Origin Story

Now For Something Completely Different

And Now For Something Completely Different

XxxxxxX

"What people can and cannot survive comes as a constant shock to people. One man can go to war and be caught in an explosion and seemingly be blown to bits, and dies sixty years later of old age. Another man can trip and fall on a perfectly smooth linoleum floor and die of a broken neck. And there's absolutely no prediction how things are going to work out, either." - Damien Hirst

XxxxxxX

Doctor Aubrey "Call Me Dr. Bree" Tolliver flipped from page to page, wondering if she should even try to find a way to stop this. The entire thing smacked of things she thought she was better off not contemplating. The Jane Doe patient had only been in the hospital for two days, and they'd barely scratched the surface with her, when all of a sudden the Man showed up waving warrants and writs and other things. And now Jane Doe was going away to some government facility, probably never to see the light of day again.

Lester Herdt, the hospital's director and a man Dr. Tolliver always considered to be more than a little rat-like, stood next to her watching as the SHIELD agents packed the girl into what honestly looked like an eight foot long obsidian tylenol. The tube had a viewport that let one see the girl, and one side had a monitor station of some kind, but mostly the thing reminded Dr. Tolliver of an unfired photon torpedo from Star Trek. On the other side of her stood Agent Bart Copella of SHIELD, the man who came armed with court documents.

Doctor Tolliver had been an emergency room doctor pretty much full-time since she graduated from UCLA in 1982. She'd found that she thrived from the chaos. And in those two plus decades, she'd thought she'd seen it all. From the woman who managed to somehow swallow three soup spoons to the man who'd come in complaining he'd cut his finger only to reveal that he'd cut it off to the man who had driven himself to the emergency room and checked himself for treatment after somehow shooting himself through the head and surviving. Granted it was a small caliber bullet, but still. Weird, right?

But this high-tech medical kidnapping was a first for her.

"You know, Les, I'm still not sure this is the right thing to do. I mean, she's our patient."

"Hey, I'm not arguing with you, Doc. This is a bit questionable on our part. And to be honest, its really, really bizarre for me" Agent Copella responded in place of the director. "I certainly didn't join shield so I could shove young girls into tubes, you know? I joined to fight the bad guys. But we all have to do what we all have to do, and right now, I have to take her to a SHIELD facility. And officially, she's no longer your patient. She's now SHIELD's patient."

"But why?" She turned toward Copella. "I still don't understand your interest in this girl."

"Well... for the most part that's classified. But you know how it is" The man shrugged.

"No, I don't, really. I mean, I do have to admit we don't get many like her on any given day. We just don't know anything about her." She was fishing, she knew she was fishing, and it was a good bet the agent knew she was fishing. He, unfortunately, wasn't biting. "Where exactly are you taking her? Are you just shoving her in a lab somewhere, or are you taking her to a real hospital?"

"Doc, I understand your concern, but I can't answer that question. I can assure you that her medical care is not ending. We do have agents who are fully trained and accredited medical doctors, ya know, and they are the ones who will be looking after her from now on." To his credit, Copella looked honestly embarrased by the whole mess.

The medical technician who was supervising the Jane Doe's transport gave Copella the high sign and the team began moving out. Copella turned to the Doctor. His face expressed compassion. "Look, Doc... I'll give you a call when our young lady gets to where she's going. I can't tell you where it's gonna be, but I can at least let you know she's going to be safe and sound, okay?"

The agent shook their hands. "You guys have a nice day, now." And with that, he followed his team out to their vehicle.

XxxxxxX

Allan Edgar was a scientifically-minded person. He tried to remain professional and unemotional while pursuing his work because in his opinion that was the best way to stay objective and to get to the real truth of the matter. That ideal had served him when he was in medical school, and then later when he got his secondary doctorate in biochemistry. And it was with this attitude that Doctor Edgar approached the problem of the girl.

He pulled the non-stick tape off of the contact side of the electrodes and placed them, one by one, on the girl's chest. He put two of them just above the beginning swell of her breasts (she'd been laying out naked in front of him for so long that Edgar no longer noticed that she was unclothed; besides, he was a professional, and she was a minor), one just below the sternum, and then two on either side of her abdomen. Doctor Edgar noted the position of the electrodes on his clipboard, took one last glance at the girl, then hit the start button on the electrocardiograph.

