The Xavier Institute
There were any number of things Karen had expected from the 'Headmistress of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.' Emma Frost wasn't one of them. Here she'd been expecting some kind of severe, sexless, Nordic Minerva Mcgonagall. ... Two out of four wasn't bad, right? She stared at the woman, eyes wide, like a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming car. Emma's lips curled into the faintest of amused half-smiles. "So you're my newest student, then? Very well." She looked to the bald police officer. "I trust everything is in order, Sergeant?"
The sergeant didn't meet her gaze. He was too busy staring at her chest. In his defense, she was wearing an amazingly skimpy white costume which involved not very much fabric at all, and poorly concealed beneath a stylish white cloak. After a moment, he tore his gaze away. "Just go," he muttered.
"Very good," Emma said. "Girls? We're leaving." Without another word, she spun smoothly on her heel and made for the exit, head held high, acting for all the world as if she owned the place. Maybe she did: nobody tried to contest the claim made by her body language. The triplets followed, and after a moment's hesitation, Karen did as well.
A car was waiting in front of the police station. Surprisingly unremarkable, in light of the woman who had arrived in it. Emma Frost and the triplets went to the vehicle. Karen lingered behind.
"You OK, kid?" It was Ben Grimm's voice. He’d followed them out, and now stood at the entrance to the police station, a few feet away from Karen.
Karen turned to look him in the eye, opened her mouth to say... something. She wasn't sure what. It died on her lips.
"Yeah," he said. "Figured it was something like that. Look, I ain't so good at that mushy stuff, but if you ever need to talk to anyone, give me a call, ok?"
Karen struggled for a moment, trying to find the words she wanted. Struggling to give voice to the enormity of her situation. To her anger and frustration and fear at being stuck in another world, and another body. Struggling to find the words to voice her gratitude towards Ben. Her regret for how badly she'd messed up. Her lingering anger at his team mates. She wanted to say, 'I need to tell you a few things...’ She wanted to say, 'thank you for everything. She wanted to say, 'You've been a friend when others haven't.' But what she said was, "... See you around, Ben."
"Yeah," he said.
She got into the car, shut the door, and sank into the leather seat as Emma Frost took her away to the next stage of her new life.
A New World in my View
by P.H. Wise
A Power Girl crossover fanfic
Chapter 4: The Xavier Institute
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.
The car came to a halt in front of a shop on Madison Avenue. Karen felt a moment of confusion. Why were they stopping? She looked up at the sign: Chanel. It meant nothing to her. The mood in the vehicle had been... subdued. Somber, even. There hadn't been any occasion to speak, and neither Emma nor the triplets had said a word. But now... "Um, excuse me, Miss Frost? Why are we..."
Emma met Karen's gaze. "You have nothing to wear but the clothing you have on, correct?" At Karen's nod, she went on, "Celeste, Irma, and Phoebe are going to assist you in acquiring a new wardrobe."
If the triplets had seemed passive before, they were indignant now. "What?" the first asked. "Why do we have to," the third said, "Babysit the new girl?" the second finished.
Emma gave them a level look, and they relented. "... Fine," they said in unison. Then three sets of eyes turned to Karen. "Let's get this over with."
Karen grimaced. Shopping. This was going to be ugly.
Twenty minutes later...
"Absolutely not," the triplets said in unison. "We don't know how you managed to find the one store on Madison Avenue that sells tacky Hawaiian shirts, but the answer is no. "
Karen frowned. "Hey! I like Hawaiian shirts!"
"They're a travesty. An offense against nature. We draw the line here."
Karen grumbled under her breath, but relented, putting them back on the rack. A few minutes later, she was in yet another store, looking through the available boxers.
"No boxers," one of the triplets said. Irma, Karen thought, but she couldn’t be sure.
Karen raised an eyebrow. "What? What's wrong with boxers?"
The triplets exchanged long-suffering looks. And then they told her. Karen's expression went quickly from irritated to thoroughly embarrassed. "... Oh," she said. "... explains why I've been getting major wedgies every day for the last month..."
The Three-in-One stared incredulously at Karen for a long moment. "... Mother is punishing us," one said. The other two nodded in agreement.
Finally, after two hours, ten arguments, and six fervent wishes that the ground would open up and swallow them to relieve them of this torture, Karen and the triplets walked out to the street to meet Emma's car once again, each carrying several shopping bags full of clothing. It had been like pulling teeth, and several times they had attempted to resort to mind control only to be stopped by Emma Frost's observing presence, but it was done.
The car pulled away from the curb, and began the long journey through traffic out of the city to Westchester County. They arrived just before nightfall. Before them lay the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. ... or what was left of it.
