Across the Rainbow Bridge, Part I
There is a moment of clarity that comes when everything has tumbled down, hit the ground, and broken to pieces. When the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be an oncoming train, and now all the kings horses and all the kings men can only stand and stare at the remains of what was once a living being. When, for all your striving, you fail. It spun beyond your control, wild and dangerous, and now... Now.
Irma’s return to consciousness was a sudden thing. One moment she was safe and warm and everything was the most beautiful white fire. The next moment, as if a switch had been thrown behind her eyes, the world snapped into existence around her. Smoke still rose from within the chamber, now a hollow echo of its former glory. It had been burned. It had all been burned. There was a faint scent of sulfur and of burned hair. She was lying on her back - she and her sisters both. A jacket had been folded into a pillow for her. The sensory feed from her sisters began to flow back through her mind. They were still in the white place. Still unconscious. Karen was sitting at her side, and she could feel the other girl’s worry fading as she saw that Irma was awake. “Hey,” Irma said.
“Hey,” Karen replied. Then, in a louder voice she called, “Professors, Irma’s awake!”
Logan, Kitty, and Hank crowded around almost immediately: Kitty considered her warily, McCoy with curiosity and genuinely warm concern, Logan like a predator sizing up a potential threat.
“Welcome back, Irma,” Hank said. “Is the Phoenix...?”
Irma looked away. She could lie, but there wasn’t much point. “Still here,” she muttered. And it was: the fragments of the being known as Phoenix had nestled into her subconscious, into the link that joined her and her sisters together. It was doing... something. She wasn’t sure what.
The X-Men tensed. She saw her own death, and the death of her sisters flash through Logan’s thoughts: decapitation. There would be a lot of blood, but surprisingly little pain. A sharp, awful cutting, but the pain would fade, and as her brain starved of oxygen, she would drift away into a sleep she’d never wake up from.
Emma was gone. Her mental presence seemed distant. Muted. There was a resonance that felt like her lingering in the broken machines that littered the cavern, but it was fading.
“Why does this ‘Phoenix’ have you guys on edge so much?” It was Karen’s voice, but Karen hadn’t spoken. Irma looked up. It was the twin. The other one. The blonde. Kara Zor-L.
“Ya just fought her,” Logan said. “You’ve seen how dangerous she is.”
“I did,” Kara said, “And to be honest? She’s not the worst threat I’ve faced.”
Kitty raised an eyebrow. “What, you fight gods on a regular basis?” she asked.
Kara shrugged. “Or worse.” She smirked. “Sometimes giant gorilla scientists, too. Not sure what that’s all about.”
The place with white fire was fading. Celeste and Phoebe were waking up. Irma looked their way. She didn’t try to confirm Kara’s words. Didn’t look through the blonde’s memories. What could possibly be worse than the Phoenix? Celeste and Phoebe opened their eyes, and the link between them immediately back-filled their minds with Irma’s memories of what they’d missed.
“Ow,” Celeste said, rubbing her head.
“I guess it’s a little late to ask,” Karen began, “But what the hell is going on?”
The X-Men exchanged glances, and Irma stared at Karen for a long moment. “Didn’t anyone...” she began. None of the Cuckoos had. It wasn’t in the link. The X-Men looked uncomfortable.
“Ah,” Hank began, “It’s a bit of a long story.”
“... The Cuckoos are this world’s version of Superboy,” Kara said.
Karen blinked. “Pre-crisis or post-crisis?”
Kara thought for a moment. “Post.”
Karen stared. “Seriously?”
“Right down to the Lex Luthor genetics. Metaphorically speaking.”
“Oh,” Karen said. “Huh.” She shrugged, and the X-Men exchanged bewildered looks. Well, Kitty and Hank did. Logan just looked annoyed.
“Where’s Emma?” Celeste asked.
Uncomfortable looks all around. Irma saw the answer in the minds of those present just as clearly as Celeste did: Emma hadn’t waited for them. She and Professor Summers had taken the two surviving clones and the injured Colossus in the first Blackbird and flown away. “Oh,” Celeste said, trying not to look as crestfallen as she felt. Irma and Phoebe tried, too. Then there was a hand on her shoulder. Karen. Irma looked up.
