Origin Story

That Was the Week That Was

That Was the Week That Was

XxxxxxX

"Time does not pass. It continues." – Marty Rubin

XxxxxxX

Tuesday, Xander's first night in the Convent, turned out better than he expected. Not that he was really expecting anything. The Catholic service was strange, but Tiffany helped him out with it. Mostly it was knowing when to sit, when to stand, and when to kneel, and to at least fake it when it was time to sing.

Dinner afterward was chili, with a roll and what tasted like orange Kool-Aid. It was pretty good chili. But it turned out to be the conversation that was the real treat that night. Afterward, when he was lying in a bunk bed in a darkened room, wearing a borrowed nightgown, all he could think about before he fell asleep was conversation he had with Tiffany, and how surreal the situation he'd found himself in felt.

"The way I figure it is this," the girl had said. "You're obviously new in town, and you're down on your luck, so you need a friend to watch your back. Everybody does, right? I mean, I still need one, every once in a while, and I've been out here a couple of years. And you're really pretty, and sexy, and I dunno. You just seem trustworthy and you were so helpless and confused the other night. So I figured maybe you and I could try and be friends. You know, talk occasionally. Hang out when I'm not working, or when you're not stuck here sweeping or doing dishes or whatever."

At the mention of her 'job', Xander's eyes had widened, and Tiffany had apparently noticed. "Yeah, I know, but I don't do drugs or drink and I don't do rough stuff or weird shit with the johns and I always make them wear condoms. I try and stay out of Marvin's way so he don't get mad at me, and I try and save some of the money I get to keep because I don't want to be doing this forever. I go to church here at the Convent two times a week plus Sunday. I smoke, but only half a pack a day.

Tiffany took a deep breath, in preparation of continuing, but she'd caught Xander sideways. "Wait –"

Tiffany stopped talking and just looked back at Xander with an expectant look on her face. Xander reviewed everything Tiffany had just said, playing it back at one-quarter speed. When he reached the end of the mental playback, he shrugged. He didn't trust her as – and suddenly he chuckled. Tiffany's eyes widened, and her lips mewed for a moment, then relaxed. Xander almost said to himself that he didn't trust her as far as he could throw her, but these days he could throw her into lunar orbit if he wanted to. And that was the point. This girl seemed nice, and she was trying to be friendly, and she couldn't really hurt Xander if she tried. And since Xander had no intention of hurting the girl, why not?

Besides, Tiffany was easy on the eyes and it would give him someone to talk to. He figured his unease about the fact that she was a prostitute would die down; he wasn't exactly in a good position to judge other people's lives just now. So he smiled at the girl, and nodded. "Sure. Yeah." She began to smile back. "Sounds like a total plan. I'd love to hang out with you sometime."

After dinner, Tiffany, all the men, and about seventy percent of the women left. The rest of the crowd shuffled upstairs, where Xander waited in line to be issued a small hotel-sized bar of soap, a small towel, and a clean nightgown. Waiting for a turn in the shower was a bit nerve-wracking, as he found himself surrounded by naked women of various ages and sizes. It got worse when he realized that they expected him to undress also. He should have seen it coming, of course. Required bathing requires nudity. He just hadn't expected a communal shower room, like the one back at Sunnydale High.

The towel he'd received was way too small to be effective as a cover. Well, he thought to himself, it depended on what you wanted to cover. He could cover his boobs with it, but his behind and his crotch would be exposed. He could cover his crotch, but that left his tits hanging in the wind. He could cover his ass, but that meant his front was visible. In the end he just didn't bother. If the other women could get used to it, so could he.

He couldn't help but notice the stares he got once he was naked. Maybe it was the fact that he towered over the other women. Maybe it was the fact that he was muscled like an Olympic athlete. Or maybe it was everything. But many of the women gave him the once over then turned to other things. It bothered him more than he thought it would, but he put up with it.

When he finished bathing, he climbed back into his underwear, put the nightgown on, and then turned in his towel and his clothing. He was given a number, the cubby in which his clothes and shoes would be stored, and told not to forget it. Then he followed the crowd into the communal bedroom. It used bunk beds, like at summer camp. There was a general shuffling as the women moved about, most trying to claim a bottom bunk. Xander didn't even bother. He climbed onto the top bunk of the first unclaimed bed he could reach, shimmied under the covers, and closed his eyes. It took a while, but eventually the need for sleep caught up with him.

