Smoke still rose from North Salem, but the riot had, for the most part, begun to peter out. A vastly diminished crowd still chanted anti-mutant slogans outside of the Xavier Institute’s front gates. The towering shapes of four Sentinels stood just inside the gates.
Funny how giant robots armed with weaponry straight out of a science fiction novel can break a crowd’s will to storm a building.
Aircraft had been arriving at the school for most of the evening. Some government. Some private. Most carrying mutants. Already the mutant population at the school had topped five hundred. About twenty of those were students. Another twenty were prospective students. Another dozen were X-Men and former X-Men who had made it through the Decimation with powers intact, recalled from their various positions around the world.
The children of Charles Xavier’s dream were coming home.
The Blackbird had only just landed. Karen and the other New X-Men had been uncharacteristically silent on the trip back from Stark Tower. Perhaps the scolding they had received had something to do with that.
“Of all the irresponsible...”
“Were you even thinking?”
“It may have been the right thing to do, Noriko, but it certainly doesn’t help any of us!”
“Hey, back off! Karen saved Laurie’s life! You think we were going to leave her to face Stryker alone? We’re a team, and we don’t abandon our own! We’ll take whatever punishment you want to give us, but we did the right thing, and that’s all there is to it.”
Now, Karen was walking back to ‘the dorm’ level. The rest of her team was walking with her.
“Why didn’t you tell us you weren’t a mutant?” Cessily asked.
Karen looked down. “... I figured since this place is mutants only...”
“There have been alien students in the past,” Cessily said. “You guys remember Warlock, right?”
The others nodded.
“I didn’t want...”
Julian glared at Karen. “I get it. You didn’t want us to kick the shit out of you for not being a mutant. So instead, maybe we’ll kick the shit out of you for lying to us.”
“Hellion...” Noriko began.
“I’m not breaking ranks in front of the teachers, Nori,” Julian said, “Like you said, we’re a team. But that doesn’t mean I’m not pissed as all hell. Not just about the lie. Mr. Summers is right: we made things way the hell worse for mutants tonight. What are we supposed to do now?”
Rockslide nodded in agreement.
Karen couldn’t meet anyone else’s gaze. “Would it help if I said I was sorry?” she asked.
“It might,” Julian replied. “Why don’t you give it a try, and we can find out.”
Karen could feel her anger rising. Her body language became completely closed off. “Up yours, Julian,” she snapped, and then stormed off ahead of the rest of the group.
“Karen, wait!” Cessily called, reaching out as if to call her back.
Karen kept right on going.
“Nicely handled,” Kara said in Karen’s head as she stormed away, leaving her team staring at her retreating back. “I think you’ve got a real future as a diplomat.”
“Shut the hell up, Kara,” Karen hissed.
A New World in my View
by P.H. Wise
A Power Girl Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 09: Identity Issues
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.
Kara Zor-L woke with the dawn. The curtains were drawn, and Noriko was still asleep. She stretched in her bed, savoring the feeling of her sheets, her blanket, the mattress beneath her. It was good. Especially after the unpleasantness last night. It was all... good.
She rose to her feet, her hair still mussed from sleep, and walked into the bathroom, rubbing absently at her eyes. For a long moment, she considered her reflection in the mirror. Wow. Bed-head aside, she was really starting to need a haircut. It was the day after her confrontation with Stryker. Almost two months since she’d arrived here. Almost two months of unchecked hair growth. Half an inch? An inch? She wasn’t sure. It was looking shaggy, though. She’d have to look into getting some enchanted scissors. Looking in the mirror still kind of weirded her: before she’d come here, her body had been the body of a woman in her early twenties. After she’d arrived, her body had been the body of a seventeen year old. Every now and again, she’d get one of those sudden surges of teenaged hormones, and... well, she was just glad she wasn’t breaking out in pimples.
As she had every morning since her arrival at the Xavier Institute, she stripped out of her pajamas, turned on the shower, and stepped into the stream of hot water. She savored it. The hot water on her skin. The motions of her fingers as she washed her hair. As she rinsed it. As she scrubbed herself with soap. Xander, she decided, was an idiot. He didn’t need to tell everyone his deepest darkest secrets, but... yeah. Some of that was her fault, though. She admitted that. She’d thrown a huge wrench into things by going after Stryker like that. But even so...
