The Day Before
(...we came in?) Oranges and lemons, say the bells of Saint Clements.
Karen wasn’t sure what brought the old nursery rhyme to mind, but it had been stuck in her head for most of the day. It was early afternoon at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, and it was a recess period at the moment - the bell would ring in another ten minutes, and Karen was in her room, brooding. It was a late-September day, and fair - warm but not hot - and tonight was the night of the Atlantean state visit. Tonight, Namor, Namorita, and assorted Atlantean dignitaries would be coming for an official state dinner, and she was to be a part of it. … which wouldn’t be anywhere near as awkward if she didn’t remember murdering all of Namorita’s friends and damn near killing her as well. Karen couldn’t quite repress a shudder, and tried to think thoughts more Xanderish than Divine-like.
Consequences. Every act had consequences. Every thought. Every whispered word, everything spoken out loud, every action, every inaction. Briefly, sullenly, Karen wondered if the consequences of just not showing up would be worth the relief of not having to be there for the dinner. There was still school today, too, and there was another thing she was considering blowing off. It’d probably annoy the teachers, which had never bothered her when she was Xander, but still...
She was still mulling the thought over when the door opened, and a voice very like Irma’s asked, “You’re Nightwing, right?”
Karen looked up. One of the new Cuckoos was at her door. “Er... hi.”
“Hello,” the clone replied, not seeming to realize exactly how awkward this was, which was impossible because Karen knew for a fact the other girl was a telepath just like her sisters.
“Can I help you with something?” Karen asked.
The clone nodded. “You saved us. My sister and me. I wanted to know why.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know what you feel for the Phoenix-host. You had her safety. Why did you and your sister take the risk to save us?”
“It was the right thing to do.”
Karen raised an eyebrow, and the clone went on, “You preserved the existence of two parts of a dangerous weapon system intended to destroy mutantkind. Was that really the right thing to do?”
Karen couldn’t quite meet the other girl’s eyes. “... it’s not your fault what you were made for,” she said. She was thinking of Divine. How she remembered being Divine. Memories that seemed just as real as her memories of Xander Harris, though much briefer. Divine’s only real memories were for the few months she had lived before... everything. Before that, there were the implanted ones, the false childhood she had known even at the time wasn’t real, memories given to her simply to allow her to function in human society if it became necessary, but those ones didn’t have the substance of the real ones. Those ones were fading.
The girl frowned. “It’s not the same, is it?” A beat passed. “I can see it in your mind. Divine was made to help Maxwell Lord prevent a war between humans and metahumans. Even misguided as he was, his purpose was good. And prior to your merging with her, you had been influenced by Kara Zor-L, both by knowing her and by existing within her body. Sublime created me to render mutantkind extinct, and the Phoenix passed judgment, but you saved us anyways.”
“Maybe I don’t think the Phoenix has the right to decide who lives and who dies.”
The clone’s frown deepened. “She is the avatar of Life itself. Who has that right if not she?” She paused. “... You believe that no one has that right?”
Uncertainty colored her emotions for several seconds, and then Karen met the clone’s gaze. “Do you want to be Sublime’s weapon?” she asked.
“What does that have to do with anything?” the clone asked.
“Do you want to be his weapon?”
This time it was the clone who looked away. “... No.”
“That’s why we saved you.”
“To give us the choice?”
Karen nodded. “To give you the choice.”
“... what if we chose to be his weapon?”
“Then we’d stop you.”
The clone frowned. “But if you failed, you would be responsible for the death of the mutant species.”
Karen swallowed. “Yeah,” she said.
“To give us a choice,” the clone murmured. A pause. “... mother wants us to choose names for ourselves.”
Karen raised an eyebrow.
“You chose Nightwing for yourself?”
Karen smiled faintly. “Yeah, I guess that’s the code name we’re going with.”
“How’d you pick it?”
Karen thought about blowing the girl off. Just shutting the door and getting back to her building case of dread of whatever outfits Janet was going to be bringing for her to choose from. No. She wouldn’t do that. “My sister picked it. Nightwing and Flamebird are a pair of Kryptonian gods, but they’re, uh, also kind of traditional Kryptonian mantles taken up by various superheroes.”
The clone nodded, finding more in Karen’s thoughts to explain it. By this point, Karen was kind of getting used to people picking things out from her thoughts that she never said aloud. “I see, yes. But the fact that it has been used as a superhero’s name before is not why she chose it, is it? The gods called Nightwing and Flamebird were lovers. Mates. Equal and opposite. She chose it for you when Irma, Celeste and Phoebe manifested as the Phoenix?”