Right before he went to sleep, he realized he'd forgotten his cubby number.

XxxxxxX

On Wednesday, Xander experienced something that, to him, was extremely surreal and disturbing.

Wednesday began with one of the sisters turning on the lights and calling out "Up and at 'em, ladies!" The nun then went bed to bed to make sure everyone was either awake or getting there. This was followed by a mass shuffle to collect day-clothes (Xander remembered his cubby number after being prompted by a nun who was not only taller than he was but was seemingly built like a linebacker but had a kind face. Xander even remembered her name after a moment: Sister Mary Augustin.

He changed into his street clothes, turned in his nightgown, and then went downstairs to start the day. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and really overcooked bacon and coffee. Afterward, Xander paid for his bed that night teaming with three other women to clean the five bathrooms in the convent until the floors were sterile enough to perform surgery on.

He was released around 10:30, and when he stepped outside the convent, there she was.

"Alex! How are you this morning?"

Xander smiled. Tiffany's own smile was infectious, and she seemed to put so much good cheer into it that he found himself happier in reaction. The girl was dressed casually: jeans, a t-shirt, and a zip up hoody. Not hooker-wear, thank the gods. It was an unkind thought, he knew, and he knew that he was still reacting to the fact that he'd agreed to befriend a prostitute. He stared at her without knowing why, and only after several minutes realized it was that he remembered her hair being a shade lighter last night. Weird.

"So I thought we might take a bus over to Echo Park maybe, check out some stores, and maybe grab some hot dogs for lunch. Whattaya think?" Again, Tiffany's expression was contagious.

"Sure, sounds great. You're the tour guide, so I follow where you lead!" Xander shook his head. "That didn't sound as hokey in my head." That got a chuckle from Tiffany.

"No, it was perfectly okay. I need to hit a store for some change for the bus." Xander realized that he was going to have to get used to this girl suddenly swerving into a new topic when they talked. "Do you need me to spring for your bus fare?" she asked. The question was genuine, Xander realized, and not made out of worry that Xander would be a mooch.

"No, I can do bus fare. I need to get change too, though."

"Cool. Anderson's Market is right near the bus stop. C'mon, I'll show you." He allowed himself to be led, and in seeming no time, the pair was on a bus, headed for Echo Park, wherever Echo Park was. He'd have to learn the city sometime. Might as well start now.

Xander and his new friend had been riding for a few minutes, and had done so in silence. He'd caught Tiffany glancing at him off and on, but hadn't said anything because he wasn't sure how to start a conversation with her. But then it occurred to him.

"So. Um. Tiffany."

She smiled at him. "Actually my name's Louise," she said quietly, as if revealing a secret. "Louise Fulford. Couldn't you just die? But, you know, when you – well, when you – when you do what I do for a living." She sighed. "The guys expect you to be named something exotic. There's nothing exotic about the name Louise."

"Oh. Right." Xander nodded silently. "Well, Louise is a nice name. I like the name Louise. If nothing else, it has the benefit of not being a set of plates."

That caused Tiff – no, Louise. Not Tiffany, Louise. That caused Louise to giggle. She reached out and put her hand over Xander's and held it there. Her thumb started doing a back and forth dance on the back of Xander's hand. "That's a very nice way of putting it. Thank you." Xander just nodded again and smiled. "So?"

"Hmm?"

"You said, 'So, Tiffany' but never got around to finishing the thought.

Xander frowned for a moment, confused. Then his face brightened. "Oh, yeah. You're right, I guess I did, didn't I? Or I didn't, rather. I was asking you a question."

Louise nodded. "Go on," she prompted.

"Right. So, um, are you from LA originally?"

"I wish. No, I'm actually from a small town called Junction City, in Kansas. Junction City is an army town, just outside of Fort Riley. It's named that because just about every railroad line that moves through Kansas meets in town." Louise shrugged. "I graduated high school and couldn't afford to get into Kansas State, and I wasn't really into the entire 'snag a soldier and be a military wife' thing, and the town just got claustrophobic for me. My folks, they threw me out a little bit after I turned 18, and my friends were getting tired of me always crashing on their couches. So I grabbed my saving account money and ran away to Hollywood intent on becoming a movie star." Louise stopped for a breath and laughed at herself. "Obviously, that might not have been the smartest idea, all things considered." She rolled her eyes just to emphasize her point.

