"The only thing that Florida's got over California is that your Disney kicks the shit out of our Disney. Oh, and your beaches. You got much better beaches than we do. And the seafood is better there. Oh, and the fishing. Okay, shit. I admit it. There's a bunch of things that Florida's got over California. You should still come out here some time and hang out, though. I'll take you to see the Lakers. They kick the shit out of the Magic anyday." – Freddie Prinze Jr., in conversation with the author, 9/17/2014
Assuming that the driver is following speed limit laws, and is using a route that includes the various Interstate Highways, of which in Florida there are thirteen (including eleven that never leave the state at all), and the Florida turnpike, a six-lane high-speed highway that runs the length of the state from north to south, it is possible to go from Pensacola, Florida in the extreme north-west of the state to Miami on the south-eastern coast, in a little under 12 hours.
It took Alex and Louise three weeks.
The reasons for the long delay were many. The first, and perhaps most important reason, was their decision upon reaching Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, to leave the highways and take smaller surface roads on their trek from the northern reaches to the southern. It was an impulse decision, an urge to see the "real" Florida, rather than the "highway Florida", a term that neither Alex nor Louise could fully define. This single decision turned a 12 hour drive into a 24 hour drive.
The second reason was their decision to finish their interrupted honeymoon. Two weeks spent in Orlando taking in the four Disney theme parks, Sea World, the two theme parks at Universal Studios, swimming with dolphins at Discovery Cove, Legoland, Gatorland, Dinoland, and a strange Biblical theme park called the Holy Land Experience that featured an actor dressed up as Jesus who broke into a musical number just before being 'crucified'. They even dropped by a sixteen square acre indoor flea market that had the brass to call itself 'Flea World' and managed to find some things they decided they couldn't live without.
They swam at Wet'n'Wild, at Aquatica, at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. They played complex interactive computer games and retro video games at DisneyQuest. They ooh'ed and ah'ed at the interactive experiments at the John Young Science Center. They ooh'ed and ah'ed at the at the works of Florida-born artists at the Museum of Art. They took in the latest performances by Cirque du Soleil and the Blue Man Group. They saw stand-up comedians and obscure musical acts and circus shows. Zoos and street performers and even dinner theater. For two weeks, the pair hit every major (and minor) restaurant, every major (and minor) show, every possible sight they could reach in their time in Orlando.
And when it was all over, it took them only four hours to get from Orlando to Miami. They weren't sure how to find Jennifer Kale, but Nico had told them that Miami was a good place to start.
Alex stood on the balcony of the Oriental Suite, on the top floor of the Mandarin Oriental Miami. She had decided, in the two days they'd been there already, that she could stare at the nighttime skyline across Biscayne Bay for hours. It connected to her in a way the New York skyline nor the Los Angeles skyline never did. Louise came up behind her and handed Alex a glass with ice and Sprite. Alex sipped it without turning from the view.
"It's the ocean." Louise said, breaking the silence. Alex looked at her in surprise, wondering how Louise had known what she was thinking. "it's all over your face, baby doll There's something about the ocean here that's different from the ocean in Cali. I mean, in LA, the ocean is constantly roiling and loud and noisy and energetic. Here, the ocean is in motion, but it's like it's not trying to conquer the beach, just co-exist with it."
The Oriental Suites were the largest and most expensive room in the hotel, and they'd taken one on impulse. In Alex's opinion the view was all the evidence she needed to know that the impulse was a good one even if the room did have more space than they could ever use and ran close to $10,000 a night. The balcony, which ran the entire length of the suite and offered views of both the Bay and the Atlantic Ocean proper, made up for the cost.
Alex still couldn't take her eyes off the Bay. "You know, I think I've fallen in love with the place."
"The hotel?" From the look on Louise's face, Alex could tell she was teasing.
"Florida. Miami. This!" Alex gestured, taking the entire view in with her arm. "Did you see the sunrise this morning? It was like... poetry..."
"I was still sleeping. I missed it. But you can wake me up tomorrow and I'll watch the next one with you." Louise gave Alex a hug.
"Okay. Tomorrow we need to hit the New Age and Occult book stores. We've got to find Jennifer Kale."
"You know, Alex, if you're in love with this place so much, why don't we just settle? I'll be happy wherever you are, no matter what. We can find a house, buy a second car, maybe find a donor and I'll have a kid we can raise."
