Learning the Ropes
"Actually, I wanted to discuss an issue that came up eight days previous," Reed said. He was seated at an ornate wooden table in distinguished company: Charles Xavier to his right, Namor, King of Atlantis to his left, Stephen Strange, Iron Man, and Black Bolt across the table from him.
The others looked his way, waiting for him to continue.
Reed produced a small holo-emitter and activated it: an image of the blonde haired, busty, female Xander Haris appeared floating above the device. "It appears that I have gained myself a house guest," he began.
Namor looked annoyed. "I hardly see how this is a matter for our consideration. Did we not agree that this would be a forum in which we discussed only 'The Big Things?'"
Reed ruthlessly suppressed the annoyance he felt. "With respect, King Namor, she is not a small thing."
Namor did not seem impressed, but he nodded for Reed to continue.
Reed hit a switch, and began to display the readings he had taken in his scans of the girl. "Her name is Karen Starr. Alien. Unknown planet of origin. Her abnormally dense molecular structure gives her a baseline strength and toughness several times that of an ordinary woman. That in and of itself would not be a problem, if it weren't for the nature of her power."
Iron Man studied the holographic display. "... we've dealt with beings able to absorb solar energy before," he said, his tone neutral.
"Not like this," Reed replied. "I've managed to prevent her exposure to sunlight thus far, but it will happen, and once it does, her power will grow exponentially. Ultimately, if my analysis of her potential is correct, she will become a being of comparable power to Thor. The process will take time, but once started..."
"Surely you're not suggesting that we kill her simply because she's an Omega Class being," Xavier said.
"No. But I am asking for your advice."
There was a moment of silence at the table, and then the Black Bolt raised his hand. Xavier studied him for a moment, and then voiced the other man's thoughts aloud: "He believes that the girl should be evaluated before any judgment is passed one way or another."
"A test of character?" Doctor Strange asked. "I can arrange such a thing."
"Afterwards, if she passes, she'll need to be trained," Iron Man said.
All eyes went to Charles.
Charles looked slightly uncomfortable. "The Xavier institute exists to train and guide young mutants in the wise use of their powers. This girl is neither mutant nor human."
"But you'll train her," Namor said.
Charles met Namor's gaze. "Under the watchful gaze of Sentinel Squad O*N*E?" he asked.
"Irrelevant. You'll train her because there is no other choice. Atlantis is no option here."
"The Avengers aren't equipped for it," Iron Man added.
"I can do even less for her than you," Doctor Strange said.
Reed and Black Bolt said nothing.
"You'll train her," Namor said, "Because the alternative is unthinkable. She needs to be in control of her powers, and she needs teachers accustomed to dealing with young people in her situation."
Xavier sighed. "... I'll train her," he conceded.
"It's decided then," Iron Man said. "Now, let us move on to our next order of business: the continuing fallout of the mutant Decimation..."
It was a peace offering to Xavier. Everyone knew it. The 198 mutants who remained empowered were hardly a world-shaking affair, but no one objected.
They owed him that much.
A New World in my View
by P.H. Wise
A BtVS Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 02: Learning the Ropes
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.
Xander had never been a fan of exercise. PE? Hated it, just like every other kid in the class. Sports? Unless you count swimming, not so much. Exercise had been an unpleasant thing to be avoided at all costs if entertainment could be found elsewhere. That had changed a bit when he began helping Buffy, of course - especially during the summer between the last school year and this one. Giles had put his foot down and insisted that even if they were going to be 'fray-adjacent,' they needed to have a bare minimum level of physical fitness lest they prove to be an outright burden to their resident Slayer rather than a help. Neither he nor Willow had much liked that, but they'd done what he asked, eventually. ... She nor Willow. ... and there it was again. She couldn't even go five minutes in the privacy of her own thoughts without coming back to the singular fact which had come to dominate every aspect of her existence: Xander Harris had been transformed into a girl. It took her a few moments to recover her train of thought after that one went ripping through her mental station.