"So how did you end up…?" He wasn't sure how to continue. It seemed rude to dwell on her profession.

"Its okay, Alex, you can say it. I'm not proud of it, but its okay. What can I do, right?" Louise looked sad nonetheless. "I ran out of money pretty quickly. I started hooking just to keep myself in groceries. I lost the shitty one-room apartment I was renting, and was homeless for a while. Marvin spotted me doing tricks in his neighborhood and decided I would work for him." She smiled at him, weakly. "So here I am."

"And you can't go home?" Xander asked.

Louise shook her head. "Not really an option anymore. I mean, first, if Marvin thought I was planning on running away from him, it would be bad. He assumes that if one of his girls is running, she's running to the cops, you know? I wasn't here at the time, but Marvin's other girls talk about this one, her name was Cookie. She'd decided she had enough and was planning to go back home to Cleveland, or Cincinnati or Chicago or someplace like that. From what I heard, one of Marvin's boys caught her at the Greyhound station, pulled her into an alley, and cut her face up real bad." Louise's smile was gone. "Raped her and cut her tongue out. Or so Panda told me."

Xander stared at Louise. The girl looked uncomfortable at the attention, not realizing that Xander wasn't really seeing her. What he was seeing was a knife-wielding street thug having an unexpected encounter with a Kryptonian. Xander finally blinked, much to Louise's relief. "Sounds like a nice guy," he mumbled finally.

"Not really, no."

Xander nodded, and silence descended again. Xander just stared out the window, not really paying attention to where they were going or the landmarks they were passing.

"Alex?"

He turned to Louise. "Yeah?"

"So do you have a boyfriend back home?"

The question came out of nowhere, and Xander almost asked Louise why the girl thought that he was into guys. Then the reality of the situation hit him, and he realized that Louise hadn't assumed he was gay. She had assumed, what with the female exterior, Xander was into guys. Going solely by external appearances, a boyfriend was a natural thought.

"Nope. No boyfriend back home. Had a best friend who would have made a good one, I think, all things considered, but he died." As always, thinking of Jesse McNally brought a frown to his face. It also made him realize that he hadn't really thought about this aspect of suddenly being female. He didn't feel any different on the inside. Well, except when he did, of course. He still identified himself as male, and still found girls attractive. He experimentally ran a few male celebrities that he knew were widely considered handsome through his mind. Harrison Ford. Rugged. Handsome. No attraction. Brad Pitt. Handsome. Athletic. No reaction. Jared Leto. Pretty. Very pretty. No – well, yeah, okay there was a reaction. But it was Jared Leto for crying out loud. Like Rob Lowe and David Bowie, Jared Leto was so God damned pretty that even other guys thought they were hot.

When he tried the same thought experiment about beautiful women, the reaction was very different. Elizabeth Hurley, for example. The thought of Elizabeth Hurley led to thoughts of a picture in People magazine he'd seen of Elizabeth Hurley in a black dress with an extremely plunging neckline; a dress whose lines made it clear that she wasn't wearing anything under it. That led to thoughts of Elizabeth Hurley out of the black dress with the extremely plunging neckline.

Xander's eyes widened as he realized that, being in a woman's body and all, his natural heterosexual tendencies means that he was effectively a lesbian.

A lesbian! Yowzers!

"What was that?" Louise was looking at him oddly.

"Huh?" Oh yeah, Xander. Brilliant comeback.

"I asked you if you had a boyfriend back home and you said no. Then you went quiet for a bit before saying 'Elizabeth Hurley'. Then you were quiet some more before saying something that sounded like 'yowzers'. Then you went quiet again." Xander grinned at the fact that she said it all in one breath. It was so much like Willow, and he missed Willow a lot.

"Sorry, I didn't realize I'd said that out loud." Xander hesitated. "I don't want to freak you out or bother you."

Louise laughed. "Alex, I'm a twenty year old prostitute who invited a girl she just met out for the day because she seems cool and might need a friend. If I haven't freaked out yet, why would I freak out now?"

Xander couldn't argue with that, but at the same time, he couldn't outright say it. "I, um, the reason I don't have a boyfriend is that I'm, um, you know. Not all that into guys. I mean, not that there's anything wrong with guys, it's just that they aren't what does it for me." He wasn't homosexual, so he wasn't really cool with the idea of identifying as one, despite the reality of his situation.