Then there was the strangest feeling, then, like something was passing through her. ‘... Oh God... Xander?’ And then...
Xander Harris came to awareness suddenly standing in the shower, hot water streaming over her - or rather, Power Girl’s - body. “... What the hell?” she asked.
Kara, now in ghostly form, looked concerned. “... OK, that was...”
Kara gasped, once again in control of her body, sensation returning with all its full force and vigor. And then she was standing next to her body once more, with Xander behind the wheel. “... Weird.”
They exchanged worried glances, last night’s argument all but forgotten in the face of what was, to them, a far more pressing problem.
“... We’d better talk to Miss Frost,” they said in unison.
Emma Frost’s Office
Xavier Institute for Higher Learning
“I see,” Emma said. She was seated behind her desk, Karen pacing back and forth on the carpet in front of it.
“You see?” Karen asked. “What do you mean, ‘you see?’” There was a note of panic in her voice.
“Would you like my honest assessment of your situation?”
“... Not really, no.”
Emma smiled thinly. “Very well. I know exactly what’s wrong with you, and fixing it will be easy.”
“Great,” Karen replied sarcastically.
“Xander, calm down,” Kara said. “We’ll figure this out, we just have to...”
“Calm down?!” Karen all but shrieked, interrupting Kara. “CALM DOWN?! I’M RANDOMLY LOSING CONTROL OF MY BODY, HALF THE TEAM HATES ME NOW, AND YOU WANT ME...” her sentence ended abruptly as Kara suddenly found herself in control of her body again, experiencing the full effects of her body’s emotional, adrenal spike. She took deep, regular breaths and counted to ten.
Xander fell back into control of a significantly calmed body. “Damnit,” she muttered.
“My body, Xander,” Kara said.
“It’s my body, not yours.” She looked to Emma. “Is there anything you can do?”
Emma Frost raised an eyebrow. “Is there anything you want me to do?” she asked.
Kara sighed. “... We... I don’t know. If we could find a way to return Xander to his real body somehow, or maybe clone a body for him...”
Karen blinked. “... wait, you can do that?”
“I can do that,” said a voice from behind Karen. Her adrenaline spiked. She jumped, whirled, stared.
Stephen Strange stood in the doorway of Emma Frost’s office, leaning against his staff.
“Hello, Stephen,” Emma said, her tone a cordial one. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice.”
Doctor Strange nodded, glancing towards Karen for a moment as he spoke. “Karen Starr has made friends since she arrived in this dimension. It appears she is lucky to count Benjamin Grimm amongst them.”
Karen stared for a moment, not sure what to make of that. Ben had something to do with Mr. Strange being here? And Emma had sent for him? Or asked Ben to? Doctor Strange knew she and Kara weren’t the same person? … Was that good or bad? She exchanged glances with Kara before looking nervously towards the good doctor. “... Er. Hi.” She looked Emma’s way questioningly.
“He knows, Xander,” Emma said.
Karen - Xander - let out a sigh, and a good half of it was relief. “OK. OK. I can deal. Look at me dealing.” She turned to Doctor Strange. “How much do you know?”
“A good portion,” Stephen replied, shutting the door carefully behind him before walking across the room to have a seat in front of Emma’s desk, leaving the other chair for Xander. “But I’d like to hear it in your own words, if you don’t mind.”
Xander sat down. “... Right.” And she told him. Told him about his life in Sunnydale. The Hellmouth. The Slayer. Vampires. Demons. His bet with Cordelia. The costume from ‘Ethan’s Costume Shop’ that she’d made him wear. How that costume had come from a character whose comic he’d actually liked and read. Doctor Strange interrupted only twice to ask clarifying questions: first about the Hellmouth, and second about Ethan’s costume shop. And then Xander told him about arriving here. A bright light, and then she was falling from the sky above Manhattan.