“Come on,” Karen said. “Let’s get you three home.”
“Not so fast,” Logan growled.
Karen turned to face the man, her emotions flaring. Affection. Protectiveness. Anger. A little bit of fear. The absolute knowledge that there was nothing she wouldn’t do for her girls. Irma specifically, but also Kara, Celeste, and Phoebe. “I swear to God, Logan,” Karen began, “I will punt you into the next time zone if the next words out of your mouth aren’t ‘you’re right, Karen. Let’s get the Blackbird ready.’”
Logan’s anger rose up like smoke, choking out reason, choking out everything. … Everything except for the image, clear as day, there within his thoughts, of an angry Divine unleashing her heat vision and his world dissolving into agony. A thread of fear joined his anger, and then he was even angrier: angry that he was afraid. “I got one word for ya, bub,” he ground out. And then came the distinctive ‘snikt’ of his adamantium claws extending out through his skin.
Hank and Kitty tensed. Irma, Phoebe, Celeste and Kara all exchanged looks. No, the Three-in-One decided. As kinky as the idea sounded, they weren’t going to allow Karen to engage in a dominance challenge with Logan on their behalf. That sort of thing led to people waking up with perforated lungs. Or with Logan spending the next five days thinking he was a nine year old girl. One or the other.
Irma, Phoebe and Celeste focused their powers.
And then Logan floated up into the air, spun about to face the exit, and then gently settled back to the ground. “Wha, what?”
“Let’s try that again,” the Three-in-One said, each voice sounding in unison.
“This time with a little less testosterone,” Kara added.
Karen blushed. “... Sorry,” she said.
Logan glared at the lot of them, but especially at Irma, and she immediately knew why: she was still wearing the costume of the Dark Phoenix. Then he stalked off, not quite growling angrily, but visibly bristling.
Kitty let out the breath she’d been holding. “OK,” she said. “I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m sore, and my boyfriend left on the other jet. Can we go now?”
Hank smiled faintly. “I’ll prep the Blackbird for launch,” he said. “With any luck, Logan will be calm enough to accompany us by the time I’m finished.” He looked pointedly at Karen. “Assuming we can avoid any further antagonizing.”
“I’ll be good,” Karen promised.
’ Irma thought.
by P.H. Wise
A Power Girl Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 5: Across the Rainbow Bridge, part 1
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, but is apparently owned by Fran and Kaz Kuzui. Who knew?
It was seven forty three in the morning. The days were growing shorter, but it wasn’t quite time to set the clocks back an hour yet. An exhausted and thoroughly singed and burned Power Girl landed on her New York apartment balcony, opened the door, and staggered off to bed. Her injuries from the battle against the Phoenix were healing nicely. Probably be gone altogether by the time she woke up. That didn’t help her tiredness, though, which was less a physical exhaustion than a mental one - it was hard to get physically exhausted when you had a yellow sun constantly rejuvenating your cells. When she collapsed onto it, the frame of her reinforced bed creaked audibly, but she didn’t care. She took the time to strip out of her costume, but putting on pajamas was just too much effort at the moment: Kara settled in under the covers, set the alarm to wake her at eleven, and was asleep in seconds. She dreamed of home, of Kal, of her friends in the Justice Society, but mostly of Atlee.
An hour and seventeen minutes later, the sound of thunderous explosions brought her out of her dream. She lay there on her bed in a stupor for a long moment, not sure what was going on but only knowing that something had taken Atlee away. Another explosion shook the building. Her bloodshot eyes gained focus, and with effort she rose to her feet and slipped back into her costume. “Today sucks,” she muttered, walked back out to the balcony, and flew off once more to save the day.
The whole midtown Manhattan skyline flashed past her as she ascended. Empire State building. Godzilla. The Chrysler building. Stark Tower. Her brain backed up a step. Godzilla?
Power Girl stared down at the giant lizard currently peering down from around the corner of of a skyscraper at a group surrounding a naked woman standing in a crater down in front of Stark Tower. Dozens of bystanders. A newly restored Spider-Man, along with Wasp, Luke Cage, Miss Marvel, Captain America and Spider-Woman. Dozens of dead monsters littered the ground.