That stopped Alex cold. They'd never discussed children past the two of them acknowledging that since she was, in fact, not a human being there wasn't going to be any babies for Alex unless a miracle happened and humans could breed with Kryptonians. Not to mention the entire Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex problem.
"You want to have a baby?"
"Well, you know." Louise shrugged. "Someday. I'm not asking you to arrange a sperm donor and a turkey baster just yet, but someday." She hugged Alex close, then stepped toward the suite. "You coming in?"
"In a minute." Alex took another sip of her Sprite. She gave Louise a smile. "You go ahead. Love you."
"Love you too." Louise paused in the door and turned back to Alex. "Do you mind us staying in? I know you mentioned something about going dancing..."
"No, that's fine. We can go tomorrow night." Alex finished her soda and followed Louise in. As she rinsed the glass out and put it in the suite's small dishwasher, she could hear Louise tapping away at the piano. Our hotel room came with a piano. That's just weird, Alex thought with a smile. Louise couldn't play, but Alex could thanks to the memories she retained from Kara.
"Wow. I forgot all about that." Louise said from the car's passenger seat.
"Forgot about what?" Alex turned left. "I think it's up here somewhere." They'd just hit the third Occult shop on a list of eight that looked like it did more than just pander to the tourists and day-players. So far, nobody at any of the shops had ever heard of Jennifer Kale. Five more to go.
"Twelve days til Halloween."
Alex shot Louise a shocked look. She held it long enough that Louise was afraid she was going to run into something. Louise frantically tapped the dashboard of the car. "Eyes on the road! Eyes on the road!"
Alex hit the brakes, pulled into a street-side parking space, and threw the car into park. "Oh God." Alex's head hit the steering wheel. She rested it against the backs of her hands. "I can't believe it."
"What's the matter, baby?" Louise rubbed Alex's back.
"I'll be okay. It's just..." Alex sighed. "It's a bit of a shock. it's been a year, almost. A year. I completely lost track of time passing. Just give me a second. I'll be okay."
"Well, that's a good thing!" Louise said, a bit sardonically. She kissed Alex's ear and the two hugged again. "Being okay is better than not. But it does raise a question." Alex quirked an eyebrow, and Louise explained: "What are we doing on Halloween to celebrate, silly-goose?"
"I, uh, I hadn't thought about it. Why? Do you have any ideas?"
"This is Miami. We're a couple of miles from South Beach, the second most partying-est town in America! There's bound to be a Halloween bash we can get into, right? So let's go celebrate! It's Halloween, and your anniversary, and hey, I'm all about celebrating you being here!"
Alex shook her head and smiled. "Yeah, that sounds like fun! Let's do that. I'll talk to the concierge guy at the hotel about finding a way to get us into a good party." Her eyes widened. "Ooh! And I've got a great idea for a costume! We're going to have to talk to a tailor or something."
"Cool!" Louise sat back. "So... I've got an idea. Let's hit this next magic shop and then take the day. Go get some lunch, hit the beach, maybe. Oh, hey! How about a movie? You were talking about wanting to see Idiocracy. Let's go do that! We can get back to the hunt tomorrow. Jennifer Kale isn't going anywhere."
The shop's name was 'Celestial Treasures', and it was decorated in such a way that it convinced Alex that the owner was a hippy who never gave up the movement. There were plants everywhere, and lots of uplifting message posters on the wall. She counted at least three cats roaming around the place, and there was some wind-chimey lyric-less music going on in the background. She crinkled her nose; the entire place smelled vaguely of applewood incense, which to Alex's heightened sense of smell made the place stink to high-heaven. Candles were on every display, there was incense platters on every surface. There was even a bell above the door.
The lady behind the counter was in her 60s, pleasantly plump, and was wearing a pair of tinted glasses that reminded Alex of John Lennon. She smiled at the two girls as they entered, and it was a friendly, honest smile.
"Good morning, ladies. Anything I can do for you today? We're having a sale on meditation candles. Personally, I love the green ones. They're pine-scented."
"Uh, actually we're trying to find someone." Alex stepped forward, and Louise followed. "Her name's Jennifer Kale. We have reason to believe that she's known to the people who run this sort of shop. Uh, Nico Minoru in Los Angeles suggested we contact New Age and Occult shops in order to find her."
The woman behind the counter's attitude changed, but it was subtle. Suddenly she was guarded. "Nico pointed you our way, did she? And you're looking for Jennifer Kale?" The woman studied them for a minute. "You mind if I make a call? I mean, you don't look evil. You don't smell evil, but a girl's got to be careful."
