigo nearly overwhelmed him. His body felt... weird. His balance was off. Nothing moved the way it was supposed to. “... Ugh...” he muttered. “Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that last slice of pizza.”
The room slowly came into focus.
“... a waste of space, Jess. A fucking waste of space. You really think he’s going to do a damn thing with his life except rot away in that basement?”
“How should I know?! He’s YOUR son. God knows he doesn’t have anything in common with my side of the family.”
His father’s voice grew angrier. “The hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You know exactly what it means, Tony. If he’s a worthless waste of space, it’s because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!” The sound of a fist hitting a face echoed down the basement stairs. Then again. Again. And again.
Then came a different sound. The sound of a woman crying.
Xander stood at the bottom of the stairs, paralyzed by shame and anger and hatred towards his parents, barely able to breathe. His emotions seemed to burrow down beneath his skin, wrapping over muscle, joining to ligaments, burrowing into nerve endings.
There was a strange fog flowing down the stairs from above. Light coming from the crack beneath the door.
“So,” a voice said. “This is what you are.”
Xander turned. A very ordinary looking man with short brown hair and dark brown eyes was leaning up against the wall. His garb was simple enough: a black t-shirt and black slacks.
The man smiled cheerfully. “Max,” he said.
Xander shivered. “You’re wrong. This isn’t what I am. I’ve changed.”
“Nobody ever really changes. Sure, you got put into that new body, and you thought it made you different. But deep down? This is what you are. This will always be what you are.”
Xander shook his head. “... No.”
“Doesn’t work that way, son. Can’t change the truth just by saying ‘no.’ You were given the powers of a Kryptonian. You didn’t deserve them, but you got them. What did you do with that power that was worthwhile? Far as I can tell, jack shit. You sat around and let other people tell you what to do. They led you by the hand, and you didn’t mind, because you’re not a leader.” Max smirked. “You’re a whipping boy.”
“I’m... I’m in Divine’s mind,” Xander muttered.
“Damn right you are, but if you think I went through all the effort of building a mind for my creation only for you to take up residence like a damned squatter the moment it becomes convenient, you’ve got another think comin’. You’re in my world, son, and you’re never going to leave this basement again.”
Xander shook his head. The world flickered. Karen shook her head. Another flicker.
“Got some gender confusion going on there, do you?” Max asked, clearly amused. “Guess it’s only natural if you’ve been living in Power Girl’s body all this time. I’ll leave you to sort it out. You’ve got plenty of time to work on it, after all. A Kryptonian exposed to the right sort of light can stick around for just this side of forever. So, have fun with that.”
The sound of Xander’s mother, crying upstairs, filled the basement.
Xander looked up the stairs that led to the main level of the house. The distance between here and there seemed all but infinite, and a palpable aura of dread emanated from it, flowing down the stairs with the fog that grew thicker by the second.
He took the first step.
She took the second.
He took the third.
One step at a time, Xander ascended the stairwell. It was the hardest thing he had ever done, but he faced his dread and he forced his way through it, reached out for the door, opened it.
The light beneath the door pulsed, and all at once Karen found herself in the antarctic laboratory where Divine and Power Girl had once fought. Great glass tubes lined the walls, failed clones within each one. It was cold. There was a hole in the ceiling. The sound of a wailing infant came from further in.
“You’re not Power Girl,” a voice identical to her own said.
She turned. Divine was there. Angry. Glaring at her. Floating in mid-air.
“No, I’m not,” Karen admitted.
“You don’t have any right to wear that face.”
“No, I don’t,” Karen admitted.
“Then why are you still wearing it?”
“I see,” Divine said. “You really think that makes a difference, though? You think that they can save you here?”
Karen shook her head. “... No.” She walked towards the source of the crying.
“Stay away from her,” Divine said. “You have no right to go in there.”
“I know,” Karen replied.
She stepped through the far door. The chamber beyond was a nursery. A child with dark hair not more than a few months old lay in a crib surrounded by bright shiny toys. It was a girl, and she was crying her lungs out, wailing, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“What is this?” Karen asked.
“That’s Divine, of course,” Max said, stepping out from behind the crib for all that there hadn’t been room there to conceal his form. “You get it, right? You used that artifact. Poured yourself into her mind. I suppose your plan was to destroy her? Take her over from the inside?”
“... I never actually thought that far ahead,” Karen replied.
Max sighed. “Then you’re a fool. Doesn’t matter if you’ve left that basement. The price of leaving here is one you’ll never pay.”
Immediately, Karen understood, and Xander as well. Indecision plagued her.
“You’re not really going to kill a baby, are you?” It was Willow’s voice.
“That’s a bit beyond the pale, Xander.” Buffy’s voice.
“I think you should go back to your room.” his father’s voice.
No one to help her. Nothing to save her. An impossible choice.
“You’re a whipping boy.” It was Principal Snyder who spoke this time. “Raised by mongrels and set on a sacrificial slab.”
“Off you go, Xander,” Max said. “Or Karen. Or whatever you want to be called.”
