I'll own up to it: I botched the episode timeline rather badly in regards to the sequence of events regarding the du Lac Cross, and so now we're playing catchup a bit to try and get back into the swing of things. So… it may or may not be the reason Buffy came to Willow about research - something Michelle mentions way back in Chapter 11 - and may or may not be why she was at Willy's. The world will never know. Now, though, is when we will be working our way through this story's version of that particular two-parter, so strap in and hang on.
November 22, 2011
Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters - The Five-in-One's Room
Westchester, New York
Staring down at the bed, Ivette frowned. Very much a creature of habit, she'd laid out her chosen outfit for the day before heading in to take a shower. And yet… 'Where are my clothes?' 'I laid out something better for you.'
The reply came from two separate, subtly different voices and Ivette looked first to her left and then to her right before sighing. On the right side of the room stood Phoebe and Sophie staring at her hopefully, while Celeste and Esme were leaning against the wall to her left and glaring at their sisters. In the middle, Ivette eyed the two very different outfits that had been laid out for her to choose from. One was the same dress that Sophie and Phoebe were wearing, a frilly white affair that looked like it had fallen out of the Victorian era. The other was a copy of Esme and Celeste's outfit: a pair of white leather pants paired with a white, cowl neck cashmere sweater.
Neither appealed to her, to be honest.
Upon returning from Sunnydale the night before, it had been easy for Ivette to tell that something had happened in her absence even though her sisters were all asleep. The fact that they'd split into two pairs occupying opposite sides of their shared bed - leaving a wide gulf down the middle - had been a bit of a hint. Now she was discovering the 'why'… and Ivette was far from amused. 'Let's try this again. Where are my clothes?'
When none of her sisters stepped forward with an answer, Ivette jerked a thumb back over her shoulder at the semi-private bathroom they shared with another 'special case'. 'Tell me where my clothes are or so help me God, I will go next door and borrow something from Marie. And I'll make sure Mother knows whose fault it is that I look weird today.' 'It's all Sophie's fault!' 'It's all Esme's fault!' 'She's the one who wants to wear something different.'
Ivette sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. 'I had a very weird weekend, got back late last night, and could use another hour of sleep or three. I don't know what's going on with you all or why I'm in the middle, but fuck you all. I'm not in the mood to deal with this.'
And with that, she turned and stalked back into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. Thankfully, the door to Marie's bedroom was unlocked and the Southern belle was alone when Ivette stormed into her room. "Loan me one of your outfits for a day and do my makeup, and I'll give you my allowance for the week."
Looking up from where she was contemplating different colors of nail polish, Marie D'Ancanto eyed her uncertainly. "How much are we talking here?" Ivette held up two fingers and the brunette whistled softly. "Two hundred on your plastic, not cash. I'd rather shop online than go to the mall for obvious reasons."
"All right. First things first: skirt or pants?"
As the bathroom door slammed behind Ivette, the remaining Four-in-One exchanged looks. Then Esme sniffed and grabbed Celeste's hand before turning and exiting the room, leaving Sophie to stand there next to Phoebe and wonder where things had gone so horribly wrong. 'You should have let me try and talk her into it.'
Phoebe pushed off the wall, walking over to the bed and picking up the dress that they'd set out for their sister. 'You look terrible. I look awesome. She would have listened to me.'
…how did that even work?
November 22, 2011
Sunnydale High School - Hallway
"Gwen! Welcome back! Did you enjoy your three-day weekend? Because I'm sure you're going to love sitting in study halls while the rest of us do the Career Week stuff you can't because you weren't here to do the aptitude test…"
After pausing for a moment, Gwen opted not to look back at Cordelia, shaking her head as she went back to digging through her locker. "Guess it was a bad day to be out sick, huh? Oh well. And I don't mind study hall. They may call it homework, but that doesn't mean you have to do it at home."