"Uh, no, go ahead." Alex shrugged. When the woman disappeared into the back of the ship, she and Louise started wandering. Alex browsed the titles of the books while Louise ended up scritching the cats. Sooner than they thought, the woman was back. She rushed up to Alex, grabbed the younger girl's hand, and was pumping it furiously. A huge grin was plastered on the woman's face.
"Oh, this is just so cool! Really, really cool!" The woman took a deep breath and started again. "Okay, well, I called Ray who called Nico who called me back and vouched for you. I'm Melissa. I had no idea you were the girl from the YouTube video! That's so cool!" Melissa was obviously jazzed. "You've got to give me your autograph or something! I mean, this is just... Wow! Good for you, sticking it to the man like that! Fascist bastards had it coming, what they're turning this country into!"
"Uh, thanks. Sure, I can do an autograph." Alex looked to Louise, who smiled and nodded.
"Wow. I mean, just wow. So, you're looking for Jennifer Kale and Nico sent you to the New Age shops. That's hilarious. Not a bad guess, but just shows how little Nico knows about Jennifer." At Alex's blank look, Melissa just smiled. The older woman returned to her place behind the counter. "Nico has her heart in the right place, but unfortunately Jennifer isn't into the entire New Age thing. Don't get me wrong, she's an amazingly powerful witch, but when you get past a certain point the candles and the incense are just window dressing. I mean, I'm a fair spell-caster, but nowhere in her league. For that, you'd have to go to Strange up in New York, or that Voodoo guy in New Orleans. Unreal."
Melissa grabbed a pencil and wrote something down on a bright orange piece of paper. Then she checked her watch. "If I remember right, Jennifer's working the early shift today. She'll be at that address until seven tonight."
Alex looked at the paper. It read Scarlett's, 2920 SW 30th Avenue.
"Oh, wait." Melissa shot a quick glance at Alex, then Louise. "You guys are over twenty-one, right?"
"Uh..." The hesitation apparently told Melissa all she needed.
"Right. Let me see your ID for a second." A little reluctantly, Alex and Louise handed their drivers licenses over to the older woman. Melissa waved her hand over the card and muttered something unintelligible. Then she handed them back.
"Okay, girls. Congratulations. For the next five hours your ID says that you're both twenty-two years old. It'll wear off after that, but it should get you in to talk to Jennifer. Oh, and if you don't have a couple hundred bucks in cash, I'd stop off at an ATM."
"Yeah, for tips."
2929 South-West 30th Avenue was a huge tan and gold building with no windows and two doors. There were long strips of neon running along the edges, lots of lights (all turned off in the day), and a neon sign reading 'Scarlett's Cabaret'over the door.
The parking lot was mostly empty, but the cars that were there were all high priced. The phrase "Italian penis extensions" popped into Alex's head while she was taking in the cars. It was something that the Flash had told her at one point. They were the type of car a middle-aged man with too much money and a need to look younger during his mid-life crisis would buy. Porsche. Lamborghini. Maserati. Surprisingly, there was also a beat-up Volkswagen beetle, a station wagon, and mini-van of some kind.
Louise was still staring at the building. "Was she kidding?"
"Melissa. Was she kidding? We're supposed to find Jennifer Kale here? All-powerful wizard who can help us get you back home?" Louise was shaking her head.
"Yeah, this is the address." Alex idly tapped the GPS unit built into the dashboard of the Mercedes. "Says we're in the right spot."
"Alex, this is a strip-joint." Louise pointed. "See? No windows, lots of neon, not a lot of business during the day. it's a titty bar."
They both turned to stare at the building.
"So Jennifer Kale is working the early shift and will be here until seven." Alex glanced at Louise. "You don't suppose she's a bartender, or the owner of the place?"
"With our luck? Oh, no." Louise giggled. "Melissa said we'd need cash for tips. Tips for her. So what do you think?"
"The idea that a Doctor Strange-level wizard is a stripper..." Alex shook her head again. "Unreal."
They paid the cover price and entered the club itself. It was immediately clear why the cover was $30. The main room was gigantic, and the extended stage was close to fifty yards long. Everything was red and purple, with neon and laser light and artificial fog. The music was some sort of techno-beat and was grinding and loud. The main room was overseen by two rows of VIP boxes on the upper level. A handful of men were here and there around the room. Some were concentrating on the main stage, some on individual dancers at their table. A few were ignoring the girls to talk, and at least three were ignoring the girls to eat. Alex and Louise were the only women in the room not dancing.