Karen looked uncomfortable at that, but nodded. “Yeah.” A pause. “… So you’re trying to pick a name for yourself?” she asked.
The clone nodded. “Mom said I needed to be sure about the name I picked, but all of them seem like just... words.”
Karen smiled faintly. “Well, just as long as you don’t go with ‘Buffy...’”
The clone blinked and looked thoughtful at that. “Buffy,” she said, as if tasting the word.
“No,” Karen said. “Hell no.”
“I kind of like the sound of it.”
“Your mom would murder me.”
The clone looked visibly disappointed. Then she thought for a moment and asked, “What about Joan?”
Karen shook her head. “I’m not the one who has to live with it.”
The clone nodded. “I feel like a Joan.”
Karen smiled. “Joan it is.”
by P.H. Wise
An X-Men Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 7: The Day Before
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 owned by Fran and Kaz Kuzui.
“Suppose a trolley is running out of control down a track,” Ms. Pryde said. “In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. You’ve managed to make it to a control panel and if you flip a switch, the trolley will be diverted onto a different track. Unfortunately, there’s a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?”
Ethics class, taught by Kitty Pryde. It was later in the day, now. This was Karen’s last class. Normally, Emma was the teacher here, but considering what had happened in England, Karen wasn’t surprised to see that she wasn’t here.
A boy raised his hand, and Kitty called on him. “Yes, Mr. Borkowski?”
“Some of us are way faster than a trolley. Why not divert it onto the track with just one person and then use our mutant abilities to get out in front and rescue them before it can hit them?”
“Yeah,” Santo said, nodding his head in agreement, “Or I could just stop the trolley before it gets anywhere near them!”
Kitty smiled thinly. “Let’s assume that everyone’s got power-suppression collars on. Mad philosopher and all that.”
“How did we get them on?” Anole - Victor Borkowski - asked.
“You were captured in an attack on the mansion and it was on you when you woke up.”
Victor frowned, but he nodded.
“So,” Kitty said, “What do you do?”
Celeste raised her hand, and when Kitty called on her, she said, “You divert the trolley.”
“Because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”
Kitty looked out across the rest of the class. “Does everyone agree with that?”
Karen sank into her chair. Ethics. Funny how she’d thought this sort of thing was a complete waste of time back in Sunnydale. Now, though... she shook her head. There was actually a debate going, now. David was arguing against changing the track, and the class itself seemed split. She’d be more interested in it if she didn’t have that gnawing sense of impending doom about meeting Namorita at the dinner. You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin's.
“... but you can’t just DO that! You can’t just decide who lives and who dies. You should be trying to save all of them! And if you push the button, you’re becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution...”
“It doesn’t matter,” Celeste said. “It might not be your fault that the situation is what it is, but if you’re in a position where you can change the outcome, isn’t not taking action the same as killing the five people on the other track?”
“You can’t control the behavior of villains,” David said. “You can control how you respond to it. I would refuse to play their sick game.”
“And you’d have as good as killed five people when you could have reduced that loss to just one.”
“It’s not the same thing, and you can’t just reduce the value of human lives to numbers. It’s not five people dead or one person dead...”
Karen looked up at the clock just in time for the bell to ring, cutting off David in mid sentence.
“For homework,” Kitty said, “I want all of you to write your own response to this scenario, and explain why you would do what you do. Class dismissed.” The students were already gathering their things to go when she started speaking, and the first was on his way out by the time she finished.
Karen stood up, and Irma was at her side a moment later. “You OK?” the Cuckoo asked.
Karen nodded. “Yeah. I’m just...” she looked at Irma. “I guess I’m just...” she trailed off.
“Terrified out of your mind?” Irma asked with a wry smile.
Karen held up her thumb and forefinger. “Little bit.” Then she thought, knowing Irma would hear her, ‘How exactly do you say you’re sorry for killing someone’s friends and putting her in the hospital?’
Irma could have said that Karen wasn’t responsible for Divine’s actions. That it wasn’t her who did them. But in a sense, it had been. Divine hadn’t been destroyed: the two had merged. The vast majority of the result was Karen, but Divine was in there, too. So Irma shook her head, and her eyes looked distant. “I don’t know,” she said.
Nothing more was said. Karen offered her arm, Irma took it, and they left class together.