He waited a few seconds for the electrodes to begin picking up a signal from the girl's heart. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Nothing.

Frowning, Doctor Edgar looked back at the girl. The cuff on her finger definitely was reading a pulse. But the EKG was blank. What was going on? He asked himself.

Making a decision, Doctor Edgar approached the girl again and reached toward the electrodes. It was possible that the leads had corroded or become abbraided or otherwise damaged. So, he'd disconnect the leads, go get some new ones, and try again. He grabbed the end of the lead, applied slight pressure... and then stood there open-mouthed when the entire electrode, lead and all, came up off of the girl's chest as easily as one might take the top post-it from a stack.

That shouldn't have happened, he thought to himself. He knew from personal experience that the adhesive used on medical electrodes was so strong that the least painful method for removing them from one's body was just to wait until they inevitably fell off in a week or two. Actually trying to pull them off was a good way to tear one's skin open, the glue was so strong. And here one was, coming up as if the girl's skin was made of teflon.

Doctor Edgar gave a very gentle tug on one of the other electrodes. It too came up off the girl's body as easy as you please. So did the third one. He stared at the one remaining electrode before poking a finger at it. The electrode slid across the girl's abdomen, responding to the pressure of his fingers, as if it was a puck on an air hockey table.

"Oh hey, look at that." He said, curious. "Joyce? Joyce!" He called over his shoulder to his lab partner. "Come here and look at this!"

A minute later, he was demonstrating his discovery to the other doctor. "If I'm seeing this right, these aren't actually in contact with her skin. Look!"

The other doctor, Joyce McGeorge, leaned way down until her face was almost touching the girl's body. She carefully pushed the electrode around in a small circle on the girl's form. "I think you're right... I... I don't think its actually touching." She raised her eyes to meet his. "What do you figure? Frictionless skin? Micro-thin force field? Some sort of spatial warp thing?"

"No idea," Doctor Edgar grinned like a thief. "But its pretty cool. I'm going with the force field."

"Think O'Toole will let us wheel his laser in here to test it?" McGeorge couldn't contain her enthusiasm any more than Edgar could.

XxxxxxX

"Okay, the eggheads have had a week to figure this girl out." Senior Agent in Charge Lawrence Understone stared at the girl in question through the slightly hazy glass of a two-way mirror. She was laid out on a laboratory table, and the aforementioned eggheads were doing something sciency to her. "So what do we know?" He turned slightly to glance at Bart Copella, his second-in-command. He even raised a single Spock-like eyebrow to enforce the question.

Unfortunately, Copella could only shrug. "Less than you're gonna like, boss." He shuffled through the file. "We did a fingerprint trace and it almost immediately popped up with a file. Karen Starr of Midvale, Ohio. Population 754 souls. Man, I can't even imagine living in a town that small."

"Wait... her name is Karen Starr? Really?" Understone snorted. "Her parents intentionally gave her a stripper name?"

Copella shared in the moment of humor, then continued. "Anyway, let's see: born May 25, 1989, making her all of seventeen years old. Naturally blonde hair..."

"Naturally? How do we know?" Understone asked, knowing what was coming. "Oh, don't tell me..."

"Yep. Carpet matches the drapes, boss. Blue eyes. She's six foot, one and a half inches tall, and she weighs in at five hundred and forty seven pounds, if you can believe it. She's in good shape, I'll give her that. She's not quite one of those gross female body-builders, but its clear that she's been working out. She's a big girl, all right." Copella looked up for a moment and grinned in that sly way that he had. "In more ways than one, you've probably noticed. As far as anyone can tell, those are real, by the way."

That caused Understone to whistle with incredulity. "And she's only 17? Ouch... I hope she's got a good chiropractor. Her back must be killing her all the damn time."

"No doubt. Turns out she's a 40-H." Copella was barely keeping his face straight.