"So you're telling me you're into girls?" Louise's eyes crinkled at the edges. Xander just nodded. "Whoo. That's a relief." Louise pantomimed wiping sweat from her forehead. "So am I."

"Whahuh?" It was all Xander could respond with.

Louise's smile widened. "I'm a lesbian too, Alex."

"Tiff – Louise." Xander stopped, then restarted. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but you're a hooker." He whispered that last word. "You sleep with men for money."

Louise nodded. She had an expression on her face that clearly said, "So what? What the hell is your point?"

"Well, you sleep with men, but you're a lesbian? Isn't that a little, I dunno, weird or something?"

That caused Louise to laugh out loud. "I only sleep with men for money, Alex", she said softly. "It's… it's… it's a job. They go to town and I make the necessary noises and they finish and I'm out the door with their money. I don't get any special connection with them and I don't really enjoy it that much, but it keeps me fed, and clothes, and I can buy Tylenol when I'm sick. For money, I have sex with men. For that special connected feeling, I have sex with women. See how that works?"

Xander blushed, but nodded. "Yeah, I get it." This conversation had led him to a very strange and bothersome place in his head. But it wasn't the surreal and disturbing thing. It was nearly half an hour later when Louise hit the stop bell and they climbed down off the bus. Taking a look around, Xander was certain he'd seen this part of Los Angeles on TV before. It was all clean lines and bright colors and happy shiny people. Very different from the slums around the convent.

The park itself was very pretty. Lots of green, a lake, and a bridge that looked like an artist built it. He wasn't really sure why, but the workmanship of the bridge itself called to him. He gawked like a tourist.

"You're cute." Louise said, after watching him for a while.

"Cute? Cute how?"

"The entire tourist thing you're doing now."

Xander stared at Louise, open-mouthed. "Louise, is this a date? Are we on a date? Because you're giving off 'date' vibes right now."

Louise shrugged. "I don't know. I wanted to get to know you better and asked you out, so yeah, I guess it's a date."

He thought about it as she guided him down the street. Was he okay with it being a date? He gave Louise a quick smile. Stumbling backwards into a date wouldn't be the strangest way he'd ever been asked out before. That would be that time in the 9th grade when Theresa Montavesco had knocked him down, stood over him like the mountain she resembled, and told him he would be escorting her to the Wilkins Junior High Sadie Hawkins Dance. Theresa had dragged him around the dance floor all night, practically carrying him while they "danced". At the end of the night, Theresa's mother had dropped him back at Casa Harris, and his "date" had announced that the entire evening had been a mad success. She even called Xander her "boyfriend" afterward. They'd disappeared on the way home. No one even saw their car again. Xander still wasn't sure, years later, if he felt relief or sadness over that.

So he wasn't really opposed to the idea of dating Louise. She was friendly, and open. And she was sort of pretty. The only thing that worried him was what she did for a living.

Louise was still looking at him. "Alex, are you really okay with this being a date?"

"Sure." He nodded, trying to be convincing. "Though next time we have to remember to ask about going out before we start the date."

"Oh, I didn't – I didn't mean to just spring it on you. I mean, we had that talk last night and I thought we were getting along well and I just sort of assumed that maybe we could spend some time and get to know each other and have a good time." Louise's face fell.

"No, no, I said was okay and it's okay and I meant it. Just a surprise is all." He followed her across the street and into a store called "Mono Records." Xander paused just inside the door and looked around. It was a serious old school record store. New releases on one side, and boxes and boxes of old stuff on the other. Without thinking about it, he drifted toward the used vinyl with Louise tagging behind.

"I love old albums. Not that I have a way to play them anymore, but I love them. They just sound more real than CDs or mp3s, you know? You don't get the same feel from an iPod." She began flipping through a box marked 'A to B', shooting the occasional glance at Xander from under her bangs. Xander couldn't help but notice, and enjoyed it. He had no idea what an iPod was, but he nodded anyway. "I agree, totally. I had this, um, mentor I guess. He was my high school librarian. Tried to keep us out of trouble and all. He had a record player in his office and a whole stack of old albums. He hated CDs and pretty much all other kids of electronics."