They walked for a few minutes like that, the whole student body moving around them and the two of them together, arm in arm. The first stop was Karen’s room. She dropped off her backpack, and then they moved on to the room that Irma shared with her sisters, where Irma dropped off hers. On the way back down, Karen finally spoke. “... so they shot down my whole, ‘let two stupidly powerful mutants under house arrest leave home to go on a date’ plan,” she said.
Irma rolled her eyes. “Two things. First, you’re not a mutant. Second, you didn’t expect differently, did you?”
Karen made a show of thinking about it, then once more held up her thumb and forefinger with about an inch between them. “Maybe a little bit,” she said, waited a beat, and then finished, “OK, no. But since we’ve got this state visit by Atlantis thing...”
Irma raised an eyebrow. “State visit by Atlantis thing?”
“I stand by my mangling of the English language,” Karen said.
“Right,” Irma said. “State visit by Atlantis thing?” Her tone was different this time around.
“Uh, yeah. I was kind of hoping you’d maybe be my date?”
“And delivered with such panache,” Irma said. Karen blushed, and Irma took pity. “Of course I will,” she said.
Karen’s grin seemed to brighten the whole hallway, her fear and her anxiety momentarily forgotten. And without the anxiety, without the fear, she looked at Irma felt that quivering teenaged nervous expectation, warmth, happiness. Karen hesitated for a second, and then leaned in and kissed the telepathic girl. Irma leaned into it, and Karen’s body grew warm with other feelings: with the need to feel Irma’s skin under her hands, to feel the other girl pressed against her. She wanted to tell her, to say something that would let Irma know how she felt, what she wanted. The kiss grew more heated, and to her pleasant surprise, Irma’s hands slid gently under Karen’s blouse, and those hands were very warm...
“Oh,” said a girl’s voice.
Karen flushed, and Irma did, too. They separated, and Karen glanced towards the person who had found them. Laurie Collins was trying very hard not to stare.
“Sorry,” the Laurie said, “I’ll just... walk somewhere else.”
The moment was over. Karen shook her head, “No, I have to go anyways. Janet’s going to be here with those outfits any minute now, and I have to be there when she arrives.” She met Irma’s gaze. “See you tonight?”
Irma was still blushing, but her tone was far more composed. “Tonight,” she replied.
Valerie Cooper frowned thoughtfully. “Why would HYDRA send a random metahuman to a halfway house for escaped powered criminals in Stamford?”
Jamie shrugged. “A random absurdly powerful metahuman, you mean?” He tossed a bottle of pills in a sealed plastic bag onto the table. They were in Valerie Cooper’s office, he and Cooper and Summers. He’d arrived twenty minutes earlier, and Layla was waiting outside the door. Well, she probably was, anyways.
“What’s this?” Val asked. She picked up the bag and examined the bottle within. "Mutant growth hormone?"
“The whole thing stank,” Jamie said. “I figured something was going down. Turns out, an unknown benefactor's spent a lot of money to provide at least one of the metahuman criminals in that house with a hell of a lot of MGH. Anyone want to take a guess on the suspiciously obvious identity of the group supplying the power boost?"
Valerie grimaced. HYDRA’s logo was on the damn bottle.
“OK,” Scott said, “So besides sending an unstable and incredibly powerful metahuman to the house, HYDRA was also supplying the inhabitants with MGH. Or someone who would really like us to believe that it’s HYDRA. Is that what you’re saying?”
Jamie smirked. “Well, yeah, except the way I was going to say it sounded a hell of a lot cooler.”
Scott ignored his attitude, and Jamie almost - almost - felt small and petty for having showed it. Scott went on, “A house that the New Warriors just happened to target in the filming of their reality show, resulting in their deaths being broadcast on national television, and, between those deaths and what happened when SHIELD tried to take the girl down, ultimately causing a national panic.”
Jamie nodded. “A location leaked to the New Warriors by...” he let the words hang in the air.
Val frowned. “That’s a lot of pies to have their fingers in.”
Jamie shrugged. “HYDRA’s got a lot of fingers.”
“I don’t see an endgame here,” Val said. “Sure, they can create a lot of chaos, stoke national fears over metahumans in general, and Divine’s association with Power Girl might direct that more specifically towards anti-mutant backlash. They might have caused a diplomatic incident with Atlantis if Namorita had died, but they couldn’t have known exactly how it would all go down. So what’s the point of all this?”
“Has HYDRA ever needed an excuse to execute an unnecessarily complicated and elaborate plan without an obvious endgame?” Jamie asked.