“Hey,” Power Girl said as she set down on the broken street, her interruption breaking the tension of the moment. “Sorry about being out of contact this morning. I was just...” She trailed off as she suddenly recognized the naked woman: it was an almost identical copy of Janet. Except way more gorgeous. And with bigger breasts. And in better shape. OK, all of that probably explained Janet’s glare. “OK, I’ll bite. Why is there a naked cyborg Janet attacking this city?”
All eyes went momentarily to Power Girl. “That’s Tony,” Spider-Woman said. “He’s getting in touch with his feminine side. And his feminine side? Kind of a bitch.”
“He’s been mind-controlled and transformed into a woman by Ultron,” Captain America explained.
“I prefer She-Me’s version,” Spider-Man said.
“She-Me?” Spider-Woman asked, her tone a little on the derisively snarky side. “Not in THIS universe, web-head.”
“What? It’s way less clunky than Spider-Woman.”
“Let’s get back to the part where I’m about to kill all of you,” She-Tony said.
Power Girl stared. “... I never get invited to those kinds of parties.”
It was over two hours later. Eleven AM, and Damage Control Inc. was on the scene, cleaning up after Ultron and Mole Man’s respective attacks on the city. None of that much mattered to Tony when he woke up in a clean bed with white sheets in a S.H.I.E.L.D. infirmary, surrounded by strange, ominous looking devices, and with Janet Van Dyne reading a magazine in a nice leather chair next to the bed. “Oh,” Tony said. “I’m not dead. That’s good.” … There was something off about his voice. Something very, very off.
“Welcome back to the land of the living,” Janet replied, and as she spoke, Tony realized exactly what was wrong: aside from the differences caused by hearing your own voice instead of someone else’s, their voices were identical. He - currently she - lifted up the sheets, and stared down at her own breasts. “... When I blacked out fighting Mole Man, I can honestly say that I did not expect to see this when I woke up,” she said.
“Stop that,” Janet said, putting the magazine down and looking annoyed.
“That’s my body you’re ogling, Tony. Stop it.”
In spite of her shock, Tony smirked. “Pretty sure it’s not,” she said.
The door opened. Tony looked up in time to see Steve and... her. Kara Zor-L. Walking into the infirmary. She immediately dropped the sheet. “Steve,” she said. “Kara.” Steve’s expression was all business, but Kara looked, well, ‘dangerously amused’ wasn’t a descriptor she really wanted to apply to the Kryptonian, so she mentally refused to do so.
“Hey Tony,” Kara said, “I’d leer, but it would probably only encourage you.”
“So a guy has to get turned into busty cyborg Janet for you to notice him?” Tony asked.
“I plead the fifth,” Kara replied, and winked.
“Well that’s just tragic.”
“You know, Steve and I can step out for a while if you two would like some time alone,” Janet said.
Kara shook her head. “Couldn’t do it. No matter what she looks like, it’s still Tony in there. I’d never live it down.” A beat passed, and she glanced Janet-wards, her corners of her lips twitching as she eyed the other woman. “Besides, you only get a knock-off when you can’t get the genuine article. What if we step outside and let Tony and Steve have some time alone, instead?”
Janet laughed. “I’m flattered, but if your twin is anything to go by, I’ve seen what’s under that costume already. Not interested.”
Tony became uncomfortably aware of her own arousal at the situation, and the feeling, accompanied by the (to her) disturbing lack of a hard-on brought her back to Earth like a glass of cold water to the face.
Steve looked a little uncomfortable, but if what was being implied bothered him, he didn’t say anything. He looked to Tony. “We were actually just about to reprogram the nanobots Ultron flooded your body with to return you to your normal self,” he said.
Kara grinned. “Though hey, if you want to take a few days to discover everything being a girl has to offer, nobody’s gonna judge you.”
“Except me,” Janet said.
“Except Janet,” Kara echoed a moment later.
Tony glared. “Get me back to normal. Right now.”