Karen's first impression of the place was cemented by the security checkpoint in front of the school... manned by a giant, ominous robot. It was visible long before the school was, and Karen couldn't help but stare. It scanned the car in turn, and then, after a brief conversation with the driver, stepped aside, allowing the car to continue. A second security checkpoint waited just inside of the main gates, this one manned by soldiers. Karen stared out the window, her eyes wide as the car made its way down the long driveway to the mansion which housed her new school. It was damaged, and repairs were under way. Extensive construction efforts were being made. New buildings going up. Scaffolding was up all over the place. But that wasn't what drew Karen's attention: what drew her attention was the military encampment on the outer edge of the grounds, the giant robots patrolling the grounds, and the refugee tents set up all over the grounds.
It seemed less like a school and more like an ethnic ghetto. Every joke she'd been ready to make upon arrival died on her lips.
The car stopped. The doors opened. Emma Frost and the Stepford Cuckoos rose gracefully from their seats, stepped out of the car, and made their way to the doors of the main building, and Karen followed close behind, feeling small and lost.
Noriko Ashida - Nori to her friends - looked up as the doors to the mansion swung open. Hmm. Miss Frost was back. The Cuckoos, too. And... someone new. New faces. A pang of sorrow ran through her at the thought. New faces.
… So many old faces gone...
She shook her head, as if the motion would shake loose the sadness she felt. Figures that whatever new student Emma brought in would be another blonde. Tall, too. Gorgeous. And stacked. And way more muscular than she had any right to be with a bust that size. ... and looked like she could be Miss Frost's niece. A little less aristocratic, a little more... she wasn't sure what. Nori frowned thoughtfully, and exchanged glances with Laura. They'd been heading down the main staircase together when the door opened. "Hey Mindee," she called. "Who's the new girl?"
Emma kept walking. The new girl stopped. The girl identified as Mindee turned. “You know that’s not my name,” she said.
“... Sorry. Irma.”
Irma nodded. “Nori, meet Karen. Karen, this is Nori."
Phoebe gestured to the other girl, "And that's Laura. Don't try to wake her up in the morning."
Nori managed not to grimace at that, and Laura blushed.
"Er, I know I'm gonna regret asking..."
"Shut up, Phoebe," Nori said simultaneously with Phoebe saying, "She stabs people."
"... Right," Karen said. "Nori, Laura, I, uh, it's nice to meet you."
"You too," Nori said, not really feeling it. When Emma beckoned the new girl to follow her upstairs, Nori felt more relieved than anything else. Too much was happening, too quickly. A month and a half ago, more than 90% of the world's mutant population had spontaneously become human, herself not among them. Sentinel Squad O*N*E stationed there 'for their protection.' The school grounds filling up with every mutant refugee from here to the moon. They called themselves the 198. Someone decided that was how many mutants were left in the world. … It wasn’t true, though. There were plenty more than that. Just... not enough.
Forty two dead students.
… the memorial was today. Was it selfish that after forty two former students had died, Nori was just glad that Prodigy was being allowed to stay? Forty two of her friends were dead, but her depowered boyfriend was being allowed to stay. Did she have any right to be happy over that?
She'd been on her way to see him, actually, when the door had opened to admit Miss Frost and the others. She shrugged apologetically at Laura, and then headed down the stairs and further into the mansion, where she knew he was waiting.
For Nori Ashida, a new student barely rated as a blip on the radar.
Karen followed Emma Frost into her office with a sense of growing trepidation, more and more unsure that coming here hadn’t been a huge mistake. The door shut. Emma walked to her desk and sat down and looked at Karen for a long moment. “... All right, Mister Harris. What am I going to do with you?”
Karen felt a stab of panic shoot through her. “...Erk!” Emma’s slightly amused smile did little to comfort her. ‘Oh God, she knows!’ she thought in a panic.
“You do not shield your thoughts well, Mr. Harris,” Emma said. “Why don’t we just pretend that the first thing you did when you walked into my office was to confess the entirety of your absurd situation, and take it from there?”
Karen tried very hard not to stare at Emma Frost. Emotions raced beneath the surface of her skin. She felt humiliated. Ashamed. … A little bit turned on. More than a little, actually. Damnit. She’d thought that linoleum-induced horniness would have gone away when she turned into a girl. ‘Oh God. What am I gonna do? Gorgeous mind-reading woman? I still think about sex every other second! … Pi. Pi R squared. Naked girls. Naked women. Naked Miss Frost...!’ She began to panic as the frantic imagery flitting through her head only grew worse.