“Fair point,” Val said, “But even so, they’ve got to be after something, even if it’s not immediately obvious.”
Scott looked thoughtful. “They wanted an incident. That much is clear. You don’t keep a group of super powered criminals supplied with MGH unless you want an incident. So they tipped off the New Warriors. The New Warriors went in and found their enemies vastly more powerful than they’d expected. Everyone except Namorita is killed...”
“Pretty sure we went over this territory a couple sentences back,” Jamie said, perhaps uncharitably.
Scott shot Jamie an annoyed look. “I’m thinking out loud.”
“Think a little more quietly, then.”
Scott looked even more annoyed at that, and started to say something in an angry tone.
“Gentlemen,” Valerie said, cutting him off. Both Scott and Jamie had decency enough to look embarrassed. “All right,” she went on. “We’ve got dots that don’t quite connect, but the picture they form is suggestive nonetheless.” She looked to Jamie. “Do we have any reason to believe that whoever this is, HYDRA or not, will continue in their efforts to influence Karen?”
Jamie’s expression soured. “The base we snuck into? There were pictures all over the wall. Every sighting that’s ever been photographed of the Zor-L sisters.” He produced an envelope and set it on the table. “My dupe took some photos. That’s the last bit of information we’ve got.”
Scott took a breath. “OK. Thanks for your assistance, Madrox.”
“I’d say it was a pleasure,” Jamie replied, “But, you know.”
Scott nodded. “I know.”
Val sighed. "Hell of a thing to drop on my last week in charge of this place."
"Last week?" Jamie asked.
Val nodded. "We had one too many incidents here. One too many times having the entire Sentinel Force disabled while an enemy of the X-Men attacked the school. One too many times students ignoring the rules set for them. One too many times Divine, Karen, whoever she is, ignoring her house arrest and flying off to do as she pleased. I don't blame any of the students, but my superiors think things have gotten out of control. I'm being replaced."
Scott looked down. "... Do we know who's being put in charge?"
"Yeah. We do."
It wasn’t so bad. Well, OK, the part of her that still remembered being Xander Harris was hyperventilating at the affront to his masculinity that all of this represented, but besides that, it wasn’t so bad.
“Well, what do you think?” Janet asked.
Three outfits were arranged on full size mannequins that matched Karen’s measurements precisely, and just looking at them made her blush a little. “They’re very... um...” Oh, and that stupid song was still stuck in her head. So there was that, too. When will you pay me? say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich, and all that jazz. I’m gonna rouge my knees and roll my stockings... say the bells of... damn it.
OK. So maybe using Chicago to drive out Oranges and Lemons wasn’t going to work. Karen turned her attention back to the outfits.
The first was a little black dress. The skirt was pleated, and came down to just below the knees. The bodice and the straps were textured with subtle floral patterns, with a v of smooth fabric starting at the bustline and going down to the naval. It was sleeveless and simple, and to this Janet had added a pearl bracelet and earrings. Karen’s fingers went to her unpierced ears, not quite shuddering.
The second outfit was a long, satin and silk gown that seemed silver at first glance, but when the light hit it, revealed subtle shades of rose and gold amidst the silver. A slit went up one leg, and strategic portions of the gown were semi-transparent. Earrings matched the gown, as did a pair of heels.
When she looked at the last outfit, Karen almost sighed in relief. It was a suit. Sort of. It was hard to put a finger on what bugged her about it. Maybe just the fact that it was so obviously fitted for a woman’s body - and not just any woman’s, but her own. Not quite a tuxedo jacket. Similar, but the way it emphasized the mannequin’s figure seemed... strange, and it had a subtle textured pattern to it that she couldn’t identify. A white dress shirt. French cuffs, cufflinks, shirt studs. A dark maroon vest. No tie. Black silk stockings. Black trousers with a silk braid covering the outer seams. The shoes that went with it were black leather pumps.
Janet waited. On the mannequins, the suit looked very good, but the gown and the dress looked absolutely amazing. “I, um...” Karen started to say, then trailed off. Janet raised an eyebrow, but if she was otherwise put off by Karen’s decidedly nontraditional reaction to having a professional designer present her with three formal outfits, she showed no sign.