Kara went next, describing her life, her friends. Terra. Her position as chairperson of the Justice Society of America. Her company, Starrware Industries. The events that had led up to her trip to the antarctic. Finding the underground facility. The fight with Divine. The tear in the world that swallowed them both. And then...
“I woke up in Sunnydale.”
Xander’s eyes widened. “You WHAT?!”
Kara looked away.
“And you waited till now to tell me, why exactly?!”
Kara didn’t meet Xander’s gaze. “At first because I didn’t know you. Or anything about you. Or even that you had any connection to the place that I woke up.”
“I’m sorry, Xander,” Kara said. “I should have told you.”
Xander’s glare did not fade in the slightest.
Doctor Strange gestured for her to go on. She did.
“I was surrounded by child-sized monsters, and they attacked, but I managed to defeat them without seriously injuring any of them. Then I went up into the air to see what I could...” she trailed off, and then tried again: “I could hear... Rao, it seemed like the entire town was screaming for help. I started rescuing people. Getting them out of harm’s way. There was an incorporeal girl with red-hair who said that everyone had been turned into their costumes.” She smiled faintly. “She was surprised to see me. I guess I know why she was so amused, now...” A pause. “She helped. Gathered up allies. Rescued one girl named Buffy who’d gone as a noblewoman, and another named Cordelia, who hadn’t turned into her costume.” Kara looked Xander’s way. “Her name was Willow.”
Despite her anger, Xander smiled fondly at that. “That’s my Will,” she murmured.
“Rupert Giles was the one who figured it out. That the costumes were the key. Something about Ethan worshiping a god named Janus. I don’t know what he did to undo it. He’d said I would end up back home when the spell ended. But one minute I was using my heat vision to fry a whole mess of vampires, the next... I don’t know. I think I dreamed for a while. Then I woke up outside that homeless shelter.” She looked to Doctor Strange. “Does that help you, Doctor?”
Strange nodded. “I believe it does. At the very least, it gives me a place to start. Janus...” he trailed off, looking thoughtful. “I am a busy man, Mr. Harris. My position does not leave me very much free time, but I will return when I have found something.” He rose to his feet. “Mr. Harris. Miss Zor-L.” He looked to Emma. “Ms. Frost.” Without waiting for anything that might be interpreted as permission, he vanished in a swirl of smoke.
Silence descended in the office.
“... He seemed nice,” Kara said.
Silence continued. And then Emma spoke up. “If there’s nothing else, Miss Starr, I’d like my office back.”
And as quickly as that, Xander became Karen once more, and she flushed, and rose to her feet, and walked out of the office, her cheeks burning.
The day turned out a long, warm, lazy summer day. A day for napping in the shade. A day for afternoon picnics in the park. A day for children, tree-forts, and adventures while adults fanned themselves in the shade of a back porch, with the promise of ice-cold lemonade flavored with sugar and nostalgia in equal parts. Naturally, Karen spent it trudging off by herself into the hedge maze on the grounds of the Xavier estate, trying to avoid everyone she knew: herself most of all.
Things were finally settling down into something resembling normality at the school. The X-Men had circled the wagons, calling in their people from across the world. They were even going to start classes for the remaining students. A schedule had been posted. Workshops with various faculty. Meetings with advisors.
Kara hadn’t made herself known since the meeting in Emma’s office, and Karen figured it was just as well; she didn’t particularly want to hear from the girl at the moment. So she walked, wandering through the maze. She could have flown, but that would have defeated the purpose: Karen wanted to be lost, and for a while, she was. It was... nice. The air was close in here, but not unpleasantly so. It smelled of grass, and of earth, and of growing things. She could hear birdsong drifting in from far away, and she smiled.
She rounded a corner and came to the center of the maze. To her great disappointment, she was not alone: Noriko and David had apparently decided to take advantage of the day, and were seated on a bench on the far side of the center clearing, Noriko resting contentedly in his arms, their clothing mussed. David saw her first, and looked up. When he tensed, Nori noticed as well, and rose to her feet, looking embarrassed. “Oh,” she said. “Uh... hey, Karen.”
“... Hey,” Karen said, feeling awkward.
David was on his feet, then, and now he was embarrassed as well. “I’d better get back,” he said. “I have a project I’m working on for Professor McCoy.”