Emma raised an eyebrow. “Do stop thinking those sorts of things about me before I turn your brain off,” she said.
Karen giggled nervously. “Er... yes. Stopping. Right away. Right now.” ‘Damnit!’ “You know that if you turned my brain off, I’d probably tip forwards and fall through the floor, right?”
“We have some very good carpenters and flooring specialists on retainer,” Emma replied dryly. “But down to business, Mr. Harris. Though you are not a mutant, Charles Xavier made a promise to have you trained at his institute. Considering your lack of control over your powers and their destructive potential, I am inclined to agree that training is needed. But that does not mean I will allow you to endanger my students. They have been through a great deal of trauma this past month, and I will not have you add to it, am I understood?”
… Emma was kind of scary. “Yes, ma’am,” Karen managed, sounding (and feeling) suitably cowed.
“Good. None of us has the luxury of being a child anymore. You least of all.”
Karen didn’t glare, but she did feel a flash of anger. “I’m not a child,” she said.
“Are you an adult?"
Karen didn't answer. Couldn't answer. She felt a sensation like pins and needles crawling through her brain as she stood before the gaze of the telepathic headmistress of the Xavier Institute.
"Of course you aren't," Emma answered for her. "You've never really had to take responsibility for anything in your life. You've never needed to. It's perfectly understandable: under normal circumstances, seventeen year old boys are not expected to be particularly responsible." Calm. Collected. Hard as ice. Karen shivered under Emma's gaze. "But these are not ordinary circumstances. Not anymore. You are not a boy any longer, and neither are you human. You have been given a body with a potential for power that astounds even me. The Fantastic Four saw that. They kept you away from the thing which empowers you for over a month while they attempted to discover your quality. And then they put you to the test, and you passed, only to run away in a childish rage once you realized what they'd done."
"Hey, that's not fair!" Karen was about to go on, but Emma interrupted her.
"No, it's not," Emma agreed.
"What kind of friend puts someone to the..." Karen trailed off, "No, it's not?" she echoed, confused. "You're agreeing with me?"
"It isn't fair," Emma said, "But life rarely is. Do you think life has ever been fair to mutants? ... or to..." She met Karen's gaze. "The Slayer?"
"Stay out of my head," Karen tried to growl. It came out as more of a whimper.
"Do you think for a moment that Buffy Summers asked to be made into a freak and an outcast just so that the rest of you could have the chance to live the sort of life that would allow you to never need to know about her, or the sacrifices she made?"
"Buffy has nothing to do..."
Emma cut her off again. "And then there was your disastrous attempt at foiling a bank robbery," she began, "During which you and the Sandman, between the two of you, destroyed an entire city block."
"I didn't mean to," Karen insisted.
"No, you didn't. And that should illustrate my point. You caused more destruction than the bank robber, and you didn't mean to.
Karen fell silent. There was nothing she could reply to that.
"... but what if you had meant to?" Emma asked. "What if all the potential of your body had been given to someone worse? Someone like The Master? What might he have done with your new body?"
"... once he got it up to full power, there’d be no stopping him," Karen conceded.
"Hence the need of the test, however imperfectly executed.
Karen was silent for a long moment. "... It's not like I came up with the idea of trying to stop a bank robbery on my own," she said.
"You refer to the original consciousness of the body you now inhabit," Emma said.
Karen's eyes widened. "... original consciousness?" she asked, not really sure she wanted to think about the implications of that particular statement.
"I did tell you," Power Girl said, her ghostly form emerging from Karen's body. "And for what it's worth, Xander, I'm sorry about the bank robbery situation. ... I never should have pushed you to intervene. I..." she shrugged uncomfortably, "I have this annoying habit of acting before I think."
Emma looked amused. "Then it appears you have something in common. Power Girl, I presume?"
Power Girl looked up in surprise. "You can see me?"
"I'm a telepath," Emma replied, as if that explained everything. After a moment's thought, Karen realized that it kind of did.
"I'm reasonably certain that I know what Mr. Harris wants." Emma went on, "But what do you want?"
Power Girl frowned. Her track record with telepaths wasn't exactly a good one, and even in her ghostly form, she wasn't altogether sure that Emma couldn't just rip the thoughts out of her, or make her respond however she wanted without her ever knowing the difference. Still, she answered as honestly as she could: "I want my body back, and I want to go home."
"What price would you pay to see it done?"
Power Girl eyed Emma Frost distrustfully. "... I'm not about to hurt innocent people, if that's what you mean," she said at last.
"And you include Xander Harris under the category of 'innocent people?'" Emma asked.