Karen stared. Unbidden, an image came into her thoughts: herself in the dress side by side with herself in the gown, her walking into a formal ballroom exactly like the one from Batman Returns, where Bruce and Selina discovered each other’s identities. The crowd was full of students from the Xavier Institute, and everyone was looking at her. Staring at her. … desiring her. Her body on display to be desired. Even the suit did that to an extent, but this was, this was... She felt her body shifting. Changing. All at once, she was Xander Harris wearing that gown, the earrings, the high heels. Xander Harris wearing the little black dress, the pearls, the pumps. The crowd was suddenly half Xavier students, half students from Sunnydale High. Larry stood in the front row in full pirate regalia, pointed a finger, and began to laugh. Then everyone in the room was laughing. Laughing and pointing, and shame was burning in her. She tried to explain, tried to tell them that she’d been transformed into a woman, and that if she didn’t accept that, she’d go nuts. Nobody listened. They all just stood there, pointing and laughing at Alexander Lavelle Harris in women’s clothing.
Someone said something. Karen blinked. “What?”
She was in her room, with Janet. There was no crowd. Nobody was pointing, nobody was laughing.
Janet frowned. “I said, are you all right?”
Karen wasn’t fine, but she nodded and said that she was.
“All three are yours, Emma paid up front, but which one would you like to wear tonight?” Janet asked.
“The suit,” Karen replied, and her voice sounded distant even to her.
That wasn’t the end of it, of course. Putting on the clothes was only step one. Karen wasn’t particularly interested in performing the next steps, but Emma had already arranged everything for each of the students that would actually be dining with Atlantean royalty. No sooner had Janet Van Dyne departed when a well dressed African-American twenty something man with a leather briefcase stepped into the room. “Karen, right?” he asked. His voice was a rumbling bass, resonant and strong.
Karen nodded, looking at him in askance. “Yeah. Can I, uh, help you?”
“Weren’t you told? I’m here to do your makeup.” He gestured to his briefcase.
The man raised an eyebrow. “Apparently not,” he said. “I’m Robert. Robert Jenkins. Call me Bob.” He offered his hand, and after a moment’s hesitation, she shook it. “I work for Ms. Van Dyne.”
“Right,” Karen said. “Why are you here, though?”
“To do your makeup,” Bob replied, probably avoiding the ‘you’re an idiot’ tone only through sheer force of will. A beat passed. “Oh, I get it. You prefer the natural look?”
“I prefer to leave my face the way it is,” Karen replied. “It’s a perfectly good face. Very face-shaped.”
Bob nodded. “Most faces are. And it is as broad as it hath breadth; it is just as high as it is, and moves with its own organs. It lives by that which nourisheth it, and the elements once out of it, it transmigrates.”
Karen blinked. “What?”
Bob frowned. “Oh. I thought we were referencing Shakespeare. My bad.”
Karen tried not to feel like a moron. She was mostly unsuccessful. She sighed. “Right. Look, I don’t want any makeup, so why don’t you just move on to the next person?”
If Bob was annoyed, he showed no sign of it. Instead, he shrugged. “Sure. I’m hardly going to force you to let me put makeup on you.” He nodded to her, turned on his heel, and left.
Karen let out a sigh and sank down onto her bed; she felt a little bad for doing that to Bob. He was just doing his job. It was just that his job involved her wearing makeup. She’d done that before, once. When she’d been redirected to the wrong version of this world - a version where the world she had known existed side-by-side with this one. … and apparently a world where Xander Harris was dating basically all of the female Young Avengers. Concurrently. And they were all somehow fine with this. … yeah, she wasn’t sure how that worked, either. The girls had basically ignored her protests and had her made up, taking an unholy joy in 'prettying up girl-Xander,' but just because it had happened once before didn’t mean she wanted to do it again.
… OK, if she was going to be honest, it hadn’t been that bad. It’d been embarrassing, but the girl she’d seen in the mirror had gone from the ‘very attractive’ that she normally was to beyond gorgeous, and she’d felt this sense of fierce pride at that, it was just that, well, despite everything she’d been through, she wasn’t quite comfortable seeing that girl as ‘her.’ OK, that wasn’t true. Maybe there wasn’t a rational reason. Or maybe it was just ‘his’ lingering experience of having grown up male, and having thought of herself as male. But it was something merging with Divine hadn’t helped; Divine’s memories hadn’t included experience with cosmetics, gowns, or heels.
Twenty minutes passed as she basically sulked in her room, though by the end of it the self-pity had faded into bemusement. Then someone knocked, and a moment later, the door opened again, and in came the etiquette coach.