Exercise. He had never liked exercise, but he'd done it, once it had been made a precondition of his and Willow's continuing to help Buffy. But now, with little else to do, SHE found herself doing a surprising amount of exercising in the Fantastic Four's gym, and much to her surprise, it felt good. She'd mostly been doing cardio, and on machines designed for The Thing - she tended to break the other ones if she tried to use them, simply by weight alone. Today, she'd decided to try weights. There she was, Ben was spotting her on a bench press, and she in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts was bench pressing six hundred pounds with an ease that still made her giggle if she stopped to think about it. She managed thirty reps before her arms started to tingle pleasantly. At that she took a break for a minute, and then did another thirty. A break. Another thirty. It was surprisingly exhilerating. Especially with her ribs finally no longer sending horrific stabbing pain through her entire body every time she breathed.
Not that the new body didn't have downsides. The first time she'd done the treadmill, Johnny and Sue had both been in the room. Kryptonian physiology meant that her breasts, despite their size, were far firmer than they had any right to be, but they still bounced painfully when she ran, and ten minutes into her exercise, she noticed that Johnny had stopped his own exercises and was openly staring at her in the wall-mirror.
Sue had then taken her aside into the changing room and explained the finer points of sports bras, and showed her how to put one on. Xander hadn't gone back to exercising that day, and NEVER went in anymore if Johnny was present. ... but when she did go back, she went back wearing a sports bra underneath her t-shirt.
It kind of worried her, actually. Not the sports bra thing, though thinking about wearing one still embarrassed her to no end. ... as did thinking about not wearing one. Or just thinking about bras in relation to her new female body in general. Or thinking about her new female body at all, when she wasn't also being overcome by sheer, overwhelming, all out panic. Or... ok, the point was, she was embarrassed. But it worried her, too. How good it all felt. The exhileration she felt when she realized exactly how strong she was. She supposed that her attraction to her own body was a good sign. Or at least as good a sign as could be expected under the circumstances. But getting horny at the sight of your own reflection was so very much of the creepy. Not as creepifying as the actual sensation of feeling horny as a girl for what had been a teenaged boy not long ago, but generally creepifying.
That wasn't the only problem, though. The big problem? Besides the fact that she was a girl at all? ... She couldn't swim. As Xander, swimming had been the ONLY physical activity she'd actually halfway enjoyed. Now? She literally could not swim. She'd tried that as her initial form of exercise: she'd sunk right to the bottom. Her body wasn't buoyant. She didn't remember Power Girl or Superman ever having this kind of trouble in the comic books.
Stupid abnormally dense cellular structure.
So now, a month into her stay with the Fantastic Four, Xander Harris - Karen Starr - headed back to the exercise room. She'd been feeling a little under for the last week or so. Mostly just tired, but there'd also been this annoying headache that wouldn't go away. She figured it was probably stress. She stopped off in the changing room. Undressed. Pulled off the boxers she'd finally convinced Sue to pick up for her.
... She was bleeding.
She was bleeding down there.
Xander had attended sex ed. She knew what was going on. Knew she wasn't dying or anything. But despite knowing what it was, the intellectual knowledge of 'women have periods' and the direct experience of 'I'm having a period' are very different things. She took it about as well as might be expected.
She took an unintended decisive nap.
"Reed, I'm going to tell you something, and I need you to tell me whether or not I'm crazy, all right?"
Reed smiled faintly. "You're crazy," he said.
"Very funny," Sue replied. "I'm serious."
Reed nodded. "All right. Go ahead."
"I've spent a lot of time with Karen over the past month," Sue began. "And she knows things about Earth culture that I would never expect an alien to know. Things that she could only know if she had been born here."
"Or been programmed with the memories of a person who was born here," Reed said.
Sue nodded. "Or that. But there are the damndest gaps in her knowledge."
Reed raised an eyebrow. "Such as?"
"She didn't realize that she'd need to support her breasts when she exercises. She had no idea how to put on a bra, but she knew what it was and what it was for." Sue pressed her lips together a moment. "And while she knew about the basic concepts of feminine hygiene, she had no idea how to actually apply them or deal with them, at all. I had to talk a seventeen year old girl through the process of dealing with her period yesterday."
Reed felt mildly uncomfortable at that, but nodded, 'hmm'ing thoughtfully.