The baby was still crying. Still wailing. Shrieking. Faces surrounded her. The eyes of everyone she had ever known, all telling her she was worthless. All telling her that she couldn’t make this choice. “... You have it within you to be a hero,”
Kara said. “I believe in you, Xander.” “I believe in you,”
Irma echoed a moment later.
Karen crossed the room to where the infant Divine wept in her crib. Looked down at her. It would be so easy. All she needed to do was pick up the pillow and smother the baby.
… but that’s not what a hero does.
Karen scooped Divine up into her arms, rocked her gently, whispered, “I’m here now,” and kissed her on the forehead.
The infant Divine stopped crying. Looked up. Smiled a toothless smile.
Karen felt the infant in her arms grow blazingly hot, but she didn’t let go. Divine’s form glowed like a star. And then Karen wasn’t holding a baby. The thing in her arms was a thousand points of light, and so unbearably warm, but she embraced it all the same. It flowed into her body, the warmth spreading from the tips of her toes to the top of her head.
The warmth faded.
The room faded.
The world faded.
“...ren... Karen, Karen, are you with me? Is it you? Did it... work?”
Karen opened her eyes. She was lying on her back in a vast field of snow. Kara Zor-L stood over her, and for the first time, Kara was neither translucent nor ghostly.
“I feel weird,” Karen muttered.
Kara laughed. “Can you stand?”
“... just... give me a minute...”
The world seemed to swim around her. She felt utterly drained. Like she could sleep for a week.
“Stay with me, Karen...”
She slipped into a dreamless slumber.
Karen woke up in a hospital bed at the Xavier Institute. Her everything hurt. Muscles ached that she hadn’t known she had. At first, all she saw was white. She blinked a few times, and she tried to rub at her eyes but lacked the strength to lift her hands. The world slowly gained definition. Sound returned to her. Touch. The blanket she was lying under was a soft and warm. The air was cold.
“Welcome back,” said a kindly voice.
She looked up into the blue eyes and muzzled face of Hank McCoy. “... Hey,” she said.
“I’ll tell the others that you’re awake,” Henry said.
“... I’m... not Divine,” she managed, though it kind of hurt to talk.
Hank nodded. “Indeed not, Ms. Starr. If we thought you were Divine, you would be in cryo-storage. Kara explained the situation, and Ms. Frost has confirmed it.”
Karen sank back into the bed. “...k,” she said. She was asleep a few seconds later.
When she woke again, she felt better. Stronger. She was still in a hospital bed in the medical lab, but there was a light above her, and it felt... good. It felt like sunlight. She sat up, and then grabbed the blanket and pressed it against herself before it could leave her naked. “... Er, hello?”
As before, Hank McCoy was there. “Ah, excellent,” he said as he checked her vitals. “I suspected the simulated sunlight might do some good. Not quite as effective as the real thing, I grant you, but still undeniably useful.”
“... could I have some clothes, please?”
Hank blinked. “Oh. Yes, yes of course. I will send word.”
Noriko and Kara Zor-L arrived five minutes later, Kara carrying a bundle of clothes under her arm.
It felt weird, looking at what had been her body from the outside. Karen felt a peculiar sense of vertigo. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” Kara said, offloading the clothes into Karen’s arms. “How you feeling?”
“Better,” Karen replied. “Weird. I dunno. How long was I out?”
“You were unconscious for six days, twelve hours, and thirty four minutes,” Hank said cheerfully.
“Damn. That long?”
Kara and Noriko both nodded. Kara took the opportunity to draw the privacy curtain shut around Karen’s bed, and Karen began to put on her clothes.
“So Nori, I guess I, er, kind of owe you and the others an explanation.”
“Kara gave us the short version,” Noriko said. “Chaos magic. Extradimensional portal. Two people stuck in the same body.” She shook her head incredulously, and Karen saw it easily on account of her x-ray vision. “I can’t imagine what that would have been like.”
Karen stepped out from behind the curtain, fully dressed.
“That was quick,” Noriko said.
“Super speed,” Karen replied.
“So tell me, was that the craziest thing that ever happened to you?”
Karen thought about it. “... Inca mummy girl, preying mantis lady, possessed by a hyena...” she mused. She shrugged. “I’m gonna go with ‘craziest long-term thing,’ but not necessarily ‘craziest thing’.”
Noriko exchanged glances with Kara. “... Your life is weird,” Nori said.
“You have no idea.”
“So your real name’s Xander?”
“OK, some idea,” Karen conceded. “And it was, yeah. … but I think...” she looked down. “I think I might just be Karen Starr, now.”
Kara raised an eyebrow.
“When I used that device on Divine, I... well, I think what I did might have had... repercussions.”
“You’re not wrong,” Emma said as she walked into the room. Kara, Noriko, and Karen looked up. Stephen Strange was accompanying the headmistress, clad all in the robes of his station. “Ms. Ashida,” Emma said.
“Uh... right. Leaving.” She made good on that, heading out through the door, which shut behind her.
Karen felt a little uncomfortable. “... So. What now?”