"My grandfather was like that," she laughed. She'd shifted her attention to the next box, the C to D albums. "He even complained about cell phones."

Xander nodded again, pausing as he found a copy of the Butthole Surfers' Rembrant Pussyhorse album. He'd heard about cell phones before being thrown into this world, but they weren't commonly available. And they were supposedly expensive. "I read about those in an issue of Newsweek. Thought they were great and wanted one, but never got one."

"What, a cell phone?" Louise looked at him with a really strange look on her face. "What do you mean, you read about them? Where were you that you'd never heard of cell phones?"

But Xander was no longer listening. He was staring past Louise at a pair of men who had just entered the shop. They were twins. Tall, broad-shouldered, with a rugged handsomeness. Xander heard Louise taper off as she keyed to the fact that Xander wasn't paying attention anymore, and glanced over her shoulder at the people Xander was staring.

"Alex? What's the matter? Do you know those guys?"

He glanced back at her, then back to the men. "Sort of. I've seen them somewhere." Yeah, that was the fucking understatement of the year. Without thinking about it, Xander turned and stepped toward them. Halfway there, one of them spotted her coming and nudged the other. The pair of them turned to watch as Xander approached. He stopped a polite distance away and just stared at their faces. Xander looked back and forth, instantly classifying the two twins. One of them was wearing his own face; the face that he'd been born with. The other wore the face of his long-dead twin. When he first saw them, he couldn't believe it, and now that he was within arm's length of them, he still couldn't. The sight of them caused his heart to drop into his feet.

They were both older than he was. Maybe in their late 30s or early 40s. The ten year gap in the timelines between this world and his own came back to him. Right. If this is me in this world, he'd be ten years older. But he still hadn't actually said anything to them.

"Hi there." The one of the left, the one wearing his face, said. "Can we, uh, help you with something?"

Xander gaped for a moment, not managing to get more than just a vague, "Help? With something?" out before Louise stepped forward.

"Hi, I'm Tiffany, and this is Alex. We were just hanging out, and, um, my friend thought you looked familiar. Right Alex?" Louise nudged Xander, who nodded.

Xander swallowed heavily. "I'm, uh, sorry to stare. You guys look very familiar. Like people I used to know in High School."

The two men exchanged a look. The one who wore his face smiled and said, "You know, I've had that happen myself. Of course, the age difference is probably obvious." He stepped forward and extended a hand. "I'm Nick Brendon, and this is my brother Kelly. Your name is Alex?"

"Yeah. Alex. Alex Harris. Sorry, you just looked really familiar." Xander took his counterpart's hand and shook it, gently.

The two brothers exchanged another look and chuckled. "I get that a lot. I'm an actor. You might be recognizing me from a TV series. Ever seen Kitchen Confidential? We just started our second season."

"Oh, uh, no, actually I don't own a TV. But, um – " Xander thought fast. "Maybe I saw you in something else." He shrugged. "Anyway, I think me and my friend are going to go get something to eat." He took Louise's hand and began to drag her away. "You guys have a good time!"

Once out of the store, Xander took several deep breaths, then took off down the street. Only the fact that he was still holding Louise's hand kept him from rushing away at top speed. He somehow realized that this was a bad thing.

"Alex, stop. What's going on? You're scaring me!" Louise tugged uselessly against his grip. "Alex! Alex, you're hurting me! Stop! You're…" she tugged again, trying uselessly to slow him down. "You're! You're, like, pulling my wrist off! God damn it, Alex! STOP!"

That penetrated. Xander stopped abruptly and let Louise go. He leaned back onto the wall of whatever building they were next to, slid down until he was on the ground, and cried. Uncontrollably. Deep long sobs.

He felt Louise sit next to him and throw an arm around his shoulder. "Alex, what's going on? What's the matter?"

Xander wiped at his eyes. "I'm sorry, Louise." He took a long shuddering breath. "I didn't mean to scare you. I just had to get away. That, um, Nick guy. He looked like someone I used to know. Someone who's, you know, gone. It just got to me. I mean, identical almost to someone I used to know."

Louise just nodded. She leaned in and started stroking Xander's hair. For some reason, it began to calm him down. He took a long series of breaths and tried to calm himself. Meeting his counterpart had been infinitely more surreal than falling ass-backward into a date.