Michelle looked over at Cordelia, groaning at the look on her friend's face. This… could not end well. Grinning, Cordelia closed in on the blonde, leaning against the locker next to Gwen's. "You were 'out sick', huh? What exactly were you out with, Gwen?"
"I'm guessing you already know. Although that makes me wonder…" Closing her locker, Gwen adopted the same pose as Cordelia, leaning in towards the green-haired girl. "You're getting awfully close to someone who was 'out sick'. Seems to me like someone's trying to catch what I have for herself." Cordelia immediately recoiled, putting two lockers worth of space between them, making Gwen smirk. "Oh, Cordy… just because I don't usually bite back doesn't mean I don't have teeth. Remember that." Turning to Michelle, her expression became… hesitant. Almost nervous. "Meet me at the Crypt for lunch? We need to talk."
Grimacing, Michelle thought back to the morning before and the agreement she'd made without consulting her friend. "Yeah. I've got some news to share too. Same Bat-time, same Bat-salad?"
Gwen thought about that for a moment before shaking her head. "Chef salad. Thousand Island dressing. The real stuff, not the lite crap." And before Michelle could say anything - her first instinct was to go with some sort of apocalypse-related comment, or perhaps the lyrics to a certain R.E.M. song - the blonde turned and walked away.
Turning back to Cordelia, Michelle eyed the taller girl curiously. "You know, she might be on to something. There was last night, and now you getting all up close and personal with a girl you know slept with another girl. I'm starting to wonder… we both know you can't catch The Gay, but maybe you're hoping A Gay will catch you?"
"As. If. Now be a good minion and carry my books." Pushing off the locker she was leaning on, Cordelia shoved her textbooks into Michelle's arms before making her way over to the bulletin board where the results of the tests were posted. A bit of a crowd had formed since one of the teachers had posted the lists a few minutes ago but, well, simple things like crowds didn't stop Cordelia. Or even slow her down. Quickly divining how things were laid out, the cheerleader approached the A through D list and located her name. "Political activist or motivational speaker? What the hell?"
Leaning in so she could rest her chin on Cordelia's shoulder, Michelle pretended to look for something on the list herself as she lowered her voice, whispering into the cheerleader's ear. "Look at what happened to your grandfather, Cordelia. Just remember, what's legal and what's not can be changed. If he'd tried to work with the system instead of knocking it over and raising his own in its place, maybe he'd be living in D.C. right now instead of a plastic box. What if you don't have his 'Pinky and the Brain' gene but did inherit the good parts of him? More and more mutants are popping up every day. Someone's going to need to organize them and fight for their rights."
"Maybe. Senator Chase or President Chase does have a nice ring to it, I guess. And while I'm at it, I'll make sure we pass a law banning fat people from wearing tight clothing." Michelle buried her face in Cordelia's neck as she laughed at that, and the cheerleader tolerated her for a moment before pushing her away. "Come on. Check E through G."
Michelle slid over to stand next to Cordelia and ran her finger down the list until she found 'Flaherty, Michelle'. Her jaw dropped. "Military? Really? Something about me says military ma… err, woman to these people?" Cordelia burst out laughing at that, and the redhead elbowed her companion roughly in the ribs. "Laugh it up. People respect soldiers. When was the last time anyone had anything nice to say about a politician?" That shut Cordelia up and Michelle grinned smugly as she moved down to the P through S list. Running her finger along the list of names, she frowned and then ran through them all again. No Willow. Odd. "Willow's missing. Are we missing anyone else?"
Shooting another glance over at the lists, Cordelia shrugged. "Dunno. Don't really care, either. They can come over and find their own names, assuming they're on there somewhere. Hell, what good are minions if you don't put 'em to work once in a while? I should have made one of them come over here and find my result for me."
Chuckling, Michelle wrapped an arm around Cordelia's shoulders as she steered the green-haired girl away from the wall and through the growing crowd to freedom. "Cordy, you're such a bitch."