Understone rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Can you explain to me, Agent Copella, why on earth anyone in this facility felt the need to actually find out what that underage female's bust size happened to be? Do the words 'civil rights violation' mean anything to anyone around here? Not to mention the phrase 'criminal sexual conduct with a minor?' Does that register on anyone's radar?"

Copella's previous grin vanished in an instant. "Boss, you're absolutely right. I'll talk to whoever it turns out did this and make sure that we're very, very angry with them."

"No, what you'll do is you will find out whichever jackass it was that molested a minor in order to find out how big her tits are and will have their resignation letter on my desk by 1700 hours. And as you walk them out of the building, you will make sure they understand that they are getting off very, very lightly. Is that understood?"

Copella nodded, swiftly. "Yes, sir. Their already packed and out of here. They just don't know it."

Understone gritted his teeth. "Jesus, Bart... that... that's just way too far. I know we don't get a lot of oversight at this place, but everyone here needs to remember that our new boss is a lady and won't appreciate the same old Old Boy's Club bullshit."

"Sure, boss. I'll make sure the rank and file know."

Understone just nodded. He took a series of deep breaths to calm himself. "Okay, what else?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry." Copella consulted the file again. "Her pupils are dialated and don't respond to light. She shows no reaction to loud noises or minor electric shocks. She has one distinguishing scar, on her left heel. The Doc who discovered it says it looks more like an innoculation scar than anything else. No tattoos; not even the typical teenage tramp stamp all the girls seem to be getting. Oh, she's got no dental work, and..."

That one caused Understone to interrupt. "No dental work? So what. So she's a conscientious tooth-brusher. She flosses. Big deal."

"Apparently it is a big deal, boss. According to the forensic dentist we had take a look at her teeth, that's odd as Hell for someone her age to have no dental work. I mean, most of us have at least one filling, right? Oh, the dentist said that she also doesn't have her adult wisdom teeth yet, which confirms her age."

Copella once more consulted the file. "Her parents are Fred and Edna Starr. He's a farmer of some sort; he's got a record for the occasional drunk and disorderly and there's a couple of DV calls on his sheet as well. Mom teaches at the local elementary. As for our girl, there, she has a juvie record. That's where the fingerprint match came from. Minor stuff." Copella flipped some more pages. "The usual kids stuff. Low-value shoplifting, pot posession." At the last one, Understone raised another eyebrow. "Like I said, kid's stuff. And even then, not a whole lot of it. Casual use levels. Nothing too desperado."

Understone had to surpress a laugh. "Nothing too desperado. I like that." After a week, the only thing he'd heard from the doctors was how utterly confused by this kid they really were. It was obvious she was a superhuman of some kind or other; she fell out of the sky like a meteor and crashed into a mountain and survived. If that doesn't scream super-powers, Understone didn't know what did. So here she lay, in his secret SHIELD-controlled medical center.

"Typical kid, then?" Understone watched the scientists put the girl back in her isolation pod. She was unmoving, as was usual for people stuck in one of the pods. Understone had to admit that he didn't know a thing about that particular piece of equipment. It somehow kept the patient pacified by altering its interior atmosphere, while simultaneously reading everything about the patient up to and including their Social Security Number. He had no idea how it worked; he had degrees n Political Science, Criminology, and Law, not medicine nor in engineering.

"Well, yes and no. The last notation in her juvie record is that she was reported missing by her mother two years ago. Local sheriff decided she was a runaway. Guess we found her." Copella closed the file.

"I'm sure her parents will be relieved we found her, then. So what else do we know?"

"Not as much as we should. She's an enigma wrapped in a very pretty mystery. Nothing in her record suggests superpowers prior to her taking a dive into a mountain. No had no clothing, no cash, no idea, absolutely no indication of where she's been for the past two years." Copella consulted the file again. "If the fingerprints hadn't panned out, we'd have no idea who this girl was."

"What do you mean?" Understone turned away from the window.

"Well, DNA testing has failed every time. The Doc who ran the test said that her cells are apparently resistant to every DNA test they've thought up so far. They tried to take a blood sample from her arm in case they needed to know her blood type, and every needle they tried to use bent. So they tried to get one from inside her mouth. Same thing happened. One of the doctors tried making a small cut with a diamond saw; the blade wouldn't penetrate her skin. We've contacted Stark Industries and talked to one of their developers over there about getting some adamantium needles and scalpels made up."