XxxxxxX

On Thursday night, Xander didn't sleep in the convent. Louise decided that, with the events of the previous day, Xander needed cheering up. She decided that their second date, as Xander called it, would be a movie called Cars by the same people who made Toy Story. It wasn't as good as Toy Story, in Xander's opinion, but it had its moments.

They ended up staying up, drinking coffee at an all-night diner, just talking about things. The movie, past girlfriends, past friends, their home lives. A little bit of everything. A little bit of nothing. No world-shaking secrets were revealed, and nothing was really explained, either.

XxxxxxX

On Friday morning, Xander got to meet Marvin, Louise's pimp.

Louise had told Xander that she was staying with her friend Panda for a while, and Xander had offered to walk the girl back, just to keep her company. They continued their talk, this time about movies they wanted to see, and what they'd be doing if they weren't living on the streets of LA. Neither was paying attention, so when the large black car cut them off, both were surprised.

"Shit!" Louise turned to Xander. "Um, Marvin's here, and he's going to be mad at me. I was supposed to work last night. You need to take off! Go on!"

Xander looked at the large, scary men climbing out of the car, then back to Louise. She was clearly terrified. He shook his head. "Nope. A friend wouldn't run."

Louise's eyes grew wider. "A friend wouldn't let her pimp beat on her girlfriend, either!"

That surprised him. Girlfriend? Were they at girlfriend stage yet?

Louise had turned to Marvin and smiled. "Marvin. Hi. I was coming to see you. You okay?"

"Uh-huh. That so, Tiffany?" One of the men, obviously Marvin, looked Xander up and down with a bloodshot eye. His gaze concentrated on Xander's chest. "You bringing in some new talent for me to take a look at it? Maybe that why you weren't out working like you 'sposed to last night?"

"What? No, she's just – just a friend – a friend of mine. That's all. M-met her at Church, you know." Louise was clearly terrified. "I just forgot, you know? I'll make it all up tonight. I promise."

Xander was considering whether stepping in between the big man and Louise was a good idea when the big man took the choice away. Marvin grabbed Louise around the throat with one hand and shoved her against his car until she was bent backward across its trunk. He loomed over the girl and growled at her.

"Oh yeah, you gonna do that, but first, you gotta learn yo lesson about not doin' what I say. The boys gonna teach you." He continued to choke her for a second, before letting go and stepping back."

This was much more than enough for Xander.

"Leave her alone." His voice was much calmer than he felt. He wasn't scared of being hurt, but to do this, he'd have to reveal his abilities to Louise, and he hadn't quite decided to do that yet. And now the choice had been taken away from him.

Marvin turned at the sound of Xander's voice. "The fuck did you just say to me, bitch?"

"I told you to leave her alone." Xander took a deep breath and stood up straight from his usual slouch. When he stood up straight, he was as tall as Marvin and almost as tall as Marvin's two guys. "I want you to get back in your car, drive away, and leave her alone."

Marvin chuckled. It wasn't a pleasant sound. "Listen to this bitch. 'Leave her alone.' Like she tough or something." The man poked Xander in the chest, once. "You just earned what she gonna get. Grab her, Jamal." One of the guys, Jamal, grabbed Xander by the arm and squeezed, not that Xander could really feel it.

"Okay, Marvin. I tried to warn you." With an almost casual shrug, Xander tossed Jamal over the car and into the side of the building across the street. The other guy just stood there, allowing Xander to step in close and thump him on the forehead. The man's skull didn't quite shatter under the pressure, but it was a near thing.

Marvin growled at Xander and slashed with a knife. Xander caught Marvin's wrist and squeezed it just hard enough for him to feel the man's bones give way and cause him to drop the knife. Xander let go of Marvin's wrist and grabbed the man around the neck, just as he had grabbed Louise. He pushed Marvin back and onto the trunk of the car.

"Louise, hand me the knife please." Xander held a hand out, not looking to see if she complied. He was too busy looming over Marvin and squeezing the man's neck just hard enough for him to feel it. "The knife, Louise. Please hand it to me." A couple of seconds passed before Xander felt the knife slap into his hand. He brought it into Marvin's field of view and let up on the pressure. He wanted Marvin's attention for this.