Only after that was done with was Karen finally free to go out to where the dozen or so students who were attending the dinner were waiting to be let into the house’s parlour. Irma was already there when Karen arrived, and so were Noriko, Julian, and Laurie, a few students who only looked vaguely familiar, and both of the new Cuckoos. Karen’s mouth went dry at the sight of Irma. Irma in her fiery red dress, with her diamond earrings and bracelet, her hair in an updo that Karen didn’t recognize. Their eyes met.
“Good evening, Karen,” Irma said. “You look good.”
“You look...” Karen trailed off, words momentarily evading her. “Wow.” Her cheeks flushed. “I mean good.” A beat passed, and her blush deepened. “I mean beautiful.”
Irma smiled. “I know what you mean.” The doors opened, and together they walked into the parlour.
The Atlantean delegation was already there. Their eyes fell upon her instantly: she and Irma were the first two students through the door, and Karen almost stopped short under the weight of those gazes. Only one was openly suspicious. Only one actually flinched upon seeing her: A girl about her own age, maybe a little older, and strangely lovely, blue skinned with platinum blonde hair and startlingly blue eyes, a wooden cane resting next to her.
Karen burst free from the wreckage of the fallen house. “You stupid bastards,” she said. “You’re all gonna die here.”
A fat boy in a green and white costume ran for it, his eyes wide in panic. She felt a flicker of contempt as she picked up a fallen brick and threw it at the back of his head with godlike force. There was a sick crack, and the boy collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
Another boy in a blue costume with blonde hair zoomed forward, balls of colored light all but swarming around him. He hit her in the face, and the force of the impact blasted her backwards, though her feet didn’t leave the ground. It stung, but only barely. “Immune to kinetic impact, huh? Let’s see how you do against heat.” Her vision shifted. Red overwhelmed everything, and what she looked at died. She was the boy burn in perfect clarity, reduced from a living human to bits of ash in less than a second, but her Kryptonian eyes saw it all as if it had taken minutes.
“You bitch!” Namorita screamed. “You killed them! You evil bitch!”
“Are you going to run away like your friend?” Karen asked casually.
Namorita readied herself. She moved, lunging forward, swinging for Karen’s face.
Karen didn’t feel like taking another hit to the face. She sidestepped Namorita’s attack and then punched her in the chest. The girl flew backwards through the fence, across the street, and into the side of a school bus. The sound of shrieking metal filled the air, and...
Namorita Prentiss. That was girl’s name. A sense of sick horror rose up in Karen. That memory felt like it had happened yesterday. Irma squeezed her hand.
All but two had the same blue skin as the girl. Most were dressed all in white, though Namorita wore white and orange, and the Caucasoid woman dressed formally in white, but Namor himself wore black and gold, a more formal version of his chest-baring costume with a crown resting lightly upon his brow.
“Hello, Divine,” Namor said, his voice strong and resonant.
The students behind Karen and Irma stopped short, as if sensing something were amiss.
Karen shook her head. “I’m not her.”
“We shall see. But come, join us, partake of the refreshments Xavier’s school has offered.”
Karen gulped, tried not to look around nervously, and walked forward to stand before the king of Atlantis.
“I thought Ms. Frost explained,” Karen began.
“I have known Emma for many years, child,” Namor said. “I want you to explain. Not the cheerful fantasy that was given to SHIELD and the Avengers. The truth.” He gestured to an empty seat nearby. “Sit.”
Karen sat. She glanced at the other students in the room, then back to Namor.
“They will not hear our conversation,” Namor said. ‘He’s right.’
It was Irma’s telepathic voice. ‘I’m standing ten feet away, and everything you both say sounds like background noise.’
The teachers were walking in now. First Scott then Logan and Kitty and Pietr, Ororo and Hank. Without saying a word, Scott and Logan positioned themselves near Namor, with Kitty, Pietr, and Ororo spreading out throughout the room to supervise students. No Emma.
Karen looked at the floor. She could hear her own heart pounding in her ears. Granted, she could always hear that, plus the heartbeats of everyone nearby, but it was louder than normal. She looked up at Namor, grew momentarily distracted by his internal organs, and then focused on his exterior. On his eyes. She could still see the x-ray view, but she also saw everything else, and it was everything else that she chose to attend to. … at least that song wasn’t stuck in her head any... oh, right, there it was again. All it had taken was thinking about it again. It occurred to her that she was delaying. Distracting herself. The only ones who knew her full story were the teachers and her team. The thought of explaining everything to the king of Atlantis didn’t appeal to her, but if she had to do it, well... “My name is Karen Zor-L,” she said. “And the reason my sister was introduced as Karen Zor-L is that I used to share a body with her, and when we met, I was in charge.”