One slim green brow rose again as matching eyes stared at Michelle curiously. "And? Your point?"
"None. Just stating a fact."
Watching as her friends headed off for special, career-specific periods and those who'd missed - or opted not to take - the test on Monday got herded off to a study hall, Willow nibbled on her lower lip and tried to figure out what to do with herself. She'd been in school, done the test, submitted it… why didn't she have a career period to go to? Convinced Snyder was about to descend on her at any moment, she let out a squeak of surprise when someone tapped her on the shoulder, barely managing to keep her claws from emerging.
Turning, she discovered the owner was a man in a tastefully simple black suit with another man in an identical suit standing beside him. "Willow Rosenberg? Come with us, please?"
"Holy poop, it's the Men in Black."
The corner of the man's mouth tilted up at that. "Different areas of Microsoft are more or less casual than others. My department… less casual than most. But that's neither here nor there at the moment. Please, come with us." Turning away, he and his companion led her off away from the others, deeper into the school and then eventually into one of the classrooms Willow knew was currently abandoned due to the teacher coming down with a bad case of dead and not being replaced. The tips of her claws began to poke through her skin but she retracted them as she took in her surroundings. A pair of black leather couches had been set out across from each other with an expensive-looking wooden coffee table in between, soft classical music wafting through the air as a man in a white jacket and black bow tie stood stiffly at attention with a silver tray in one hand. "Try a canapé. They're excellent."
Willow leaned in and sniffed at the tray before shaking her head, wandering over to take a seat on one of the couches. "I don't know if you were just trying to play the odds because I'm a teenage girl from a decently wealthy household or what, but I'm not a big fan of vegetarian food. The exact opposite, actually. Being a carnivore is a difficult lifestyle, but I'm sticking to my decision as best I can. So if you really want to try and bribe me with food for whatever reason… meat me."
Looks were exchanged and when the man in black nodded, the waiter hustled off. "Now, while we wait… I should let you know that you've been selected to meet with Steven Sinofsky, the President of the Windows Division." Wait, what? Why? "The jet was delayed by fog at Sea-Tac, but I've been told he should be here sometime in the next twenty minutes, half an hour max. So please, make yourself comfortable."
"Um, if you don't mind me asking… where's everyone else?" Willow gestured at the empty classroom, and then something else occurred to her. "And why wasn't I on the list?"
The man chuckled as he turned away, heading for his coworker at the door. "The test was irrelevant. We've been tracking you for some time."
Well that wasn't creepy sounding at all. The whole thing reeked of her Moloch adventure and Willow bit her lip to avoiding snickering. Even if Microsoft was evil, it was probably a human evil and not a demonic evil. "So, uh, is that a good thing?"
"I would think so. We're extremely selective." He paused and turned to face her again, spreading his arms wide to emphasize how alone she was. "In fact, you're the only student in Sunnydale who met our criteria. And the fact that Mister Sinofsky is coming here rather than asking you to attend a career fair with other students in Los Angeles should tell you something." That tidbit imparted, the man wandered out the door with his coworker, whispering too lowly even for her improving ears to pick up their words.
On the couch, Willow's mind raced. They knew she was a hacker. That was the only explanation. They knew and they wanted her with them rather than against them. She'd never thought that highly of her skills, especially given a few of the people she chatted with online, but Microsoft evidently felt otherwise. The only thing that made her curious was… "If they've been tracking me for some time, I wonder how they missed the fact that I'm an Apple girl? Oh well. Maybe Mister Sinofsky can get me in touch with Tim Cook? Or Scott Forstall or Craig Federighi? Heh. Wish I brought my iPad to school. Would be fun to be poking away on that when he gets here…"
The door opened as the white-jacketed waiter returned and Willow sniffed deeply, wondering what they'd found to tempt her with. Was that… steak tartare? Okay, maybe the whole Microsoft thing wasn't so bad. At least worth humoring, at any rate…
November 22, 2011
Sunnydale High School - The Crypt
How did one go about hitting on a girl? And was it any different when the girl was actually a boy on the inside?