"There's no way a seventeen year old girl hasn't had her period yet, but she acted like she'd never..." Sue trailed off at Reed's look of discomfort. "Honestly, Reed? Not the time." At his contrite expression, she went on. "Her body language is almost exclusively masculine as well." She paused a moment. "If she was programmed with the knowledge and memories of an Earth native, I think that native must have been a teenaged boy."
"There are other possibilities," Reed said. "It could be that whatever world she calls home simply has different social roles for men and women. Much of what we see as set in stone about the sexes is the product of being raised in our society, and not an inherent quality of either sex. What we see as masculine behavior, they might well see as feminine. Or they may lack such categories altogether."
"I know that, I just..."
"Lacking additional information, your conclusion is the most likely," Reed acknowledged. A pause. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Sue shook her head. "Just... be aware of it. Keep it in mind when you interact with her. I don't think she's comfortable in her skin."
Reed nodded. "Gender dysphoria," he murmured. "How very... human."
Sue smiled faintly. "How very," she replied.
One month and four days had now passed since her arrival. One month and four days stuck inside Four Freedoms' Plaza - on one particular floor, in fact - never seeing the outside world. Never seeing the sky. Never feeling the sun on her skin. Xander was beyond stir crazy, so when Sue asked if she'd accompany her on a shopping trip tonight, despite her utter disinterest in shopping, Xander all but leaped at the opportunity, if only to get out of the damn building for a while, and breathe air that wasn't conditioned and recycled.
That was before the doors to Four Freedoms Plaza actually opened in front of her, and she stepped out into the New York city summer evening.
The heat and the humidity hit her like a physical blow. Xander had taken a shower twenty minutes previous. She now felt like she needed another shower. Muggy. Hot. Awful. The air was utterly still, and its stillness only made it worse. Sue seemed not to notice. She just walked out and got into the waiting car like it was an everyday thing. And it was, Xander realized, an every day thing. For her. She became uncomfortably aware of a trickle of sweat running down her left breast. She grimaced, and then followed Sue to the car.
Johnny Storm's voice greeted her as she slid into the seat and shut the door. "Hey Sue. Hello, gorgeous."
"Johnny, be nice," Sue said.
Xander tried not to grind her teeth.
Johnny dropped them off thirty minutes later in a neighborhood that didn't look much like a commercial district. Xander frowned as the car drove off, and she looked to Sue questioningly. "Are you sure this is the right place?"
"I'm sure. Come on, it's this way." Sue began to walk along the abandoned sidewalk, and Xander followed, if reluctantly.
'This ... is vampire country,' Xander thought. 'This is dumb. Why is she taking me out here? Sue wouldn't lead me into a trap... would she?'
Sue turned suddenly and stepped into an alleyway and out of Xander's view. Goosebumps stood up on her arms. Something was very wrong. It was cold. A thick fog began to roll out of the alley. Sue was gone. Finely honed Sunnydale instincts told her to run. Run now. NOW.
Xander started to. Started to turn and sprint away. She didn't get more than three steps when a woman's scream of terror tore out from the alleyway, followed by a second and a third.
Xander froze in her tracks, her thoughts racing. A woman was in danger. She wasn't a hero. She was fray adjacent! She was the donut monkey! She was... running towards the alleyway and cursing herself for a fool.
A flare of intense light and heat from within the alley banished the fog, and instantly, Xander beheld a great demonic form seemingly made from fire and obsidian sending blast after blast of power over the cowering form of Sue Richards. Sue had managed to put up some sort of barrier around herself, but it was shrinking with every blast, and her screams echoed long and loud.
Hating herself for being a fool, Xander scooped up a nearby trash can lid and flung it at the creature with all her might: it sent up a shower of sparks when it impacted, and was instantly reduced to molten slag. The creature turned to peer at the one who had dared to challenge it, and it laughed. "This is not your business, mortal. Come not between Dormammu and his prey, or he shall not slay thee in turn, but carry thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye."
Xander swallowed heavily, and it didn't occur to her then that those words seemed vaguely familiar. Gathering her courage, she picked up the trash can and held it over her head. She knew it wouldn't do much, but it felt good to hold a weapon, even if it wasn't a useful one. "Sue, get out of there! I'll hold it off!" She swallowed nervously once more, and when she finished her statement, it was in a much less confident voice: "... somehow."