"Well, there goes our budget for the rest of the year."

"Sorry boss. Anyway, the X-ray tech says the same thing: she apparently reads like she's made of some kind of rock. MRI's too... they won't penetrate. One of the techs is trying to figure out a way to get her under a..." he consulted the chart. "Something called a... a... 'scanning tunneling electron microscope' that apparently uses a stream of subatomic particles to look at really small things, just to see what would happen."

"So, what, the doctors don't know anything about her?"

"Not quite, boss. Not quite." Copella closed the file again and stared at the girl in the tube. "Pressure sensors are doing just fine. We can read her heartbeat, for example, from the flutter in her fingers caused by her pulse. He can tell how often she breathes from the rise and fall of her chest, and from air movement in the tube. We can tell her body temperature from an infrared meter. Anything else?" Copella shrugged. "Its like she's made of titanium, boss."

"That would explain her weight," Understone said vaguely.

"That does remind me... one of the lab techs thinks that she actually has a skin-tight force field. According to this guy, when he tried to put electrodes on her chest, he noticed that they didn't quite touch her skin. He showed me a couple of images, but I didn't see it. Who knows, maybe he's right."

"That would be interesting. Do we have any actual proof of that, though?" Understone was trying to discourage speculation.

"No real proof, no. Doctor Edgar wanted to put her under a high powered laser, but I vetoed that as soon as I heard of it."

"Good call."

"One more thing, boss. Doctor McGeorge thinks we should take her out of the pod permanently. She says its not doing us or the girl any good."

That got Understone's attention. "And her justification?"

"According to Doctor McGeorge, the girl is metabolizing the anesthetic gas we're using to keep her under." Copella grinned at the expression on Understone's face. "Yeah, she's apparently breathing it in, absorbing part of it, metabolizing part of it, and exhaling a changed chemical mix of the air and the anesthetic. Doctor McGeorge says that its likely that the girl is immune to it and her body is just treating it as just another part of the air to be breathed."

"So all we're doing is wasting the knock-out gas on someone not affected by it?" At Copella's nod he sighed. "Great... so we're not keeping the girl out, she's just not waking up for some reason. Do the doctor's have any idea why she's unconscious?"

"Might have something to do with slamming into a mountain at a couple hundred miles an hour."

"Yeah, that would do it." Understone laughed at that thought. It was, after all, obvious. "Okay, approved. Get her out of the pod, find her a room, and put her in a bed. We might as well make her comfortable while she's here, and who knows, maybe she'll wake up."

Copella agreed and turned to leave, but he was brought up short by Understone's next words. "She's not registered, and she has super-powers; hopefully she'll play smart. Otherwise, we'll be shipping her off to the Gulag." Understone's entire demeanor soured. He hated the Gulag. Hated it with a passion. "Make sure she's under restraint. As dense and heavy as she is, I wouldn't be surprised if she was superhumanly strong to some level." The cuffs and cables they used as restraints were all made of secondary adamantium, and were fitted with motion detectors. They'd hold the girl and let them know if she moved in any unusual ways. Well, unusual for an unconscious person, that is.

The power dampener had been designed by a mutant genius called Forge, for just such occasions as these.

"You think she's about to wake up, boss?"

Understone snorted. "I haven't the first fucking clue, but I would think we would want to be careful, just in case. This girl did survive pancaking into the ground, after all."

"Right. We'll get the cuffs on her, and then she won't be going anywhere without our letting her do it."

"Okay, good. Good. That's good." Understone glanced quickly at his second in command. "By the way, Bart. Just asking, nothing really important at all. But do we have any reinforced beds? Because I have a sudden image in my head of her tearing down a corridor, trying to escape, chained to a broken off chunk of hospital bed with invulnerable shackles."

To Understone, the fallen look on Bart Copella's face made up for the earlier anger and aggravation.

XxxxxxX

And while he slept, Xander Harris dreamed.