Steve walked over to a computer console next to the bed, sat down, and typed in a few commands. The equipment around Tony’s bed began to glow. “This might sting,” he warned.
“A little stinging is a small price to...” Tony’s world dissolved into agony. She felt like she was burning from the inside out. Her senses blanked. Everything went white. In her subjective experience, all that existed was heat and pain as her cyborg body was rebuilt on the molecular level back into his armored body. He didn’t know how long it lasted, but when it was over, Tony Stark, male once again and clad in his Iron Man suit, collapsed onto the bed. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse, and he was panting for breath. “...That stung... more than... a little,” he ground out.
“Walk it off, soldier,” Steve replied.
“OK,” Kara said. “Evil cyborg Janet-clone Tony has been dealt with. I’m going back to bed.”
“Actually,” Steve said, “We’re going to Asgard.”
“Asgard?” Janet asked. “Thor’s back?”
Kara sighed. “Asgard. Right. Wake me when we get there.”
There wasn’t much talk on the flight back from England. Logan’s Avengers’ communicator went off a few minutes into the flight, but the extent of his reaction to it was to tap a button on the side of it which stopped its beeping and then went right back to glaring at the floor. Karen and the Three-In-One sat together in the folding chairs on the port side of the Blackbird, Irma with her head on Karen’s shoulder but otherwise quiet. Each of them still wore their respective Phoenix costumes, and though Karen knew they were having a telepathic conversation, she wasn’t part of it. But she provided what support she could, putting an arm around Irma, and trying to think supportive thoughts. She dozed off twice, for an hour or so each time. Eventually, they could see land out the window instead of ocean. Then the ship was decelerating, and after a few minutes of flight over land, the sound of the engines changed. The ship stopped in mid-air, and then began to descend. Karen had a moment’s glimpse of the basketball court before it was replaced by concrete and then by hanger as the hanger door slid shut above them, and the ship came to a rest with a thump.
“Well,” Karen said. “We’re back.” The Cuckoos looked at her askance, and she held up her hands and made a warding gesture. “Someone had to state the obvious.”
“No,” Irma said, “Someone didn’t.”
Despite Irma’s tone, Karen could see the barest hint of a smile at the corner of her lips, and she met it with a grin of her own. “I think it’s in the terms of my attendance, somewhere,” she said.
Hank put a blue-furred hand on the railing above the area where the girls were only just starting to get out of their seats, and looked down at them. “Off you go, girls. But don’t go far. We might have questions later. Or if not us, our military guests.”
The Cuckoos nodded as one, but Hank waited until Karen had nodded as well before leaving them to their own devices.
Valerie Cooper pinched the bridge of her nose. She could feel a headache coming on. She was seated at the rich mahogany desk in the study the X-Men had provided for her to use as an office, and the fact that she had been seated when Hank reported their adventure to her was probably for the best. Hank wasn’t the only one here - Ororo Monroe, Kitty Pryde, and Scott Summers were also in the room - but Hank had done most of the talking, and Ororo was there mostly for moral support. “So let me see if I have this straight. Karen Zor-L - the girl who’s supposed to be under house arrest, and on whose willingness to play along my career rests - flew off to England to a highly dangerous and classified experimental laboratory created by a notorious villain but now nominally under S.H.I.E.L.D. control to rescue her girlfriend. Said girlfriend and her sisters - long time students at this very Academy - turn out to be part of a doomsday weapon intended to destroy all mutants. Said girlfriend and her sisters are possessed by the God damned Phoenix herself and forced to murder almost a thousand of their own clone-sisters who are also components of the doomsday weapon. Karen and her sister, who was apparently also involved, because hey, why not, fight the Phoenix, and between the whole lot of you you’re able to rescue the Cuckoos plus two extras and then expect to just carry on like nothing’s changed? Oh, and apparently the three Cuckoos are now active hosts to the Phoenix. That about sum it up?”
Hank exchanged glances with his fellow teachers. “Miss Cooper,” he said carefully, “While I do apologize for making your job more difficult, you must have realized by now that this sort of situation is...” he trailed off in search of the correct word.
“Fairly normal for a Tuesday?” Kitty suggested.