A terrible wave of heat sent Xander scrambling back around the corner, and Sue screamed, "Don't be a fool, Karen! You can't do anything to something like this! Go! Run!"
Xander strode forward. "Like hell!" she yelled, and threw the trashcan. It fared no better than the lid. "Very well, mortal. You have my attention. Remember, this was YOUR CHOICE."
The demon charged her. Xander was hardly an expert combatant - she'd learned the bare basics and that was it, but even she knew that you don't stand there and take a charge from a ten foot burning demon thing. Simultaneously, she spotted a fire hydrant out of the corner of her eye. She waited as long as she dared, and then leaped out of the way... not quite in time. Dormammu clipped her, sending her spiralling into the wall, which dented visibly with the impact. She struggled for breath, and then yelled, "... Sue, you're kind of undercutting my heroic last stand here by NOT RUNNING FOR YOUR LIFE!"
The fiery demon was rearing back for another blast, and Xander did the only thing she could think to do: she hit the fire hydrant as hard as she could. She HEARD the bones of her hand cracking. Felt agony racing up her arm. But her bones weren't the only thing that cracked: the hydrant had as well. Water pressure did the rest. The hydrant ruptured, sending a terrific gout of pressurized water into the surprised demon's face.
Steam filled the street. Heat built upon heat. The night grew muggier, and then intolerably muggier, the air a thick soup of steam and mist.
Coughing, Xander stumbled into the alleyway. She'd lost sight of Sue. Lost sight of the demon. There was a light source somewhere above her. "Sue!" she cried.
Dormammu came charging out of the steam like a freight train, his fires extinguished, but not his rage. "You will DIE for your insolence!"
it roared, its punch sending her flying back to the far end of the alley, sliding across the last six feet of pavement. ... Sue lay on the ground at the end of the alley, coughing, struggling to breathe in the thick steam. A door stood open close at hand. Xander might be able to get through it before the demon got to her, but if she did, then Sue was...
Cursing herself once more, Xander did the right thing: she scooped up Sue and shoved her through the door, shut that door, and then turned to face the demon. "You would risk your life for a woman who has done all she can to contain you? Denied you access to the outside world before this night? Lied to you? Plotted against you with her team mates?"
What would Buffy do? ... Xander knew just the thing. She glared at the demon. "Are you done talking yet? Because I have places to be." Despite the severity of the situation, and the agony of her shattered hand, she almost giggled. "So be it,"
the demon replied. And then it smiled, and spoke in a much more kindly voice. "You pass the test, Karen Starr."
All at once, the illusion faded. The damage to the alleyway faded. The pain in Xander's hand faded. The steam faded. The molten brick and concrete of the walls of the alley faded. The image of the demon vanished, revealing a man in a blue suit with black hair with two white stripes at his temples.
The door at the back of the alley opened, and Sue stepped out, smiling.
"... a test?" Xander asked.
"You passed," Sue said.
Xander stared at them both for a long moment. "... you have got to be kidding me," she muttered.
The light from above descended, then. A man made of fire, and laughing with Johnny's voice. "Nicely done, hot stuff," he called. "I told them you were better than they gave you credit for!"
The man of fire descended into the alleyway, but she scarcely noticed. There was... the strangest tingle in her body. The faintest feeling of... power, pulsing in time to the beat of her heart, scarcely noticable beneath the righteous anger that she felt. "You set me up, made me think Sue was in danger of being murdered by a demon, made me think I was going to have to sacrifice myself to save her... as a TEST?"
"We had to know," Sue said, shifting a bit guiltily.
"A crude instrument, perhaps, but necessary," the man in the blue suit said. "I am Stephen Strange. I welcome you to New York, Karen Starr. I have heard much about you."
Xander could feel it gathering in her limbs. Power building. Something was about to happen. Her anger built. She wasn't about to let her anger be defused without an apology. "You people are unbelievable!" she yelled. And then, instinctually seizing on the power she'd felt, she jumped straight up into the wild blue yonder, and took off into the night like a bat out of hell.