Namor raised an eyebrow, and the shape of his eyebrow combined with the ease with which he made the gesture reminded Karen of nothing so much as Spock. She didn’t mention that out loud. “Perhaps you should start at the beginning,” Namor said.
She did. It was difficult at first. It felt like she was confessing her sins, but the story came out, piece by piece, starting with his first meeting with Buffy Summers, how they came to help her as the Slayer, then moving onto Halloween, the costume he wore, and her waking up in the sky above New York. She told Namor about her time with the Fantastic Four, of the test, of her running away, the fight with the man made out of sand, being sent to Xavier’s. She told him about Kara’s manifestation, of the discovery that she wasn’t in his transformed body: she was in Kara’s body. On and on. The discovery of the way back, Doctor Strange’s assistance, the damaged draconian katra, the portal opening, and her breaking the circle when Irma called for help. The battle with Divine, the Sentry, and Namor himself. The use of the draconian katra.
“... and when I pressed it against her hand and activated it, it shunted me into her body. We fought in her mind. I won. For all intents and purposes, Divine died. It’s just me now.”
Throughout the thirty minute story, Namor said little, but listened attentively. Occasionally he asked a question for clarification, but otherwise he let her tell the story at her own pace. When she had finished, silence fell between them. She could hear the buzz of conversation from the rest of the room, but it was a distant, muted thing. The silence held for nearly a minute as the king of Atlantis considered her story, his eyes fixed upon hers, as if he could judge the truth of her words by reading it in her gaze. Then, just as the silence was growing unbearable, he nodded. “I believe you,” he said. He tapped one of his jeweled rings with his index finger, and the conversation all around was fully audible again. He met the gaze of Scott Summers. “I am satisfied,” he said. “The girl is not Divine.” Then he looked to Karen again. “You may join your friends, Miss Zor-L.”
Karen let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. “Thank you,” she managed, rose to her feet, and rejoined Irma.
It was still the cocktail hour, though cocktails weren’t actually being served. Still, a table was laden with appetizers and (non-alcoholic) drinks. Karen didn’t actually know the names of most of the students who’d been allowed to attend the event, but she knew most of them by sight all the same. She and Irma talked and mingled for a few minutes before making their way over to the appetizer table. Karen was tempted to eat more than her fill here, but managed to restrain herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Noriko approach the new Cuckoo - not Joan, but the other one.
“Hey Mindee,” Noriko started.
Both Irma and the clone looked up. “What?” they both said.
Noriko started to say something, but then Irma blinked and looked at the clone, speaking before Noriko could get more than the initial sound out of her mouth. “Wait, what? You can’t be Mindee.”
The clone made a face. “Why not?” she asked.
“Because I was Mindee.”
“So? You don’t want to be Mindee.”
“But that doesn’t mean you can be Mindee.”
Irma glared. “...I...” Karen saw the frustration building in her expression, briefly thought about intervening, and then thought better of it. “Because! That’s why!”
The clone frowned, thought about it, then asked, “Can I be Irma, then?”
“No! I’m Irma!”
“Then I’ll be Mindee.”
Mindee looked annoyed. “You can’t have both!”
Noriko tried not to stare, and held up a hand. “... I’ll ask you later,” she said, and moved off.
Mindee glared at Irma, then called after Nori, “Wait, Noriko!” and followed her.
Irma glanced sidelong at Karen. “Not a word,” she said.
Karen couldn’t quite keep the smile off her face. “I’m not saying anything,” she said.
They talked for another few minutes before Irma said, quite suddenly, “So are you going to talk to Namorita?”
Karen’s good mood evaporated. “... Nope,” she said, though she hesitated.
“You’re probably not going to get another chance. At least not anytime soon.”
“Sounds good to me.”
Irma fixed her with a level look. “Come on, Karen,” she said. “You need to talk to her. Say something to her. You’ll regret it if you don’t. I’ll be right here.”
Karen sighed. “... I know. All right, all right.” She turned away from Irma and made her way over to the person she’d tried not to look at, tried not to think about for the last forty minutes.
Namorita sat up as she approached, her cane now in her lap. She didn’t say anything, and her face was completely without expression.
Karen stood in front of her, trying to think of something to say. Anything. It grew more and more awkward. She looked back at Irma, and Irma smiled encouragingly. “Hey,” she managed at last.
Namorita looked at her, unflinching. “Hey,” she replied, her tone neutral.
Karen looked at the ground. “I just wanted you to know that I’m really, really sorry for what happened to you.”