Xander banked left. He barely noticed the temperature of the air as he cut through it like a missile. One arm was held straight in front of him, the other was at his side. It was just an affectation; Clark had once told him that he used to use that pose to make sure he had a sightline on the horizon, but that never seemed to make sense to Xander.

A flash of color caused him to look to his left. Buffy was there, dressed in her usual red, gold, and blue. The gold of the eagle on her chest drew Xander's eyes to her bustline, as if it were designed to do so. He heard her cough and mutter, "Eyes up here, Xander" and abruptly shifted his gaze. On his other side, he heard Willow's voice admonishing him for being a guy.

He shot a grin at Willow, surrounded by the glowing green nimbus generated from her power ring. She never really understood why Willow insisted on wearing a mask. Its not like Buffy wore won. Neither did he, for that matter.

In any case, it was time to get down to business. Brainiac wasn't going to defeat himself. He found himself sitting in a white wicker chair. There were three other identical chairs, each inhabited by a woman in a wedding gown. One was white, one was black, and one was red.

The woman in the white wedding gown pushed her face up and away from her face, and it was Buffy. Buffy took sip from the china cup in her hand. "There will always be a Brainiac, Xander. I think its more important that we get Miss Calendar's homework assignment finished."

The woman in black raised her veil, and the look on Willow's face ended the argument. Xander could never argue with Resolve Face. He picked up his teacup and took a sip. It was grape Nehi. Grape nehi had always been Walter O'Reilly's favorite.

The woman in red revealed herself to be Cordelia Chase. "I find it endlessly fascinating how your instincts are so highly attuned when it comes to boring old evil, but you have yet to make any mention these fabulous new shoes."

One by one, the girls stood and kissed him. Not the usual friendly peck on the cheek, but the kind of kiss he'd always dreamed about experiencing but never had. The Bogart and Bacall style kiss. The kind of kiss you always dreamed Cyd Charisse giving you after that climactic dance number. And when they were done, Buffy and leaned to whisper into his ear. It tickled. "You think you know who you are, what's to come." Straightening up, she tapped him on the chest. "You haven't even begun."

Xander looked down at the hole that appeared in the middle of his body. He could see light through it. The thought made him angry for some reason. "You know, people have always asked me why I have this hole right here," he said to the three young women. He brought a hand up in a poor attempt to cover the hole. "They think I'm showing off, or just being lewd. But the first time I made this costume, I wanted to have a symbol." He pointed to Willow. "Like you. I just couldn't think of anything. I thought, eventually, I'd figure it out and close the hole. But I haven't."

"The problem with substituting an idea for your self is that eventually the idea becomes yourself. When you stare into an abyss, the abyss also stares into you." Cordelia sang. She clapped her hands, and everything went white...

Buffy's voice, coming out of nowhere. "We need to know what we are going to do when the time comes."

But this Xander could answer. "We do the same thing we've always done. Save the world."

Willow overturned her cup and a thick, red liquid oozed from it onto the ground. "Sometimes the world doesn't want to be saved..."

XxxxxxX

And while he slept, Xander Harris dreamed.

Xander slouched over to where Willow and Buffy were talking, trying very hard to not project just how angry and humiliated he was feeling. Behind him, Cordelia and her pack of assistant sociopaths were giggling at him. He felt an inch tall, but a bet was a bet and he was a man of his word. He would not let Cordelia Chase, of all people, see how thoroughly she had got the better of him, even while she was in the midst of getting the better of him.

"Hey there, Xan-Man!" Buffy's smile was bright and uplifting and usually made Xander feel miled better about himself. She was the one girl he knew who considered him as a person without any sort of preconceived notions. Even Willow, sad to say, approached Xander with some idea of what he ought to be like instead of how he really was. It was one of the reasons why Xander was in love with Buffy.

Oh sure, he knew he didn't have a chance with her, and deep inside he'd admitted it. But every time she smiled at him, he felt that maybe, somewhere in the future maybe, he still might be able to convince her.

"You know, its a lovely thought, but its sad. Its not like you're ever going to get the chance to find out if I could ever return the feelings. There's just not enough there there." Buffy said casually. "Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you're waiting for something."

"What?"

"Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That's the way these things go." Buffy shrugged.