She was FLYING. Wherever this power had come from, it was letting her FLY! Instantly, her anger was forgotten. She laughed a delighted laugh, seeing the city whip by below her. It took seconds to leave the neighborhood completely behind. Less than a minute to cross the whole island of Manhattan and alight on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. There, she laughed like a madwoman, her whole body tingling with power. Kicking off the bridge, she soared up into the air, spun, dove down to buzz vehicles crossing the bridge below, zoomed out over the East River, and...
Dropped like a stone.
She barely had time to let out a surprised yelp before she hit the water, and sank like the stone she had fallen as.
She wasn't sure how much later it was when she came to, coughing and spluttering. Someone was carrying her. Someone female. She looked up into the black-masked face of a concerned looking woman with long blonde hair wearing... well, not a whole lot, actually. Skimpy black costume with a gold lightning bolt down the chest.
"... th.. thanks," Xander managed.
The woman deposited her onto a large pier on the Brooklyn side of the river. "You're lucky I was passing by, Miss," she said. "You're a mutant, right? You should know better than to fly over the East River of all places if you don't have full control of your powers."
Xander wasn't exactly sure what a mutant was, but she nodded all the same, too mortified to argue. "... I didn't expect..." she began.
"It doesn't matter what you expected, Miss. Do you know how many people drown in the East River every year?"
"I didn't realize I'd be landing in corpseapalooza," Xander muttered defensively.
"And you're too heavy to be much use at swimming, so it's doubly stupid. I don't want this to happen again, got it?"
Xander sighed, resigning herself to be lectured. "... I got it. It won't happen again."
The woman nodded. "Be careful out there. Some people don't react well to the sight of mutants outside of the Xavier grounds. I'd escort you back there myself, but I'm already late for a meeting. Can I trust you to go straight home?"
Xander nodded. "Straight home," she repeated.
The woman nodded once more, then lifted off into the air, and flew off towards the horizon.
Xander let out a long, slow breath, and then shuddered. She'd almost DIED. If that woman, whoever she was, hadn't...
The immediate crisis behind her, the events which had precipitated it rushed back into her thoughts, and she scowled, particularly when her very first thought was to return to the Baxter Building. "... Call me untrusting," she said to the still muggy, still uncomfortably warm night air, "But I don't think going back to the people who wanted to test whether or not I'd sacrifice my life for one of them is the best idea just now."
Shivering in the hot air, far more exhausted than she'd ever been in her life, dripping wet from head to toe, her shoes squishing with every step, Xander - Karen - turned and walked off into Brooklyn to find a place to wait out the night.
Morning came earlier than Karen would have liked. Xander. Whatever. It hardly mattered right now. She'd just spent the night in a homeless shelter, and after breaking the bed she'd tried to use, she'd wound up just sleeping on the floor. The 85 Lexington Avenue Women's Shelter. She'd found it after wandering the streets of Brooklyn for three hours, and the people there had been kind, had given her a place to shower and to sleep. Come morning, the girl who called herself Karen Starr almost felt human again.
But it was only for the night. Stretching, blinking owlishly, Karen Starr walked out into the morning light.
When the sunlight hit her skin, she let out a gasp of sudden pleasure. It felt AMAZING. Better than almost ANYTHING. Better than the Sock Puppet of Love, even. ... well, almost. "Great googily moogily!" she exclaimed, provoking dirty looks from some of the other women who were leaving the shelter with her.
So caught up was she in the pleasurable sensations provoked by direct sunlight upon her skin, in the feeling of power that it produced as her cells began the slow process of recharging their solar batteries that she failed to notice the other event brought on by her exposure to sunlight: motes of light gathering around her, coalescing into a ghostly shape behind her.
Karen walked forward, grinning almost drunkenly. "Wow," she all but giggled. "Just... wow."
And then the ghostly shape passed through her, gained definition, and resolved into the image of Power Girl; insubstantial as the mist, but undeniably present. She looked around suspiciously, glared at Karen, and then said, "Two questions for you, blondie: one, who the hell are you, and two, what the HELL do you think you're doing with my body?!"
Karen stared. "... Er..." she began awkwardly. "It's... not what you think?"End Chapter 02
Yes, I know he's quoting Tolkien. Doctor Strange is aware that he is quoting Tolkien, too.