"So, table or a booth? Or stage-side?"
"Let's get a booth." Alex led her to the back wall. A few seconds later a waitress was there to take drink orders.
When the waitress left, Louise began speaking. "I'm not sure what the law says in Florida, but in California there were actual laws regarding how much contact you could have with a stripper in a club like this. Other than incidental contact, we can't touched them at all except hand-to-hand, like if they're climbing stairs you can hold your hand out. Otherwise, don't touch. They, on the other hand, can touch you above your, uh, chest-line and your arms and your legs just above the knee."
"What do you mean by incidental contact?"
"Well," Louise thought about it. "Things like if you're brushing past them, no one's going to arrest you if you bump into one of the naked dancers on the floor. Or if you touch their hip or thigh while putting money in their garter. Just don't let it be lingering. You can get arrested."
"That's a pretty neat routine." Louise pointed to the stage. The three dancers were completely nude. Two were mobile, leaping and twirling while spinning what looked like flaming majorette batons. The third was stationary in the middle of the stage, fire-eating while crouching, shaking her ass in an obvious pantomime of sexual activity. "And, uh, hot. No pun intended."
The fire-eating act ended after a few minutes, and while the girls were leaving the stage a beautiful blonde-haired woman stepped up. She was dressed what could only be described as a stainless-steel bikini, a tiara, and a powder-blue cape.
"And now welcome to our stage, the wonderful Witchcraft!"
Alex and Louise watched for a few minutes, then exchanged glances. "That's got to be her. So how do we get her attention?"
"Best way I know to get a stripper's attention is dollars in the waistband." Louise pulled a wad of cash out of her pocket and peeled off the top bill. It was a hundred. She held it out to Alex. "Ask her if she'll stop by our booth after she's done her set."
"The dancers. After they're done they circulate around the crowd, caging drinks and doing lap dances. Ask her to come over." Louise gave Alex a little shove. "Go to it, lover!"
Alex took the bill and approached the stage. When 'Witchcraft' noticed her, the dancer slunk over, rotating herself in a very, very enticing way. Alex smiled up at her and held up the folded hundred-dollar bill. 'Witchcraft' spun slowly, then pulled her thong away from her hip and moved it closer to Alex. The action gave Alex an excellent view of the woman's goodies. She inserted the bill between thong and 'Witchcraft's' hip. Then, remembering Louise's comment regarding 'incidental contact' Alex trailed the back of a finger down the girl's leg.
'Witchcraft' took a step back and began what looked like a belly-dancing routine in front of Alex. In seconds, the girl's top was gone. She hooked a finger at Alex, who leaned over a chair toward the dancer. 'Witchcraft' put her hands on Alex's shoulder and dipped forward in a slow curving arc that brought the woman's nipples tantalizingly close to Alex's mouth and actually did brush her cheek. The dancer continued to undulate against Alex for several long minutes before pulling her breasts away. She kissed Alex on the ear and whispered a quick "Thanks. I don't often get hundreds."
"We've got more where that came from. Come to our booth." Alex pointed behind her, smiled, and said, "We want to talk to you. We know your real name. Nico Minoru said you could help us. And, uh, not just by you dancing for us."
The dancer never stopped moving, but she did seem to hesitate for a moment. At the mention of Nico Minoru, her eyes seemed to line up. "Okay. I'll be there after the set. Order a bottle of champagne. That way you'll have me all to yourself and the manager won't give me any crap about it. I'm still going to have to dance for you though. The guys behind the bar will know what brand."
Alex nodded stepped away, and returned to the booth. Louise was there, grinning like a maniac.
"So, how was it? Did she get you all hot and bothered, sweetheart?"
"That was – that was interesting." The two of them sat and watched the rest of the dancer's routine. "And yeah, it really turned me on."
"Yeah, well, I get the first lap dance." Louise's grin was infectious.
Alex watched Jennifer Kale grind her naked ass onto her partner's groin with a smile on her face. Louise was sitting on her hands to keep from grabbing the dancer, and Kale was having a good time keeping her nipples just an inch and a half away from the skin of Louise's face. They were, in Alex's opinion, a perfect set of comic book breasts, too. Like most super-heroines, Jennifer Kale enjoyed the Most Common Superpower. They weren't anywhere close to Alex's own boobs, but they were certainly impressive.