“Par for the course,” Hank agreed.
Val sighed. “You people are the closest things Earth has to experts on the Phoenix. How do we handle this?”
“Jean would never do anything to hurt us,” Scott said, but his voice lacked conviction. There was a certain hesitation in his tone. He knew he wasn’t speaking the truth.
“Her record says otherwise.”
Scott glared, and Valerie met that glare with a level gaze. “Do you really want me to go over all the times the Phoenix has hurt you?” Val asked.
Scott looked away. “Professor Xavier is the one you want to talk to.”
“We don’t have Professor Xavier,” Val said. “We have you.”
Hank glanced at Scott, then returned his attention to Val. “Valerie, how much do you know about the Phoenix?”
“Jean Grey. Omega level mutant. A potentially world-destroying threat that resurrects after a dormant period whenever she’s killed.”
Hank looked to Scott once more. “I can provide the necessary background if you wish,” he said.
Scott shook his head. “No. I’ll do it. Without the Professor, I’m... I’m the one here who knows the most.” He looked at Val, and she had a distinct sense of gathering weight. When he began his explanation, his voice was no longer hesitant. No longer unsure. It became a thing of confidence, and the long practice of command. The difference might have startled Val if she hadn’t known him as well as she did. “The Phoenix is Jean Grey, but it’s also the avatar of Life. The Professor once said that she’s the nexus of all the psionic energy that exists, all that ever did exist, and all that ever will. And her abilities are beyond anything any of us could ever hope to contain.” He paused a moment to let that sink in before he threw a life preserver. “Fortunately, we aren’t dealing with that: what’s inside the Cuckoos isn’t the full power of the Phoenix. As near as we can tell, each of them has just a fragment. It’s enough to make them some of the most powerful mutants on Earth, but it doesn’t put them in the same class as Jean.”
“While they are now Omega class,” Hank broke in, “They are not, as they say, Alpha-and-Omega class.”
Silence. And then everyone in the room gave Hank a pained look.
“Normally,” Scott said, “I’d recommend that we confine them to the school until we figure out some way to separate the Phoenix fragments from them.”
Val nodded. “And that’s probably what I’ll be ordered to do.”
“The problem is, we can’t actually do it. It’s the same problem we’ve had with Karen, except worse. In Karen’s case, we could always resort to telepathy to keep her here if we had to. With the Cuckoos, that’s not going to work. As powerful as Emma is, I wouldn’t want to put her against three active Phoenix-hosts.”
“I suppose the fact fact that Irma and Karen have gotten involved gives us less leverage over Karen as well,” Valerie commented. Scott nodded. “So until S.H.I.E.L.D. clears Karen, we’re walking a political tightrope,” Val said. “On the plus side, a little bird tells me that should be happening some time tomorrow. We just need them not to complicate things for us before then.” She smiled grimly. “Naturally, Namor can’t be bothered to put off his official state visit until then.”
“For what it’s worth, they’re good kids. Phoebe, Celeste, and Irma are a lot like Emma.”
Val did not find that to be a comforting statement, and Scott realized it immediately, because he followed up with, “Emma’s not as bad as people think.”
“I’ll have to take your word for that,” Valerie replied, her tone dry. “Speaking of which, where is Emma? I thought she’d be here with the rest of you.”
Uncomfortable looks were exchanged. “Emma... didn’t take what happened in England very well,” Kitty offered.
Val pinched at the bridge of her nose again. “I see.” She let a beat pass. “I hope this isn’t going to be a problem.”
“She’s Emma Frost,” Scott said, his voice ringing with absolute confidence. “It won’t be a problem.”
“This is a problem.” Emma wasn’t sure if it was her voice or not. The world seemed wrapped in wet cloth, and the voice - her voice? - came as if from a great distance. It wasn’t the comfortable disconnect of the diamond. This was something else.
Her office was lit only by the glow of her computer screen; displayed thereupon were two windows, one showing three identical girls in the cafeteria, the other showing two more girls identical to the first three sitting on the edge of the same table in the infirmary, with Beast attending to them. She sat at the desk, staring at the screen, and felt... nothing; a deep, endless nothing. A profound numbness that denied the very possibility of feeling.