Sighing, Gwen kicked her legs slowly as she stared at the closed door of the Crypt, mind racing a mile a minute. While she knew that Michelle was into girls, she'd never really thought past that point. If she wanted to attract the redhead's attention, what should she emphasize about herself? Should she wear more skirts to show off her legs? Michelle seemed to enjoy playing with her hair when the opportunity arose; maybe she should leave it down for the time being? When she wasn't in gym or at practice, that was. Or, well… Gwen peered down at her chest. Betsy had certainly been a fan of her 'bloody luscious tits', and the blonde regularly caught Michelle eyeballing other girls' assets. Just because it was obvious, though, didn't mean she should overlook its potential usefulness.
Should she even be doing this? On one hand, Gwen was bound and determined to keep her mistake with Betsy from negatively impacting her love life. On the other hand, jumping straight on to another girl to show how unaffected she was? Pretty much the definition of a rebound relationship, and nothing good ever came of those. And considering how much she stood to lose if a romance with Michelle went south…
The doorknob rattled and Gwen reached up, hooking a finger in the neckline of her tank top and tugging it down to show off a bit more skin. Her hair was already down because she'd been feeling lazy that morning and if Michelle was a leg girl… well, it'd just suck to be her until tomorrow. Then the door opened and Gwen's face fell as not one, but three people entered. "Oh. Hi, Britt. Santana. I didn't know-"
"They're part of my news and so I brought them along for moral support. And protection, in case you snap and try to kill me." Michelle shot Gwen a nervous smile as she made her way over to the desk across from the blonde's, sitting down before sorting out her overcrowded lunch tray. "Got you a vitaminwater to go with your salad. The açai one you love, but regular instead of zero cal since today's evidently a 'yay real food' day for you."
Gwen blew a raspberry as she accepted her lunch from the redhead. Inwardly, though, she was flattered that Michelle paid enough attention to her to know things like what she tended to drink at lunch. To her, it just reinforced that Michelle was the right person to pursue, even if she wasn't sure now was the right time to pursue her. "More like you're trying to score as many points with me as you can before you lay… whatever news you have on me."
Chuckling, Michelle looked over at where Brittany and Santana were settling in at a pair of nearby desks with their own lunches. "Guilty. All right. So, um, do you remember on Sunday when Brittany was joking about wanting to be a Chellette?" Gwen nodded slowly. Oh please God no. "Well, one of the things you missed yesterday is… err…"
"We're both mutants, we're a couple, and we're not really sluts. The reason guys think we're competing for the title of school bicycle is because I have the ability to project illusions. I've been using it on them to create the ultimate beard for me and Britt." Santana didn't even look up from her lunch as she rattled that series of mind-blowing revelations off, before gesturing to Michelle with the chicken sandwich in her hand. "I'm tired of being in the dark but don't want to be a Cordette. So since Michelle here is already a happy little minion of Cordelia's, we're going to follow her while she follows Cordelia. I think that makes you Michelle's Harmony, or maybe Michelle's Michelle. I notice Harmony kinda got dethroned when Michelle showed up…"
Mind whirling, Gwen verbalized the first thing that came to her. "…what? I mean… what?"
November 22, 2011
Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters - Bruce Banner's Lab
Westchester, New York
Deeply involved with his research, Bruce Banner missed the first time his named was called. The second and third repetitions also went unheeded. It wasn't until arms wrapped around his shoulders from behind, breasts pressing against his back as a warm body snuggled up against his, that he realized there was someone else in the lab with him. He sniffed. Jasmine. Betty? A quick glance to his right confirmed as much, long brown hair dangling in the corner of his eye. Then reality hit him. Betty was far, far away from Westchester at the moment. That could only mean… "I don't think you get how disconcerting those of us without psionic powers find having our senses altered to be, Emma."