Alex sipped the Moet and Chandon that the dancer had asked them to buy for her – $200 for a bottle of champagne, and Alex didn't even like champagne – and sat back. The question and answer period hadn't started yet. Kale had apparently decided that keeping the management from noticing that this wasn't anything more than a couple of girls having fun getting aroused by a naked woman was more important than getting down to business.
Alex figured it was also that she and Louise were interrupting Kale's livelihood, and that the wizard was making sure they paid for the privilege Didn't matter. They'd be years spending through the money in the duffle bag. Throwing Kale a couple hundred bucks was nothing if it helped her get home. Plus, if Alex could read Louise's body language – and she could – she knew she was getting laid and laid heavy later.
Soon enough the song was over. Jennifer Kale put her outfit back on and used a cocktail napkin dampened from the champagne bucket's condensation to wipe herself down. She took the champagne flute Alex handed her with a smile. "So... you know who I am and Nico Minoru sent you. You have the names right, anyway. Got to tell you, I don't mind the money. But if you're fucking with me, I'll turn you into rabbits and drop you into the middle of Dell's Gator Farm."
"Hey, no problem. We're not fucking with anybody but each other." Louise cackled. She emptied her own glass and refilled it.
"Right." Kale looked at Alex and took another sip. "So... Karen Starr. How can I help the most powerful girl in the world today?"
"I'm not Karen Starr. Never met the girl, never called myself that, never claimed to be Karen Starr." Alex put her champagne flute back on the table. "That's SHIELD's mistake. I'm Alexandra Harris. Nice to meet you."
"So you're not the girl who kicked the asses of a dozen super-heroes and SHIELD agents back at the end of August?"
Alex was shrugging. "That was me, sure. it's just that for some reason SHIELD thinks I'm Karen Starr when I'm not. Like I said, I never claimed to be. I'm Alexandra Harris."
"Really? Okay. Alexandra Harris, then. You say your in my town and that you came looking for me." Kale took another sip of the champagne, then continued to wipe her face and chest clean of sweat. "So what do you want? Are we going to fight now or something? A bit weird, coming to a girl's job, giving her a hundred dollar tip if we're going to fight. I mean, not to mention the lap dance you bought for your girlfriend, and the champagne thing."
"No, nothing like that. I need your help. I, uh, we... we want to get home."
"So go." Kale shrugged. "From what I saw, you can fly. What's stopping you?"
"Well, home is sort of in an alternate universe."
Kale stared at Alex, then downed the remainder of her champagne in one gulp. She poured herself another glass, still staring. "And Nico couldn't help you? She's got the juice for that."
"Nico tried, but couldn't get the job done. Something unexpected kept it from working, and you know the thing about her only casting a spell once, right?" Alex fiddled with a napkin. "She sent us here because you're one of the guardians of the Nexus of All Realities."
"WHOAH! Whoah! Really, really bad idea!" Alex and Louise both flinched at the retort. It came just as the music dropped to nothing for a second between dancer sets. The DJ had been preparing to announce the next dancer – a girl in full on cat-girl makeup, including a tail – when Kale had shouted.
"What's a bad idea?" Louise hissed the question. She and Alex both were eyeing the rest of the club to see whose attention had been gained.
"Because the Nexus doesn't -" Kale stopped talking abruptly. One of the bouncers had shown up.
"Everything all right here, ladies?" He asked the question to everyone, but one of his hands was behind his back, at his hip, and his eyes held nothing but Alex. Made since, given that Alex was not only taller than the guy, but more muscular. "You okay, Witchcraft?"
"Everything's fine, Jay. They just surprised me. It's cool. I'll try to keep it down next time." The guy, Jay, met Kale's eyes and searched them for a moment, before he nodded.
"All right. Sorry to bother you." Jay the Bouncer retreated to his previous position, but Alex could tell he was keeping an eye on their booth. From what she could tell, the thing on his hip he'd been reaching for was one of those collapsing rods that the FBI used.
When the guard was gone. Kale leaned forward. "That is a supremely unwise idea because the Nexus doesn't work that way. Yeah, sure, technically it could get you home. But just as likely it could drop you into an Earth where the the British won the American Revolution, or where the Russian Empire and not the British ruled the world in the 1800s, or, or maybe something more outlandish, like a world where shrimp never evolved, or where nobody has superpowers." She leaned forward and stabbed a finger into the table. "The point being, there's no way to control it. You jump into the thing, and you become a human pinball loose in the annals of history."