“I’ll go with you,” Nori said, but David gave her a look, and then she sighed. “Fine.”
He headed off through the maze.
“I’m guessing you’ve got one of those ‘I don’t want to talk to you but I want to talk to you’ situations,” Karen said.
Nori smiled a ghost of a smile. “That obvious, huh?”
“... the conversation last night ended badly,” Nori began.
Karen folded her arms under her breasts, body language closed off.
“You have to know that we’ve got your back, Karen. Hell, we came to rescue you, didn’t we?”
“Did I need rescuing?” Karen asked.
Nori gave Karen a look. “Sure, make this difficult, why don’t you? … I... Julian did have a point, though. If you tell him I said that, I’ll deny it, but he did. We’ve had alien team members before. Why did
“What, like you’ve proven yourself to be able to keep a secret?” Karen asked, her tone angry - angrier than Nori expected, from her sudden defensive posture.
“What? When have I ever told one of your secrets?”
“Are you serious? People STILL sing that stupid John Denver song at me when they see me, little miss,” she did a mocking imitation of Nori’s voice, “‘her power is totally to orgasm whenever she’s exposed to sunlight!’ You see why there might be some trust issues here?”
Noriko looked pained. “... Yeah... about that...”
“I’m really sor...”
“Well, well,” came a new voice - a harsh, male voice - from the far side of the clearing. “What have we here?”
“Looks like a pair of X-brats wandering a little far from home,” said a second. Karen and Noriko turned. Toad and Erg stood at the far entrance to the clearing, each looking enormously pleased with himself.
“You want something, Goggles?” Karen asked, an eyebrow raised.
Toad smirked. “Maybe I do,” he said, moving forward. “Maybe I want to teach a pair of X-brats that they aren’t the be all end all.”
“Fucking over-privileged X-bitches,” Erg muttered.
“Yes, that too,” Toad agreed. He returned his attention to the two girls. “Or maybe I just want to appreciate the sight of two extremely attractive young bitches,” he said. He was about to go on with another menacing statement.
“Try the pound,” Karen quipped, interrupting whatever he’d been about to say. Noriko didn’t quite laugh at that, but she came close.
“Funny.” Toad said. “Maybe not so funny after we’ve beaten that pretty face in.”
“You really don’t want to mess with us right now,” Noriko said.
“I don’t know,” Erg said, “I think we might.” He raised his eyepatch, sending a brilliant blast of lightning at the pair.
Noriko sidestepped, moving faster than she had any right to. Karen took the lightning on the chin, and if it hurt her, she made no sign of it. Nori dodged a second blast, and returned one of her own.
Toad leaped into the air, his tongue lashing out lightning quick towards Karen. It wrapped around her neck, acidic saliva dripping its way down it, reddening her skin slightly. He used his tongue to reel himself in towards her.
Without thinking, Karen punched him in the stomach.
… her fist came out the other side.
Erg and Noriko stopped in their tracks, staring as Toad’s tongue went slack and he collapsed to the ground in a heap, bleeding out.
Karen staggered backwards, her arm sheathed in blood, a sick horror rising up from her belly. “... I... I didn’t mean to...”
“You killed him!” Erg screamed. “You stupid bitch, you killed him!”
Karen shook her head in denial. “No... no... no, no, no...”
“Karen,” Noriko said, “Karen, stay with me. You have to take him to Josh! He can help, but you have to take him right now!”
Karen’s gaze cleared. “I... right.” She scooped him up. “Josh,” she muttered. One moment she was there. The next, not. A sonic boom erupted into the heart of the hedge-maze. Toad was bleeding out. A trail of little droplets followed her path as she blazed a trail through the mansion, shattering several windows, breaking through three doors before she finally found the target of her search: Josh Foley.
He was in the cafeteria. A dozen other students were present. His eyes widened in shock as she blurred into the space in front of him and abruptly stopped, carrying the dying mutant.
“Please,” Karen said. “Can you save him?” There was a note of desperation in her voice. That awful, bubbling dread was growing.