A thousand of her children were dead. The thought rolled through her mind like thunder, but it didn’t bring any fresh pain. It was too large. Her eyes flitted down to the results of the scan she’d had Hank do the moment they’d returned. The image which showed nothing where her ovaries should be. The corners of her world trembled slightly at that. Someone had used her. Violated her. Stolen her choice. Each thought brought a red-hot pin-prick of hatred into the emptiness. They had exploited her for the simple fact that she was female. Her eyes burned. Her cheeks were wet. Was she crying? They had turned any hope she might have had for children with Scott into a joke.
The sight of a thousand daughters burning in Phoenix-fire flashed through her mind. Emma clenched her eyes shut, drawing on years of experience as a telepath to bring focus to her disciplined mind.
It didn’t help.
Two. Two had been saved. Two daughters she’d never known, and she honestly couldn’t say which she hated more: John Sublime, who had created them, or the Phoenix, who had destroyed them. She would never tell anyone, never say it aloud, but she’d never wanted to be a mother. That had been her choice: Emma Frost was not a mother-woman. Once she had begun to suspect what the Five-in-One really were, it had taken her a long time to be at peace with the idea. Then Sophie died, and that had hurt her more than she would ever, ever admit. Then Esme died. Now... this. She’d had a thousand daughters. A thousand bright lights, a thousand little minds slowly awakening, blinking and shining, and now dead. All but five, killed by the thing that still inhabited three of them.
She glared up at the ceiling, her thoughts filled with the image of Jean Grey surrounded by Phoenix-fire, burning and killing without restraint. Jean Grey, and Celeste, and Phoebe, and Irma. Images of Sublime arrogantly harvesting her ovaries, stealing her choice, using
her. She clenched her fist, and as she did, flesh rippled into living diamond: Emma Frost had hatred enough for both.
It took longer than it should have to get ready. Mostly that was because Tony, despite his just having had a very close encounter of the female-Ultron kind, was still pretty sure she was crazy, and wanted a telepath to tell him otherwise. A non-Emma telepath. Which was why Kara Zor-L was sitting in the office of a detective agency out in what used to be Mutant-Town. People still lived here - former mutants, mostly, trying to get on with their lives after the thing that had become the core of their self-identity had been destroyed. Tony was here with her, for all that his doctor had flat out told him he needed a week of bed rest, minimum, to recover from what had just happened to him. They’d been joined by a girl from Xavier’s named Betsy. Well, Elizabeth. Nice girl, though Kara couldn’t quite figure out how it was humanly possible to position herself in the chair the way she had, with both her bust AND her butt pointed in the same general direction. Kara gave it even odds as to whether or not she was even aware she was doing it. Either way, Tony seemed to appreciate the view.
X-Factor Investigations. It was housed in a five story brownstone near the Mutant Square subway station. Across the street from a bar called the Power Plant. The neighborhood had seen better days.
“You’re Karen, right?”
Kara looked up. The speaker was a woman with short red hair, and a voice with a hint of a Scottish brogue. She’d seen the woman before, through Karen’s eyes. She shook her head. “Kara,” she said. “Karen’s my sister.” She tried to recall the woman’s name, “You’re... Ray?”
“Rahne,” Rahne replied. “You’re identical twins? And your parents gave ye names that easy to confuse? They were brave souls.”
Kara smiled faintly, her thoughts going back first to Kal, and then to the memories of Zor-L and In-Z from her time in the symbioship. “Yep.”
“Can I ask what brings ya here?”
Kara looked at Tony, who shrugged. She gestured his way. “Tony thinks I’m crazy. Someone named St. Croix is supposed to prove him wrong. Betsy is here to make sure it’s on the level.”
Rahne blinked. “M?” She gave Tony a look as if that were the dumbest thing she’d ever heard in her life. “You want M to tell you someone isn’t crazy? You’re kidding, right?” The door to the office opened. A woman walked through. “She’d probably...”
“Be upset to find you speaking ill of her behind her back,” the newcomer said.