Alex had gone very, very still. Louise was staring at her, holding her hand. Tears were welling up in the girl's eyes. But Alex wasn't paying attention. She wasn't paying attention to anything, really.
Jennifer Kale sat back, uncomfortable with what she'd obviously done. "Look, I hope you didn't come to me as some sort of last hope. There has to be other ways for you to get back to your world than just me and Nico Minoru. Stephen Strange will be back eventually. Maybe you can ask him."
"What about you? Nico said you were a Magister." Louise was still holding onto Alex's hand.
"Sorry." Kale shook her head. "I might have the juice for it, but I don't have the know-how. If I did it, it'd be worse than if you jumped through the Nexus, because I could land you anywhere."
"But what a -" Whatever else Louise was going to say was cut off when Alex abruptly stood up. "Alex?"
"I, uh, I gotta get out of here. Here are the keys." Alex tossed the keys to the Mercedes onto the table. "I'll – I gotta- " She locked eyes with Jennifer Kale. "You see her back to our hotel room safe."
"What? You want me to -" But Alex was already striding for the door.
Alex had no real idea where she was, anymore, or how long she'd been walking around. When she finally did start noticing, she was surrounded by tall, tall buildings and it had become dark. There were still people on the streets; like LA and New York, Miami never fully slept. But in this part of town, most of the buildings were dark, and the people were moving from one lively area to the other. Those that weren't looked like bank buildings, or newspaper offices, or even law firms. Businesses that did their thing during the day.
The moon was high, and only partly covered in clouds. The stars were barely visible, due to the light coming off the city. For a moment Alex thought about giving Louise a call, but when she reached for her phone she remembered leaving it in the car. It was still there. And Alex hadn't seen a payphone since she arrived in this world.
Alex made note of the growing shadows, but she didn't feel like going back to the room yet. She felt like something inside of her had died. She'd accepted that she was a girl months ago. Her odd relationship with Louise, likewise, had settled things out and become somewhat normal. She'd grown used to her powers and no longer felt that she was two people in one body, but a single whole person made from the merging of the two. But she had always held out hope of getting back to Sunnydale. To using these new gifts to help out her friends. To helping out whoever needed it.
Heroics had been Xander's daydream and Kara's life. The urge to be excellent, to make things better, to leave the world that much finer than it was when she arrived. It was a part of her. And she'd earnestly wanted to make things easier for Buffy, and for Willow, and for Giles, and even for the real, original Xander.
But not anymore. It wasn't going to happen.
Not really paying attention, Alex had stopped at an intersection, waiting for the WALK sign so she could cross to the next stretch of sidewalk. The sound of a load of metal crashing into the street brought her out of her reverie. The object now sitting in the middle of the intersection looked for all the world it looked like the crumpled tail of a helicopter.
Alex looked up.
High above, hanging from the edge of the roof of the skyscraper she was standing next to, was the rest of the helicopter. Alex concentrated and the thing sprang closer in her view. There were two passengers, plus the pilot. The pilot and one of the passengers weren't moving, but the third passenger was trying to climb out and back onto the roof. And that was a problem because the helicopter was hanging only from a landing strut, and the movement of the passenger was slowly shaking it loose.
Alex stepped off the curb, still watching the helicopter far above her. Without warning, she was jarred as a bright yellow metro taxi smashed into her head on with a loud, sickening crunch. She turned to the cab; steam was pouring from the radiator, while other darker liquids were streaming from the bottom of the engine.
"Oh my God!" The driver, uninjured, climbed out of the driver's window and ran to Alex. "I didn't... see... you... What in the fuck?"
Alex smiled at the man's confusion. "Sorry, I shouldn't have tried crossing against the light. Are you okay?"
"What? Yeah, yeah, I'm fine." The driver was still staring at the indention in the cab's front end, from where it had folded itself around Alex's body.
"Do you have any passengers?" She checked herself with her X-ray vision. No passengers.
"No, no, I was off-duty. Jesus... what happened? Are you okay, Miss? Do you need me to call an ambulance?"