Josh stepped forward. “I can,” he said. “I can. You got him to me in time.” And with those words, Karen felt the weight of dread lift from her shoulders. Josh placed his hands on Toad’s chest, and the horrific hole in his stomach began to close. When it was gone, he stepped back.
The doors swung open, and Scott Summers rushed in with the newly arrived Ororo Munroe only a few steps behind. They came upon Karen, covered in blood, holding the equally bloody if unconscious Mortimer Toynbee, and a huge pool of blood on the floor around them, surrounded by students.
“Toad?” Ororo asked, surprised at his presence.
Scott was not amused. “What, exactly, is going on here?” he said.
Scott assessed the situation, took in every detail. Made his decision.“Take him to medical,” he said. “And then meet me in my office. NOW, Miss Starr.”
Karen did as she was told. “... I’m pretty sure I said I was done being the universe’s butt-monkey,” she muttered as she left the cafeteria.
The universe did not reply.
Karen shut the door behind her as she left Scott Summers’ office, feeling completely humiliated. He had no been sparing in his criticism of what he saw, perhaps rightly, as an out of control student, and he had explained in detail exactly how she was failing to live up to the very high expectations that they had of her. She’d been so much in shock over what happened that she’d done little more than sit there and take it. Now, as she left the office, she scrubbed at her eyes, trying to force away her tears before they could happen.
She wasn’t going to cry, damnit.
She was still covered in blood. She desperately needed a shower. She made her way up towards her room.
Ten minutes later, Karen, clean again if not happy, collapsed onto her reinforced, oversized bed, and was lost to the world.
She didn’t know how much later it was - hours, probably - when a knock came at the door, startling her back into the world of awareness. She didn’t respond to it.
Presently, the door opened, and the Stepford Cuckoos filed into the room.
“I’m really not in the mood for visitors right now,” Karen muttered.
“Good,” Irma replied. “Because we’re not here to visit. We’re here to offer you a way to control your powers.”
Karen blinked. “... What?”
“It’s simple,” Phoebe said. “Kara knows how to control her powers. You don’t. Not really. So we take that knowledge, and we copy it into your mind.”
There was a long silence as that idea sank in. “... You can do that?” Karen asked incredulously.
“Not quite as easily as snapping our fingers,” Irma said, “but yes, we can do that.” The other two nodded in agreement.
Karen looked down. “... I guess people are talking, huh?”
Irma sat down next to Karen, put a hand on her shoulder. “You’re not the first person to suffer from power-incontinence, Xander,” she said gently.
Karen blinked. And then her eyes widened. And then she blushed deeply. “... do we really have to call it that?”
Irma rolled her eyes. “Do you want us to do this or not?”
“There’s more to it than that,” Kara said, appearing suddenly next to Celeste.
Karen gave Kara a sour look, not being particularly pleased to see her.
“Emma and I talked about this as an option,” Kara went on. “It’s not as simple as a copy/paste. A part of your mind would be overwritten by a part of mine. A small part, but still a part. We’ve got no way of knowing how it would affect you.”
“You saw what happened today, didn’t you?” Celeste asked.
Kara nodded. “... I saw.”
Kara looked away.
“Great," Karen said. "So the big decision comes down to the donut boy.” Everyone looked at her. “... girl,” she conceded. A pause. “... Let’s just do this, OK? What do I have to do?”
“Take my hand,” Irma said.
Karen looked at her, then. Really looked at her. Irma blushed beneath her stare. Karen took her hand.
“Open your mind, Xander,” Irma murmured, leaning in close. “You’re going to feel something a little weird. Try not to overreact.” Almost immediately, there was the strangest sense of something... wriggling... in her thoughts. A presence joined her mind.
Irma. Celeste. Phoebe. They were in her thoughts, and they were... Beautiful.
“All done,” Irma announced.
Karen frowned. “I don’t feel any different.”
“Good,” Kara said. “Let’s hope that continues.”
“Let’s hope,” Irma echoed with a smile. The girls rose to their feet, then. “Try something,” Celeste said.
“Er... like what?”
Phoebe shrugged. “Hit the table. Don’t break it.”