Willow gave him a look that was entirely inappropriate for two people who considered each other to be siblings. Of course, he knew Willow didn't want to look at him as a sibling, but he'd grown up with Willow as his sister. It was way too late to change now.

"So what costume did you get?" Before Xander could resist, Buffy had the bag out of his hands and open. She stared, open-mouthed, at the white leotard, the blue boots, the blue gloves, the gold belt. That was bad enough. But then she had to go and pull the gag boobs out of the bag. "Really? Is there something you wanted to tell us, Xander?" He could feel his face turning the same shade as cooling lava.

"I lost a bet with Cordelia, and this is her idea of a joke. If I won, I got to pick her costume. If she won, she got to pick mine. Cordelia is She of the Winning, and I am He of the Utter Humiliation."

Willow pulled the gag butt out of the bag. "Who is this supposed to be, anyhow?" She dropped the appliance back in the bag, only to pull the blonde fright wig out.

"Power Girl." The girl's responded to this revelation with nothing but a blank look. "You know...Power Girl? Superman's cousin? Kryptonian maid of might? She of the really huge..." He held his hands cupped in front of is chest, bouncing them up and down quickly. Buffy's expression immediately turned dark and menacing. "... tracts of land?" Xander finished weakly.

Willow and Buffy just stared at him.

Willow coughed, lightly, and asked, "Isn't Superman's cousin Supergirl?"

Xander's surprise must have been visible on his face, because Willow swiftly added, "Hey, I occasionally paid attention when you'd start lecturing about superheroes, buster! And besides, I know I've seen pictures of a girl dressed like Superman. She's got this tight little leotard and a headband and this mini-skirt that shows off her... I'm going to shut up now." Willow's blush was tangible.

"This is Superman's other girl cousin." Still blank stares. "Nevermind."

"Xander, the point is you're letting Cody humiliate you. I thought you were done with being her butt monkey."

"Yeah, but a bet is a bet. I'm not a welsher."

Buffy still looked like she wanted to strangle someone. "Hey, don't be mad at me, Buffy." Xander smiled in an attempt to deflect the anger. "As you said, this is all Cordelia's fault. She bought the costume for me."

"You don't have to do this, Xander. You're not a source of entertainment for a bunch of stuck up, fashion-obsessed cretins." Buffy clearly was going to be talking to Cordelia sometime soon about this. For his part, Xander just wished she would leave it alone.

Buffy put her costume on the counter and paid the man behind the counter. It confused Xander for a moment to realize that the man selling the costumes wasn't the dark haired guy who'd assisted them earlier, but rather a tall balding man in glasses who had a small pile of sliced cheese on his shoulders and on the top of his head.

"Come on, Buff... I made the bet fair and square, and she's just lucky she's not going to be dressed like a Saudi Arabian elementary-school teacher. I gave my word, so I have to put up with some painful humiliation. It'll pass. It always does."

"Why a Saudi Arabian school teacher?" Willow asked. She hopped up on the library counter, picked up one of the books there, and started randomly flipping through it. On the cover was a picture of a man with faces on either sides of his head.

"Have you seen the costumes she usually wears? Total slut-o-rama." Xander grinned. "I was going to have her cover up from her hair to her toes with only her eyes showing."

"That would have been fun to watch. If you won, that is." Willow seemed to sadden. "Its too bad you didn't, because I'm really going to miss you, Xander. Especially around Halloween."

"Don't worry, Wills. I'm not really goint anywhere. I'll still be here, because she isn't there anymore. But she soon will be." As he spoke, all the color faded out, like an old movie. Xander's vision faded too, like a picture being projected into too much light. The school library had been replaced by a great empty white space all lit up like the sun.

At first, Xander thought he was alone, but there were two other people there. One was a muscular woman with blonde hair. The other was a gigantic, swarthy-looking man with two faces on his head. The man said, "Your strength and your weakness are twins in the same womb." He picked Xander up in his left hand, and the woman in his right.

And then he was falling out of the sky...