"Yes," Power Girl replied without hesitation.
"Good," said Emma.
Karen suddenly remembered to breathe. "... had me worried," she muttered.
"Very well, Mr. Harris. Power Girl. You may stay. Whether you tell the other students the truth of your situation or not I leave to your mutual discretion. You will attend classes here, you will undergo the same training as everyone else, and you will obey our rules, and in return, we will train Mr. Harris in the use of your powers. If you can not do these things, tell me now."
Even after all that, Karen WANTED to tell Emma Frost to go to hell, and she KNEW that Emma Frost knew it. ... But instead, Karen sighed. "... I don't have a problem with any of that," she lied.
Emma smiled a humorless smile. "Good."
The memorial service happened that evening, after sunset. The dark seemed appropriate. Forty two dead students. Dead because one man believed that he was special. Believed that God had chosen him. The mood was as somber as Karen had ever experienced, and for once she didn't feel any urge to try to lift it whatever. She stood in silence as the faculty and students told stories of the people they'd lost. But it wasn't just about grief. Regret was the common denominator. If she hadn't already had such a vivid reminder of her own fallibility already today, Karen would have been... unkind to these people. These people who, in their friends' hour of need, when those friends had lost the very thing they had always been told made them special, had abandoned them, sent them away. Later, as she was moving her newly acquired wardrobe into her new room - a room she was going to be sharing with some girl named 'Surge' - she gave voice to her thoughts.
"I'm supposed to learn from these people?" she asked incredulously, not really expecting an answer.
"Yeah," Power Girl replied, stepping out of Karen's shadow. "You are. ... in more ways than one."
"Oh," Karen replied. And then she understood. "Oh!"
"Yeah," Power Girl said. She paused. She had something to say, but she needed a moment to decide whether or not to say it. Then, at last, she said, "... Kal told me something, once," she began.
Karen felt a jolt of excitement at that. "Kal as in Kal-L?" she asked. "As in... Superman? Your Superman?"
Power Girl nodded, and Karen felt her sympathy for the other girl rise. "I don't know how much of his history you learned from those... comics you say are written about us," she began.
"About Superman? Just the basics. His real name is Clark Kent. He grew up in Smallville, Kansas. His parents are Jonathan and Martha Kent...."
Power Girl looked annoyed. "OK, so you know enough to completely destroy the life of any particular version of Superman," she said.
"Er... I guess I never thought of it like that."
Power Girl sighed. "It's not your fault. ... But getting back to the subject, I had a full blown Kryptonian education when I arrived on Earth, and I landed as an adult. But Kal? He showed up as a toddler, and he didn't know anything
Karen nodded. "Until all those years spent beneath the yellow sun woke up his powers." And then Karen felt like an idiot. "... yellow sun...?" She giggled. "I'm dumb. I can't believe I..."
Power Girl gave Karen a sidelong look. "Can't believe what?"
"I spent all that time trying to figure out why I didn't have your powers, and..." Karen shook her head. "Never mind. Go on."
"So yeah, he didn't grow up as Kal-L. He grew up as, well, as Clark Kent. He didn't even know he wasn't human until he started to manifest his powers!"
As Power Girl - Kara - continued to talk, Karen, as carefully as she could, reached out to open the closet door. ... The handle broke off in her hand. Sighing, she stuck a finger through and cleaned out the remains of the mechanism that allowed it to stay shut, let it swing open, and then began to put her various shirts (and the occasional blouse, picked out by the Cuckoos) up onto clothes hangers.
"What I'm trying to say is, he wasn't this savior from outer space. He was a kid from Kansas. ... I stepped out of my ship Kara Zor-L, but he..."
Karen paused her activity to look at Kara. "I get it," she said. "... It wasn't being an alien that made Superman the hero he was. ... it was being human. Right?"
Kara nodded. "That's part of it. ... he was who he was because he grew up a human. It wasn't Jor-L who made him into the man he was - it was John and Mary Kent. And once, when I was feeling lost, like I didn't know who I was, and people wanted me to be... him, and ..." Her voice was thick with emotion now, and Karen found herself wishing that she could put a comforting arm around the intangible girl. "He said that I was the one who would decide what I would become. Not him, not the reporters, not all the people who wanted me to be something I couldn't... me." Kara met Karen's gaze, then. "While you're here, you might feel like you're pulled in a dozen different directions, but remember: you're the one who decides what you become."
Karen smiled. "... Thanks, Kara," she said, and she meant it.
"There's something else, too. Something more."
“... He said I was the most human person he knew.”