Karen looked to the coffee table, then to her fist. She drew it back reluctantly, and then, after taking a deep breath, struck the table palm first. The slap of her palm impacting with the table rang loud in the room, but that was all.
Karen cried a little, and rubbed her eyes. “Thank you,” she said, and meant it.
Irma brushed a tear from Karen’s cheek. “Any time,” she murmured.
And then the three girls were leaving. And the door shut behind them with a click.
Karen sat there for a good ten minutes, overwhelmed, nervous, afraid that maybe there would be consequences to this, but mostly just relieved. Then the sound of laughter from down the hall drew her out of her reverie. Kara was gone again. Gone to wherever she went when she wasn’t talking. Probably just watching behind the eyes.
She stood up. Went to investigate. Left her room behind, wiping her eyes once more as she did so. The sound of voices was coming from... she wasn’t sure what room that was, but it wasn’t a dorm. She opened the door.
“Brava, David,” Julian said loudly to general laughter as Karen walked into the dormitory level’s sitting room on the dormitory level. “Brava.”
Karen felt a stab of shame before she realized that the intended insult hadn’t been directed at her; Julian, Cessily, David, and Laurie were gathered around a smooth wooden table playing a board game that Karen wasn’t familiar with, and whatever David had just done, it had not been to Julian’s advantage at all.
“It’s funny because it’s humiliating to be a woman,” Cessily deadpanned.
“That’s not exactly what I meant...” Julian tried to backpedal, provoking further laughter.
“So he just insulted all three of us,” Laurie said, though she was smiling.
“Hey, it’s totally insulting to have your gender misidentified!” Julian protested.
“Keep digging, Julian,” David replied, shaking his head in bemusement. He noticed Karen, then. “Hey Karen,” he called. “Want to join us?”
“Karen,” Laurie echoed, smiling warmly at the sight of her, “Join in!”
Karen thought about it, thought about all the problems she’d had today, all the stress, all the bad feelings. All the times she’d lost her temper, or had someone angry at her in turn. The incident with Toad. Her terror that she might have killed someone - even a bully. The Cuckoos. Everything. And despite the unintentional embarrassment their banter had brought her, her fears that she’d alienated her new friends evaporated, and for a moment, the weight of her mistakes was lifted from her shoulders. She grinned. “Yeah,” she said, “That’d be great.”
She pulled up a chair and sat down, and the game - and the laughter and the camaraderie it brought with it - went on well into the evening.
Hope burns eternal in the human breast. So too in the Kryptonian’s. The following morning found Divine, almost in spite of herself, floating in the air a few hundred feet above the address she’d been given in Stamford, Connecticut, watching. She’d sworn that she didn’t need help. Didn’t need anyone but Max.
The entire day spent in fruitless search, and most of the night. She hadn’t even realized she’d arrived in Stamford until she was nearly upon the address she’d been given. And now, watching the four people in the home below, she was afraid to go in. Not because she thought they might be able to harm her.
She was afraid. And she hoped.
The descent to the front porch took more courage than she’d ever mustered in her short life. The sound of voices within. Friendly banter. She felt a sudden, awful sense of longing for... she wasn’t sure what.
She knocked on the door.
The friendly voices ceased as if they had never been there.
She watched with her x-ray vision as the four occupants put on costumes and otherwise got into position.
Divine knocked again.
At last, a woman’s voice called out, “Who is it?”
“I was told to come here,” Divine said, her voice uncertain.
“Who told you?”
She held up the business card where it could be seen from the door’s peephole.
A moment later, the door unlocked, then opened.
Then she was inside. Then she was recognized. “Hey,” the guy with purple hair said, “You’re that chick from the news.”
“My name is Divine.”
Silence. Then the man with the long white hair nodded. “Nitro,” he said.
“Speedfreek,” said the purple-haired man.
“Coldheart,” said the woman who had spoken initially, even as she sheathed a pair of glowing swords.
“Cobalt Man,” said the armored figure.
Divine smiled. “I’m happy to meet you all. I’m here for the meeting.”
They seemed to know what that meant, each nodding in turn.
“Welcome to the club,” Coldheart said, and smiled.
It wasn’t Max. But it would do. For now.End Chapter 09