The hair in the corner of his eye turned blond and jasmine bled away in favor of vanilla, and then Emma pulled away from him. "To be fair, I tried getting your attention the polite way. If you were more aware of your surroundings, I wouldn't have to resort to antics like that." Bruce just sighed, turning to face Emma and then raising an eyebrow at the rack of test tubes in her hands. "I need you to run X-gene analyses on the hair samples. There's one blood sample in there that I need a full genetic mapping of as well."
"No, I wasn't doing anything. I'd be happy to help you." Emma held out the test tubes and Bruce sighed, knowing she was quite aware that he was being sarcastic but ignoring it anyway. Charles had told him there would be a price to pay for the protection and research space the mansion would provide him. Originally, he'd assumed the worst of it would be teaching biology and chemistry to a bunch of kids who were only interested in each other's bodies and hormones. Then he'd met Emma. "Can I at least ask who the owners are?"
When Emma remained silent for a few seconds, Bruce took the test tubes from her before rolling over to his trash can, stomping on the pedal to raise the lid. Holding the samples over the open container, he met her blue eyes before nodding toward the glass vials in a silent dare. Thankfully - or perhaps not, given his existing workload - she cracked first. "When we were in Sunnydale, I had my daughter and one of the locals collect hair samples from a number of the students. Friends of Cordelia Chase, Erik Lehnsherr's granddaughter. Her circle is already home to five girls who are X-positive, and I thought they might want to know if anyone else has the potential to develop powers so they can be prepared. There's also one vial of blood in there, drawn from James's daughter. I thought he might want confirmation on paternity, while I'd be curious to see how father and daughter are different at a genetic level. Compare those results to the tests you did on Jean and Rachel, and the quintuplets and me."
Bruce nodded and set the rack of glass tubes down on his desk. The latter did sound rather interesting, he had to admit, while the former was a kindness that he didn't doubt Emma had an ulterior motive for. "I'll try and have answers for you at dinner." Emma continued to hover and he sat there staring at her placidly, waiting. While she'd developed and honed her public ice queen persona over a number of years, his mastery of the Other Guy left him even more capable of suppressing emotion. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred she came out the loser in these little confrontations, but for some reason that didn't seem to stop her from coming back for more. "Is there anything else I can do for you at the moment, Emma? Or might I be allowed to return to what I was working on?"
"Actually, there is one more thing. If you have a chance, Jean needs to hear your speech about what proper eating habits are when you're a member of Homo sapiens superior
." Shaking her head mournfully, Emma glanced back over her shoulder as the redhead in question passed by the door of Bruce's lab. "I've been nagging her about it, but reinforcement from a medical professional would probably help. She's too bony to make a good pillow at the moment, which means I keep ending up on the bottom. Not that I mind, but it'd be nice to have the choice to switch things up once in a while, you know?"
While the specifics of the request surprised Bruce, the circumstances behind it didn't. Not really. After all, he'd been the first to know the truth about Rachel's parentage. If one was to take her existence as a sign of predestination, then Emma and Jean growing closer was entirely inevitable. While he didn't particularly want to be caught up in what was shaping up to be some spectacular drama - he'd seen Jean leaving Emma's room this morning, only to kiss Scott hello at breakfast - he'd quickly learned that dealing with Emma was like tearing off a Band-Aid. Just rip it off and get it over with.