"Marvin, I want you to listen to me." Xander held the knife close to the pimp's eye. "Watch this, Marvin." With casual ease, Xander closed his hand around the knife and squeezed hard enough for the steel to liquefy between his fingers. Marvin's eyes were as large as dinner plates. "If I see you talk to Louise… Tiffany. If you talk to Tiffany again, I'll find you and I will squeeze your skull together so hard your eyes will pop out like toothpaste out of a tube. I'll break your legs so bad they'll need tweezers to put the bones back together. Do not for one moment think I can't do this, Marvin. I can. And if you come looking to get back and me for scaring you like this, I might just have to kill you. You got it, big man?"

His eyes still wide, Marvin could only nod.

"Good. Good. Now get out of here. Pick up your boys and get out of here."

Xander let Marvin go, and turned to Louise. The girl's eyes were almost as huge as Marvin's were, and displayed just about the same amount of fear. Xander carefully took her by the hand and led Louise away. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

They'd walked four of five blocks before Louise said anything. "You threw that one guy. Like, across the street, threw him."

Xander sighed. "Yeah."

"And Marvin… that thing you did with the knife. You did that too."

"Yeah. I'm sorry if I scared you or if you're too weirded out to –"

"No. I mean, I'm a little scared, yeah, and a little weirded out, but I think I'm okay. I mean, more than you think I am. I mean, I'm terrified. Marvin's gonna be pissed off. Serious pissed off. And I guess I don't have a job no more. I can't hook in Marvin's neighborhood, not without him getting pissed off. I gotta try something else. But that's not it either." She stopped walking, looked around, and when she saw (or didn't see) what she was looking for, gently pulled Xander into an alleyway.

"What's going on?" Xander was still waiting for her to freak out.

Louise took one last look around, then leaned in to whisper. "You're a mutant, aren't you? Super strong. Tough. You're a mutant, right?

Xander hadn't seen that question coming. "A mutant?"

"Alex, trust me. You don't have to hide it from me." Louise smiled. Xander still wasn't sure there was anything to smile about. "My Mom and Dad didn't throw me out because I was gay. They didn't like it, but they didn't throw me out for it. They threw me out because I could do this."

Xander was about to ask, "Do what" when suddenly Louise's hair changed, going from the honey blonde color Xander had assumed was her normal color, to a deep, deep almost coal-like black. Then white. Then green. Then a mix of black and white. Xander just stared. The color change crept across Louise's head like a wave, and he even noticed that her eyebrows changed to match.

It took Xander a moment. "Are you telling me you're a mutant?" She nodded. "And you have the power to change your hair color?" She nodded again. He turned to lean on a nearby dumpster. "This is nuts!"

"Nah, not nuts. Just… this. It is what it is, right? I can change my hair color, you're strong enough to crush a knife and tough enough not to be cut by it. No worries, right?"

Super strong and tough. Louise, you have no idea.

"Any way, I think I need to take you to meet Aaron. He can help you find a place to stay after you're done at the Convent." Louise held up one of her hands, back facing Xander. He could see that her fingernails matched the color of hair on her head. As he watched, it went back to honey blonde. He'd assumed the gold of her nails was polish. Now though…

"Wait, Aaron? Who's Aaron?"

Louise shrugged. "He's sort of." She was quiet for a bit. "There's this group of street kids, camps out beneath the 215 overpass. All of them are mutants. They… we… stick together and Aaron sort of runs the show. He's real smart." She smiled at Xander again. "You thought I stayed permanently at Panda's right? Nope. I crash on a cot under the underpass, usually. Not perfect, but it does the job mostly."

XxxxxxX

On Monday, at the end of Xander' week at the convent, a small horde of government men, all carrying writs and warrants and papers giving them the authority to do so, descended upon the Starr family farm in Midvale, Ohio.

The family in question, Frederick Rowe Starr and his wife, Edna Louise McKutchins Starr, were bustled off property in an agency car and were now being treated to breakfast on SHIELD's dime. They'd picked up on this trick from MI5. If you have to invade someone's home with a search, you treated them to a meal, kept them safe and happy, and maybe they didn't try to sue you over the inevitable mess and occasional breakage that occurred during such searches. And if you found something arrest-worthy, you didn't have to run all over Hell and Christmas to find them.