Rahne smirked, and glanced over her shoulder at the newcomer. “Not if I’d say the same thing to her face.”
Monet St. Croix rolled her eyes, but didn’t rise to the bait. She was a stunningly beautiful woman. Dusky skin, long, straight hair that was dark as the night itself, distinctly North-African features, warm brown eyes that could draw you in until you... Kara cut short that line of thought with a blush. M raised an eyebrow, and Kara’s blush deepened. ‘OK,’ she thought sourly, ‘Teenaged hormones suck just as much the second time as they did the first time. Especially with telepaths around.’
“If you’re both done mentally undressing me,” M began, and Tony glanced Kara’s way with a smirk, which didn’t help her blush, and Betsy rolled her eyes, but Monet went on before anyone could say anything, “I’d like to get down to business.”
“Nice to see you haven’t changed, Monet,” Betsy said.
Monet smirked. “Why alter perfection?”
“And just as humble as I remember.”
“Right,” Kara said, took a deep breath, then asked, “So what do I do?”
“Lie down on the couch, my dear,” M said, the corners of her lips curling into the faintest hint of an amused smile, “Relax, and let the telepath do all the work.”
“Bloody sapphists and fornicators,” Rahne muttered. Her words were too quiet for a normal human to pick up. Too bad she was in a room with a telepath and a Kryptonian.
Kara glanced Rahne’s way, but didn’t reply. She sat down on the couch, took a few deep, calming breaths, and tried to relax. “... OK. I’m ready.”
Monet lowered her voice, her tone low and sensual but still clearly audible throughout the room. “It’s your first time, so I’ll be gentle.”
Kara managed not to blush. Tony coughed. And Rahne made an angry noise and then stormed out of the room. A few seconds later, M couldn’t hold back her own laughter any more.
“So?” Tony asked after a few moments had passed.
Kara felt a sense of pressure; a presence in her mind; a sense of something shifting. She tried not to actively fight it. Memories seemed to flit about before her eyes, and as they did, she concentrated on hiding away the particularly private ones. Monet would still be able to get to them if she really wanted to, but she’d also know that Kara had wanted them to remain private. M did look over a few of them, but then, seeing what they were, ignored the rest.
After a few moments, M exchanged glances with Betsy. Both nodded. “Congratulations, darling,” M said, looking Kara’s way, “You’re not crazy.”
“Not crazy,” Betsy confirmed.
Kara smiled. “Told you so,” she said.
Tony frowned. “Not even a little crazy?”
Monet shrugged. “Considering everything she’s been through, she’s far more stable than I would be if our positions were reversed.”
Betsy raised an eyebrow. “Weren’t you actually in a comparable situation for years, Penance
“Shut it, Braddock.”
“OK,” Tony said, “Looks like you were telling the truth.” A shrug. “OK then.” He turned to Kara, looked her in the eye, and said, “I’m sorry, my bad.”
Kara shook her head with no small amount of incredulity. “You’re an asshole, Tony.”
It was only by virtue of her kryptonian hearing that she heard his murmured reply: “... Sometimes.”
An hour later, Kara was finally on the quinjet heading for Oklahoma, and comfortably dozing. Her impressions of the three hour flight were few. She came to a couple times, heard the conversation around her in perfect clarity (stupid Kryptonian hearing), lost herself in the hum of the engines, and then fell back asleep.
“Kara, wake up.”
Her eyes fluttered open. She was lying in a blue glowing pool, staring up at a waterfall with pillars of golden light on either side, blue and gold watery light playing against the walls of the cave, throwing stalactites and stalagmites into spectacular relief. It was warm, and she was safe.
Kara turned her head. Atlee lay at her side, both of them wearing that ridiculous semi-organic neural interface clothing that covered... well, almost nothing. She remembered this. “This is the spa in Strata,” she said.
Atlee nodded. “I wanted to thank you again for saving me from the Ultrahumanite,” she said. “The whole experience was... well... awful. Being in that body hurt all the time, and I felt... helpless.”
Kara remembered what she’d said the first time. It was stupid. Thoughtless. ‘I can imagine it was terrible,’ she’d said, ‘But that’s behind us.’ “I’m sorry,” she said. It wasn’t much better. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I?”