Namorita sank back down into the couch and shook her head. “You don’t have to be,” she said distantly. “You’re not her. You look like her, but you’re... you’re not.”
Guilt welled up inside Karen’s heart. She remembered. She remembered how good it had felt when Divine had killed the New Warriors. She remembered wiping them out as if they’d been bugs. How easy it had been! How like a god Divine had felt! She shuddered. She managed to look up. “I’m not,” she echoed. “But I’m still sorry.”
Namorita Prentiss’s eyes gained focus. She looked Karen in the eye and held her gaze until Karen looked away. It didn’t take long. The cocktail hour went on around them. The sound of conversation. A joke told across the room. A glass being refilled. Someone laughed. Karen looked at the floor. “How many of that body’s memories do you have?” Namorita asked.
Karen looked up in shock. “What?”
Namorita nodded. “I thought so.” A pause. “Listen to me, Karen Zor-L,” she said, her voice cold. “Whatever part of you is still Divine, that part of you I can never forgive. But you, the part that was you before you gained that body, have nothing to be forgiven for.”
That didn’t make Karen feel better, but she nodded. “I, uh, I appreciate that.”
“Good,” Namorita said. “Because that’s the best I can do.”
Karen let out a breath, and then nodded once again. “It was, uh, nice meeting you, Namorita.”
Namorita remained silent.
“Hey, I just saw someone I need to talk to, so, uh... see you around.”
Namorita said nothing.
Karen stepped away. “Hey,” she told the random student that she’d seen out of the corner of her eye. He looked vaguely familiar.
The student blinked. “Er, hi,” he said.
“Pretend we know each other,” she told him. Karen thought about it. Oh yeah. She remembered. He was one of the guys that was openly leering at her the other day when she and Irma had kissed in the hall. And he was staring at her chest.
“Uh, right,” he said, forcing his gaze upwards to meet her eyes. “Hey Karen. You liking this, uh, gathering?”
“It’s nice,” she replied. “Unexpected, but nice. I’m glad Namorita is recovering, too.” And then they were out of Namorita’s line of sight, and Karen let out the sigh she’d been holding back.
“We done?” the boy asked.
“Yup,” Karen confirmed.
“Awesome.” He rejoined his friends by the punch bowl.
Then Irma was at her side, and it was better.
Consequences. Every act had consequences. Every thought. Every whispered word, everything spoken out loud, every action, every inaction. Emma Frost knew this well, and it was a bitter lesson.
"What do you think?"
Emma didn't look at the speaker. Didn't take her eyes off the images of her two newest daughters on the screen, each of them sitting down at the formal dining table, looking unsure of themselves. Laurie Collins sat down with them. The sound was off. She couldn't hear the conversation. The girls smiled innocently as Laurie showed them how to use their silverware. Another girl - Noriko - laughed good naturedly at the sight, said something to the other girls.
Emma Frost had been in her office ever since she’d returned from England. She hadn’t slept, and she’d left only briefly to shower, change her clothes, and re-apply her make-up. She looked fresh, wide-awake. She wasn’t. "They're too soft," She said. "I need to toughen them up. If I teach them how to..."
The dinner began, and the girls each tried the soup. Identical expressions of delighted surprise lit up their faces.
"You already have three daughters just like you, Emma. They killed nine hundred and ninety-three of their sisters, remember?"
The temperature in the room seemed to drop, and Emma turned to direct an icy glare at the speaker. The elegant blonde woman in the mirror met her gaze with equal fury, with equal hurt and heartache half-hidden in her eyes.
“Shut up,” Emma whispered.
Her reflection did not reply.
The dinner was over, and a long evening drew towards its completion. The notes are the same: we've heard this song before. Two young women together in bed, about to make love to each other for the first time. Their clothes were mussed, and could come off at any moment. Their building passion interrupted by an unexpected message. The smartphone was a new thing to the girl who owned it. Strange and novel. The message set her eyes wide:PG: Nightwing, I need you and anyone who’s willing to come with you to come to Asgard ASAP. If the Xavier people won’t take you, I can have a quinjet sent out. … it’s bad. Flashpoint bad. Come quickly.
An interruption and a decision. Choice and consequence.
Karen let out a breath. “I owe her, Irma. I’m not going to sit around here when she needs my help.”
Irma nodded, and met Karen’s eyes. “So let’s go help her.”(isn’t this where...)
END CHAPTER 07
Next: Across the Rainbow Bridge, Part III