Special-Agent-In-Charge George Newman climbed out of his government sedan, took a deep breath, and sighed. Ordinarily he wouldn't be involved with a simple search, but apparently this case was special. Someone, somewhere, higher up in the SHIELD machine than he was wanted this search done and wanted it done yesterday and they, whoever they ended up being, had wanted it to be thorough and complete, as if this was potentially a still-active crime scene instead of the home of a two year old missing persons case.

That phrase, "two years", rang in his head. What in God's own Heaven do they expect us to find after two years?" Newman sighed again as he watched his team climb out of the vans and cars that had brought them all out to this butthole of the Buckeye State. Newman was a confirmed city boy, and while Dayton wasn't the biggest city, at least it was a city. This place was in the ass-end of nowhere and looked it.

Small towns. He hated them. Not a decent Starbucks within 50 miles, and he'd had it up to his eyes in "folksy" when he was growing up in Nadichick, Montana, population 84. He swore to never live in another small town and had lived up to that promise, and now hated it when he had to go to one. He was a Special Agent in Charge for an entire state, for crying out loud. He didn't go out into the field unless it was something huge, like arresting Bullseye or something. This? This was just political bullshit.

Newman hated political bullshit almost as much as he hated small towns.

He gave the third sigh of his morning and looked at his clipboard. He could feel, rather than see, his team leads gathering around him, and that was as it should be. Without looking up, he started speaking. "All right. What we have here is a two year old missing persons case. The MP in question is one Karen Linda Starr. She'd be seventeen now, which means she disappeared when she was fifteen. She's got a record filled with the usual juvie bullshit. We are not talking about Bonnie Parker here, just a silly kid who liked to cause trouble for her parents."

He finally started looking around at his team leaders. "Witness statements suggest she was beat on by her father, but nothing was ever done about it because she vanished. Whoever it is that sent us this case wants to know if she really ran away, if she was sent away, or if she ended up buried under the potatoes, or whatever the Hell is being grown over there." He pointed toward the field behind the house.

"Looks like arugula, boss."

Newman just nodded, giving the speaker a quick glance. "Okay, Fletcher thinks it looks like arugula. Thanks, R.J. I had no idea you were so knowledgeable about lettuce." That brought a chuckle. "So anyway, we need to make sure the girl isn't buried somewhere under the arugula. Or in the barn there. This is going to run by the usual procedures. Spadowski, you and Bowe take your teams into the farmhouse. Check everything, concentrating on the girl's room; from what the mother says, all of our MPs personals are still in there. Check for the usual traces, and notify me if you find anything out of the ordinary."

The two team leaders, Kelli Spadowski and David Bowe, acknowledged the order and left to brief their own teams. "Okay, Brock, I want your guys in the barn and the equipment buildings. Lord knows what you're going to find in there, but check for anything that looks suspicious."

"Anything suspicious. Well, that's specific." The man in question, Harvey Brock, was the type to find gallows humor in everything. He turned away from Newman and called out, "Okay boys and girls, we're on manure duty!" That got a laugh from everyone.

"Billy, I want you and your guys on the vehicles." Billy McIntosh, the other female team leader, nodded, spun on her crutches, and headed back to her people using that hop-scramble that made everyone around the woman think she was in immediate danger of falling at any moment.

Newman shook his head at the image of McIntosh stumbling and rolling in the dust. Not that it would happen; he'd seen his able-bodied leads slip and fall all around McIntosh while the latter was solid as a rock. "Okay." He turned to his last two team leads, Fletcher and Hernandez. "Okay, Rick, Kuni, you two have the huge job. I want this entire property gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Get the methane probes out and look for shallow graves. Check for signs of any excavation that might be more than a furrow. If they've put any new buildings up, find out which ones. If they used to park their trucks somewhere else, find out where. You guys know the drill."

"No problem boss."

George Newman took a sip of his quickly cooling convenience store coffee and once more cursed small towns. His teams dispersed like the professionals they were, and he had no doubt that they'd get the job done. Though how much they'd find after the fact was anyone's guess. He swallowed the last of the mud-and-water-someone-thought-was-real-coffee, put the empty cup back in his car, and followed Bowe and Spadowski's people into the house. If he was going to be forced by his bosses to actually go out into the field, he might as well do something useful.

XxxxxxX

Author's Note: If you recognize it, it belongs to either DC Comics, Mutant Enemy Productions, or Marvel Comics (which means Disney these days). All I own is the plot line and the other things you don't recognize.

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