And so instead of getting into a lengthy argument that would likely still end with him needing to go talk to Jean, Bruce simply nodded. "I'll try to catch her tonight at dinner, or maybe tomorrow at breakfast. It'll be less awkward that way." With that, he returned his attention to his computer, transferring some of the projects he had running to autopilot for the next few hours so he could start working on the samples Emma had given him. As the faint clicking of Emma's heels marked her retreat from his lab, he called out to her. "Oh, and Emma?" The clicks stopped. "This is your last warning. Don't try the Betty thing again. It makes me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
November 22, 2011
Sunnydale High School - Library
"Willow. Thank you for coming. I've been trying to handle everything myself, but it's gotten to the point that-"
Willow waved off Giles's explanation as Michelle followed her into the library, looking around at the almost chaotic mess of books covering every flat surface. "I don't mind helping out with research, Giles. It's actually kinda fun; I've picked up some fascinating tidbits of trivia from the old Watcher's diaries. I only stopped coming around because I got tired of Buffy treating me like a human computer instead of her friend. Where is she, by the way? Because I can't help but notice that you have a big important research project on your hands, and the one non-you pair of eyes that should be here… isn't."
Shaking his head, Giles held up an ornate ring. "That's part of our current problem, actually. She and Angel recently had an encounter with an assassin from the Order of Taraka, and she's gone to ground somewhere… without thinking to leave me with a method of contacting her in case of emergency. A complication that's most ill-timed given our current difficulties with the du Lac Cross and the missing manuscript. Even her impatient and wandering mind is better than nothing at all when it comes to help with research."
"I'd say I'm surprised that Buffy pissed someone off enough to get assassins sent after her but… yeah." Michelle wandered between two of the tables, fingers trailing over the books almost nostalgically as she remembered the nights spent bent over this book or that, trying to find a proverbial needle in a haystack to help Buffy save the world. "Fine. We're in. But it's not going to be just the three of us sitting here all damn night staring at books older than America. We're going to need some more eyes here."
Giles grimaced and leaned back in his seat, pulling off his glasses. "I was worried you'd say something like that. I assume this is where you'll be contacting Miss Frost as per the terms of our… agreement?"
"Second or third, yeah." Reaching into the purse she'd reluctantly begun carrying as of late as her assorted girly odds and ends stacked up, Michelle pulled out her trusty iPhone. Opening up Messages, she began firing off a series of identical texts to Gwen, Janet, Harmony, Santana, and Brittany. "Let's start by looking for help a bit closer to home, huh?" Switching to the Phone app, she dialed one of the few non-pizza joint numbers she knew by heart and then lifted the phone to her ear. "Hey, Cordy! I need you to call the squad and have them meet us at the library. Well, most of the squad; I already got Gwen, Janet, Harm, Britt, and Tana. Yes, I know what time it is. Yes, it's a 'Buffy thing'. Why do I want the others? It's their world too. I figure they might have an interest in making sure it doesn't literally go to hell or something. Besides, more eyes equals less work for you. Uh huh. See you soon. Bye." Hitting the 'End' button, she moved on to Mail and began writing up an email to send to Emma. "Well, that's one problem solved…"
"Wha… what have you done?" Staring at Michelle in disbelief, Giles began to rub furiously at the lenses of his glasses. "I agreed to work with mutants because… well, apart from not really having a choice, I thought you and your kind might be useful. But you can't possibly tell me that those vapid little cheerleaders you and Willow insist on hanging out with are capable of keeping a secret as important as the existence of-"
"They already do." Willow's quiet words made Giles whip his head around so fast, Michelle was surprised he didn't break something. "Cordelia got tired of having to replace girls because they kept getting eaten. All three cheerleading squads have known about the supernatural since Halloween, and the knowledge is slowly spreading through the rest of the school. Personally, I think it's a great idea. Maybe if someone was more honest with the students about what was out there, our yearbooks wouldn't have multiple memorial pages each year."
Before Giles could regroup and come up with a counterargument, Michelle pushed onward. "And can beggars really be choosers, Giles? You called us because you thought the three of us would find answers faster than the one of you. Well, what's faster: three people or twenty-four of us?"
Giles blinked at the redhead owlishly. "I'm sorry, I could have sworn you just said-"
"Assuming Cordelia can talk everyone into it? Twenty-four. You, me, Willow, Harmony, and the entire varsity cheerleading squad."
"Oh dear Lord…"