Atlee nodded. “Yes.”
Kara stared at Atlee, and her voice wavered with emotion as she said, “... I miss you.”
“I know,” Atlee replied, and as she did, Power Girl felt a sense of hopeless longing through the empathic link that the pool created between them. Hopeless longing mixed with... she shook her head. It was a dream. She wouldn’t... “Come back to us, Kara,” Atlee said. “Things are bad here without you.”
Atlee was snuggled up next to her, though Kara hadn’t seen her cross the intervening space. This hadn’t happened. This wasn’t the way it had gone. She could feel the other girl’s body against her own, the warmth, Atlee’s arms around her body. And it wasn’t real. She missed Atlee, and she missed Kal. The real Kal. Not the Superman she’d come to know, but the one that had raised her in her home universe. Kal-L. Lois Lane. The image of their bodies corrupted by the Black Lantern rings flashed through her mind, bringing with it echoes of all of the horror and despair of the Darkest Night.
“I’m trying,” Kara whispered.
“What was that?”
The cave vanished, and Atlee with it. She could hear the hum of the quinjet’s engines. Kara opened her eyes. “What?”
Steve Rogers’ gaze softened. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were sleeping. You were talking. I thought you should know - we’re going to be landing in a few minutes.”
She wanted to go back, to dream of Atlee again, but instead, Kara Zor-L sat up straight, stretched, and peered out the forward window.
The flat, dusty high plains of northwestern Oklahoma stretched all around them, yet on the horizon, a great city rested atop impossibly high floating cliffs, bathed in light, gleaming like a jewel in the sunlight.
“Is that...?” she began.
Steve nodded. “Asgard.”
Eleven minutes later, the quinjet set down on a landing pad in the high city of Asgard, suspended in midair above a dusty road lined with power lines. The greenery of the city and its great tree stood at odds with the plains which lay all about it. The landing pad itself seemed strange and out of place in a shining city of the gods; for men and women who were kin to Odin walked the streets and markets and high places, each of them divine. Kara Zor-L hopped out of the quinjet where a giant of a man stood ready to greet them. Red-bearded, fat, and dressed all in red, he wasn’t what Kara had expected of a god, but she didn’t stare.
He did. He stared at her, his eyes wide.
“Hello, Volstagg,” Captain America said. That seemed to startle him into action.
“Ah, yes,” Volstagg said. He was shaken, and it showed in his voice, but he was quick to recover a more booming boisterous quality. “Welcome to Asgard, friends of Thor, and bless your good fortune, for on this day the Lion of Asgard is your guide! Come! You are expected.”
They went. Two humans and one kryptonian in the city of the gods, with Captain America and Iron Man occasionally stealing glances at Kara to gauge her reactions. She noticed, but she didn’t say anything. Coming here, walking among gods, she felt nostalgic for Themyscira. She could almost imagine Diana rounding the next corner with the Justice League in tow at any moment, and... she shook her head to dismiss the thought.
At last they arrived in the great hall of the Odinson, cut from the wood of the World Tree itself, lit with braziers burning brightly, long tables to seat many feasting warriors on either side. Thor himself sat at the far end, with an empty seat beside him, though all the rest were filled. He was everything Kara expected from a Norse god: his hair was long and blonde, his body muscular and without flaw; grace and wisdom rested upon his brow despite the dour expression on his face. And when he saw her, he looked up. His eyes widened, and a silence fell over the hall as every eye turned to Kara Zor-L.
“My Lord Thor,” Volstagg boomed. “I present your guests: Captain America, Iron Man, and...”
Thor rose to his feet, interrupting Volstagg’s words with his own: “Kára! You’re alive!”
Steve and Tony glanced her way as if to ask for an explanation. She had none. Dumbfounded, she stared at the Norse god, and uttered a single, flat, “What.”
END CHAPTER 05
Author’s notes: Ugh. I got to thirty pages of material with this, but none of it fit together properly. I think I’ve gotten it down to twelve pages of material that works, though, and now I can concern myself with putting the rest into chapter 6.