XxxxxxX

Five Months After Impact:

During the time he started assisting Buffy in her duties as the defender of humanity against the creatures of darkness, Xander Harris had become somewhat of an expert in waking up after mysteriously (and painfully) being rendered unconscious. And there were a few moments when the circumstances under which he'd been knocked out this time were mysterious, as he couldn't really remember them.

So rather than waste any time wondering how it was that he'd been knocked out, he concentrated on the fact that he had a headache roughly the size of a supertanker and painful enough to drop a Tyrannosaurus rex in its tracks. Some vile, cruel person was driving thick, blunt, rusty spikes into his head through his ears. His nose burned with some awful chemical stench. His body felt as if it had been dipped in iron filings and then wrapped in burning sandpaper. In the short moment he opened his eyes, that same mysterious person with the rusty spikes dumped a gallon of hydrochloric acid into them.

The sensory stimulus was overwhelming, frightening, and agonizing, and Xander soon found himself unconscious again.

At first, the second time he regained consciousness, the pain continued. But very gently, a soft voice that wasn't really a voice more than it was just an instinctual set of instructions began telling him how to turn the volume down on everything. First his ears cleared of the endless cacophony around him. Then the horrible combination of odors coming from all around him subsided. The burning sandpaper and iron filings were replaced on his skin by something cool and soft. And lastly, his eyes; they took the most effort, but eventually the light coming through his eyelids no longer burned out his nerves.

Xander immediately called to mind the procedures he'd jokingly labeled the "Unconsciousness Protocols." A set of simple steps devised to figure out where one was when one returned to consciousness, as well as assess any potential threats in the surrounding areas. Step One was pretty easy. He kept his eyes closed while hoping no one noticed you were actually awake while you surreptitiously checked out your surroundings.

It took a moment, because his body felt odd. Like he was off-balance and whirling, despite laying flat still on something that felt suspiciously like a bed. He felt heavy and clumsy; more clumsy than usual. As if his bodily proportions were off. His kinesthetic senses were awry, though Xander would never have been able to describe it in that fashion. Every time he thought he had it licked, the odd feeling would pull his balance off plumb again and he was back at square one. It took him a several minutes to figure out the wheres and whyfores and get used to the odd off-balanced feeling enough for him to continue to step two.

Because Step Two was harder. Step two was actually checking out your surroundings and hopefully determining where you were without letting anyone know you were awake. Xander kept his eyes closed and simply listened for a moment. The noisy hum of the machinery in the room with him, plus the annoying beeps and doops coming from some of them, punched into his awareness and he fought for a moment to concentrate past them.

Almost as quickly as he started concentrating, the hums and beeps faded into the background. He just as quickly picked up the sound of heartbeats. Six of them. Two weren't all that far away. The other four were slightly more distant. They weren't particularly rapid, so he figured the people who owned the heartbeats were calm.

He could hear the muffled sounds of conversation as well; nothing too exciting. Comments about a game, what was going to be had for dinner, how the kids were, and so on.

Wait just a cotton-picking minute! He thought to himself. How the hell am I hearing heartbeats? What the hell is going on?

Xander opened his eyes in surprise and was immediately blinded again. It wasn't as bad as before, but it was still a little much. The world was too bright and awash in strange colors and patterns and for a moment Xander was certain he was going crazy. He blinked, trying to figure out exactly what it was he was seeing. All of the electronics in the room were glowing red and white and green all at the same time. There was a silver sleet falling through the ceiling of the room. From the florescent light came a veritable rainbow of colors. He looked to the windows on the wall to the right and the sunlight was breaking apart into a spectrum. More colors than Xander had ever seen were suddenly before his eyes. His eyes, right. He closed them, almost willing everything to return to normal, and when he re-opened his eyes, everything had.

Carefully, he lifted his hands to look at the shackles chaining him to the bed. That they were shackles was obvious enough, despite their high tech look. They surrounded his wrists and moved up his arms almost to his elbows, and had some sort of electronic thingy along the top of his arm. Solid plates of metal a good four inches long, and padded with some soft plastic foam so he could not rub himself raw on them. A pair of dull silvered cables led from the shackles to a point under the bed. And a row of small green lights followed the curve of his wrist. As he moved his hands, a few of the green lights flickered red for a moment before settling back to green.