“What indeed,” Doctor Strange replied. “You have placed yourself in a difficult position, young lady. When you left the circle you forced me to ground a considerable amount of magical energy through my own body - an experience I am not eager to repeat. The vast majority of it was neutralized, but some clung to me, to the house, to you, and to the artifact. It represented … an instability. One which was made worse by the use of said artifact in the manner you chose to employ it.”
Karen looked down. “... Sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Stephen replied. “But it won’t help you. I’m afraid the circumstances surrounding your transfer into that body, added to the dissolution of Divine’s mind and the merging of her spirit with yours, have rendered any future attempt at body transfer unlikely at best.”
“I’m stuck this way,” Karen said.
“You knew?” Kara asked.
“I suspected,” Karen replied. “But what else was I supposed to do? I couldn’t just... kill her.”
Kara smiled, and there was pride in her voice when she replied. “Yes, you could have. You could have killed her. You chose not to.”
Karen looked mildly uncomfortable, but didn’t dispute it. Her eyes widened suddenly. “What about the Sentry? Was anyone hurt?”
“Yes,” Emma replies. “And some killed. But fewer than there might have been. We dealt with the Sentry. He will not be a problem again.”
Karen blinked. “What does that mean?”
Emma gave Karen a level look. “It took all of us to stop him. Every telepath on the grounds, and using Cerebra to boost our power further. The amount of power unleashed was... considerable, and we still came within a hair’s breadth of failure. We were indelicate. We stopped him at the cost of destroying his mind and rendering him effectively brain dead. His body discorporated shortly after.”
Karen swallowed. “... Oh.”
“Your situation,” Emma said, “Is a bit more problematic. You now inhabit the body of one of the most wanted criminals on the planet. You can imagine that SHIELD, such as it is in its current, leaderless state, was not particularly interested in an explanation which involved mystical mind transfer. Things will be difficult for you here for the foreseeable future.”
“I... I’ll go.”
Emma gave Karen a look that said, ‘you just said the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say.’ “We do not abandon our own simply because standing with them is difficult, Karen. We will see you through this.”
Kara nodded. “You’re not responsible for Divine’s actions, and I won’t let you go down for them.”
“Which,” Emma said, “Brings us back to ‘what now?’”
Karen looked down. “... I need to tell my friends, for one. In my home dimension.” She looked at Doctor Strange. “If that’s still possible?”
Strange sighed. “Provided you promise not to break the circle, I suppose so. I’ll begin the preparations. Come to me when you are ready.”
As Doctor Strange left the room, Karen felt the weight of the last few days settling into her heart. “I guess it’s not going to get any easier,” she said.
“No,” Emma replied. “But with all of that out of the way,” Her expression hardened, and she looked Karen directly in the eye. “What, exactly, are your intentions towards Irma Cuckoo?”
And suddenly, Karen knew exactly what a rabbit felt like when it saw a hawk’s shadow.
It was a journey which had been a long time coming. What had begun on Halloween in another dimension now saw what once might have been its conclusion take shape: the portal had failed. A second portal was forged.
Karen Starr - once Xander Harris - was going home. But she was going home to say goodbye. Her friends had gathered in the chamber overlooking the mystic circle. Noriko, Julian, Cessily, Laurie, Josh, Irma, a few others. Karen’s lips still tingled from the kiss she and Irma had shared upon their reunion: a passionate affair which had been broken only by the sudden drop in room temperature which had accompanied the arrival of Celeste and Phoebe. There were problems yet to be faced, problems by the score. Not all of her friends had been as understanding as Noriko. Some were angry. But they were angry as friends.
Kara stood next to Karen in the circle. They were going together. They would return together. A journey to Xander’s world to complete the circle.
The light built and built until it seemed blinding. The portal took them. Karen saw a whirling tunnel of light, and she fell. She fell and she fell and she fell, the tunnel howling around her, Kara at her side.
She landed on her butt. An accompanying crash told her that Kara had made the journey as well. They had arrived. They were in the library at Sunnydale High, directly over the spot which corresponded to the Hellmouth.
She rose to her feet.
“That’s far enough,” a familiar voice said from behind her.
She turned. Buffy was there, sword in hand. Behind her, Giles held a crossbow leveled at her heart. Willow was further back, watching from behind the library desk, and...
“I don’t know who you are or what hell dimension you came from,” Buffy said, “but a pair of demon Power Girl knock-offs are not putting up shop here. We’re a non-shoppy hellmouth. Totally closed for business, got it?”
“I don’t know, they look pretty busty to me.” A beat. “... Friendly. I meant friendly.” That voice was a familiar one, too. Very, very familiar. With a mounting sense of dread, Karen turned to look at the speaker.
Xander Harris stood in front of the book shelves, baseball bat in hand.
“What.” Karen said.
Kara glanced worriedly at Karen.
Xander blinked. “What?”
Karen stared. “WHAT?!”The End. For Now.
This concludes the first story arc. I’ll be continuing this, but likely in the form of a sequel. I’ve got the first three chapters planned out already. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.