Karen smiled, and for a few moments, neither of them said a word. And then Karen looked down. "... I'm not Superman, Kara.”
"Neither am I," Kara Zor-L replied.
"And we already established that I'm bad at this 'being a hero' thing..."
"We've established that you're untrained," Kara corrected. "And Kal wouldn't expect us to be Superman. But we can sure as hell be the best damn Xander Harris and Kara Zor-L that we can, right? He believed in me, so how can I do any different?"
Karen couldn't find the words. Everything she could have said came up lacking. "I..." She cut off when the door suddenly opened, and the blue-haired Asian girl Karen had met earlier came walking into the room. She looked tired. Tired and sad.
"Thought I heard voices..." Nori murmured. "There's not anyone else in here, is there?"
Karen shook her head. "... Just me. I talk to myself, sometimes. It's kind of a bad habit."
"Right," Nori said. "You're Karen, right? I'm guessing by the whole 'you being in my room' thing that you're my new room mate."
"Yeah," Karen managed, struggling to push away the weight of the conversation she'd just had. "You're Nori, right?"
"Noriko, actually, but don't let that stop you." She paused a moment. "... I guess I should make with the greeting, you being a new student and all. ... I doubt we'll get many more, after everything that's happened."
Karen nodded. "I'm sorry for your loss," she said.
Noriko shrugged uncomfortably. "Thanks," she said. She glanced over at the new bed on the opposite side of the room from hers and raised an eyebrow. Thing looked like it was built to house the Juggernaut. "Gotta say, the bed’s kind of an eyesore," she commented.
"What?" Karen asked, then followed Noriko's gaze. "Oh. Yeah. That's the bed. Probably seems like a bit much, but... Karen Starr, five hundred and twenty pound girl, at your service." She made a bow with an overly elaborate flourish.
"... Increased physical density, huh? That's cool." She glanced towards the windows, which were covered by new, very heavy curtains. The big dark, heavy curtains that let in no light whatever. "...The hell?"
"Ah...” Karen said, “Er... I’m trying to avoid too much exposure to sunlight?”
Noriko shook her head, "Right. Forget I asked." She grabbed some clothes to sleep in out of her dresser, headed over to the bathroom, and shut the door. The distinct sounds of the brushing of teeth and changing of clothes filtered through to Karen's increasingly sensitive ears. After a few minutes, Nori came back out, this time clad in a pair of shorts and a tank top... and her metal gauntlets. "So, you don’t like sunlight, you weigh half a metric ton, and you talk to yourself. Anything else I should know?"
Karen briefly debated correcting Noriko, telling her about how sunlight fueled her powers, how she was having a hard time controlling them. She didn’t, but she thought about it. "Sounds like everything to me," she said.
Nori flopped down onto her bed, and Karen started putting away her things again. Five minutes passed in silence, and for a little while, Karen wondered if Nori had fallen asleep. Then Nori asked, "You got a code name yet?"
"Code name?" Karen asked.
"Yeah," Nori said. "I'm Surge, for example." She held up her gauntleted hands as evidence, "I absorb electricity."
'She's trying not to cry,' Karen realized suddenly. "... You're not really interested in this conversation, are you?"
Nori looked down. "... sorry. I just..."
"Hey," Karen said, "I understand. I've lost people, too." She was thinking of Jesse. ... Jesse, who had once been just as close as Willow... and just like that, Karen felt a deep, desperate loneliness and homesickness rising up within her chest. Were Buffy and Willow still alive? … Was Giles? God, she wished... she wished... "... Everyone's lost people,” she said.
Nori nodded, scrubbing stubbornly at her eyes.
"If you need anything...?"
"I... thanks, Karen."
Karen nodded. "Any time."
Afterwards, once all her things were put away, Karen took a long shower, spending a good ten minutes letting the warmth of the water soak into her skin. ... It still felt wrong. Her hair was getting longer now. No longer boy-short. Water cascaded down her breasts, and it worried her how good it felt. She wondered if... and then she brought her hands up to experimentally cup her own breasts, and it felt better than she'd imagined it would. She might have gone further if she hadn’t known that her room mate was in the room outside the bathroom. … or if Kara hadn’t poked her intangible head inside the shower, glowered at her disapprovingly, and asked, "You're not doing anything perverted with my body in there, are you?"
She sighed, finished her shower, and got ready for bed. Tomorrow, her classes began at the Xavier Institute. Tomorrow, she would meet the rest of her classmates in a context that wasn't the funeral of more than forty of their friends. Tomorrow she would begin to learn how to control her powers.
Karen was asleep the moment her head hit the pillow.End Chapter 4