Noticing these lights made him notice his wrists and hands. They seemed off to him, being both more slender and more muscular than his regular wrists and hands, all at the same time. They weren't his hands; it was as simple as that. The idea that he had someone else's hands was unsettling. It was a clue that something really, really bizarre was going on.

He felt the weight of some other piece of equipment around his neck. He couldn't quite bring his hand up to touch the whatever-it-was. But it didn't hinder the movement of his head much, and it wasn't choking him. So while it bothered him - almost frightened him, if he was honest with himself - he decided that there wasn't much he could do about it just right then.

Unbelieveably, it was only then that Xander noticed that he had breasts.

He had breasts.

They were definitively female-style human boobs.

These weren't the sort of thing a guy might develop after sitting around on his couch watching soap operas while eating too many cookies and cheeseburgers.

No, these were the type of thing he pictured whenever he used to go looking for his Dad's skin magazines. They were the entire point of eating shitty, overcooked and underseasoned wings at Hooters. They were the reason to sneak out in the middle of the night and watch HBO.

Breasts. Tits. Boobs. Bazooms. Melons. Wahwahs. Sweater puppies. Tatas. Knockers. Chesticles. Funbags. Jugs. Hooters. Funpillows. Honkers. Hooters. Gazongas.

They were there.

He had them.

They actually felt like they were physically attached to his chest and everything.

At first, it didn't connect. It didn't connect at all.

He poked the boob on the left with a finger, causing it to dimple in slightly under the pressure of his finger. It resumed its natural shape when he removed his finger. It had been soft, and pliable and squishy, and it pretty much felt just like he always imagined a boob would feel, during those days when he when he daydreamed about getting a chance to feel a girl's boobs.

It still hadn't connected. It hadn't connected at all.

Huh. Wow. Where did these come from? He asked himself that question five times.

Awkwardly, because his arms were still chained to his bed, Xander reached up and pulled the neck of the hospital gown someone had dressed him in away and peeked, sort of sideways, at his breasts. They were a milky shade of cream that matched the rest of his skin, with wide, pale pink aureolas and small nipples that reminded him of pencil erasers. They were, in his opinion, pretty damned impressive.

Still no connection.

He slid his hand up and over the one on the right (and somewhere inside his head, there arose the secret fear that the girl who these were attached to was about to slap him for his brazen attempt at feeling her up).

His hand came to rest over the right breast. He cupped it gently, not sure how to proceed, and gave it a little squeeze. He was surprised at how enjoyable the sensation of his own hand on the breast was. Not just from his hand, but from the breast.

It surprised him for a moment that he could feel the pressure of his hand on the breast, just as he could feel the breast in his hand. He wasn't sure whose breasts these were, but they were real. And really real, not just pretend real. These were real boobs.

Real boobs.

And then it hit him. Xander abruptly bolted upright in his bed, crying out in terror. He couldn't pull his eyes away from these... these... he couldn't force himself to say the word.

Holy shit! I've got tits! Where the fuck did I get tits!? How the fuck did I get tits!? I'm a guy! Guys aren't supposed to have fucking tits! Only girls have...

The thought stopped in his head and his vision went a little gray, like he was staring down a tube. With the same awkward movements that let feel himself up, he moved one of his hands down, under his hospital gown, to the place where his legs met his torso. He was terrified of what he was going to find when his hand reached its destination. And indeed, he found exactly what he was hoping he wouldn't. Or rather, he didn't find what he was hoping he would. Accent on DIDN'T.

Something that, being a guy, he'd always thought was vastly important was suddenly missing.

Later on, when he was looking back on this situation, Xander Harris could honestly say that his reaction to finding out that he was now physically a girl was entirely justified, natural, and to be expected. He cried out, "I'm a girl!" and had just enough time before he fainted to realize that the voice coming from his mouth was higher and more girly than the one he was used to using.

XxxxxxX

Author's Note: Xander Harris belongs to Mutant Enemy. Power Girl belongs to Time/Warner. SHIELD, the Avengers, and the rest of the Marvel Universe belongs to Disney (more's the pity). Everything else belongs to me.

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