Alex looked back at the helicopter. It was shifting dangerously and the moving passenger had frozen in place. She could hear the woman screaming from the street. "No, I'm fine. But you should go get checked out just in case." She lowered her gaze to him. "Concussions are no joke. Now, if you'll excuse me." Alex gave the cabby a friendly smile, then launched herself into the sky.
"So, anyone else suffering from deja vu?" Alex said to herself as she rushed upward. She shook her head, trying to clear the images of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder and that all-encompassing, totally appropriate music from her head.
The helicopter's strut, over-stressed by carrying the aircraft's entire weight, snapped. It fell, hurtling down toward the ground. Alex caught it, allowing the thing's momentum to push her downward in order to avoid smashing through the helicopter's fuselage. She could smell aviation fuel spilling into the wind, but didn't see any spark points. Alex moved her grip to get a better hold, then dropped toward the ground, no more swiftly than an elevator.
The cab driver ran up, wide-eyed. "That was AMAZING!"
"Thanks." Alex smiled at the man. "Hey, you got a cell phone? Yeah? Get on it. Call 911. There are hurt people here."
"Whatever you say, Lady!"
Alex kept an eye on the guy long enough to see him pull his phone out and punch the emergency number. The screaming woman had stopped screaming and was now calling for help. Alex hopped onto the side – now the top, given its orientation in regard to the ground – and pulled the door off.
"Here, give me your hand?" She leaned down and took the frightened woman by the wrist and pulled her from the wreckage. "It's okay. I got you." She lowered the woman to the ground, and then pulled the pilot and the unconscious passenger out. "That man there has called 911," Alex said as she laid the injured crash-victims on the ground, pointing to the cab-driver. "An ambulance should be here any minute. Tell the EMTs that these two don't have any significant injuries, but that they should check for concussion. Oh, and your friend, the other passenger, has a hairline fracture in his right shin bone."
Alex turned away, then turned back. She couldn't resist. "Oh, and ma'am? I hope this little incident doesn't put you off flying. Statistically, it's still the safest way to travel."
The woman stared at her, open-mouthed. "I..."
Alex gave her a jaunty wave, and then took off. She giggled. Time was, she hated the fact that she giggled, but now? Fuck it, I'm a giggler. And why the hell not, right? Above the buildings, she executed a barrel roll, feeling a kind of release. A genuine physical joy in the act of flying.
Just barely in range, Alex's hearing brought her the shouted "Thank you!" from the woman she just rescued. It made her feel better about everything.
Alex spotted the two men rappelling down the side of the Bank of America Tower from nearly three blocks away. She wasn't even looking for them. Alex had seen the tower, of course, and had been planning on swooping up and over it while flying across the city, but her eye had been drawn to the movement. She spotted them just as they pulled the huge pane of glass inward. That had sparked her curiosity. But when Alex saw them toss the ropes out and down the building's side, she knew something was going on.
Alex closed with the men while they were still hooking up their harnesses to their lines. Past them, inside the building, a quick X-ray peek showed an open bank vault whose safe deposit boxes were in disarray. The man had just stepped out into the air, putting their weight on the ropes, when suddenly she was there.
"Howdy, fellas. Nice night for a walk, isn't it?" She held the loose ends of each of their lines in her hands, and the waved them at the two burglars. The men looked back at the hole in the glass, now thirty feet above them, and then back down to their now-useless rappelling gear.
"So, do you give up, or do I have to show you what it's like to be in an elevator with the cables cut?" She flew above them and shifted the lines to one hand. She reached out and grabbed the two lines in the other hand. "Tell you what, I'll give you to three, then I'm yanking your ropes out from under you. One... two..."
"Yeah, okay! You got us! Stop!"
Minutes later, Officer Carl Perez and Officer Juan Batista were startled when two men, dressed in rappelling harnesses and wrapped in black rope, along with two heavily loaded gym bags, were dropped unceremoniously in front of their patrol car where they were taking a quick break to have a sandwich and a cup of coffee. The two policemen climbed out of their car as the two men struggled to their feet.
"Hey, cop! Arrest us! We confess already! We just got done robbing the Bank of America." The first of the men yelled. "We got all kinds of whatchacall it, evidence in the bags. Just keep that crazy girl away from us!"
Officer Batista pushed his cap back on his head and scratched. "And what girl would that be?"
"Her!" The other man said, pointing upward.
Batista looked up. The pretty girl standing on nothing just waved, smiled, and took off into the air.
"Hey, Carl! Good news, man! I think Miami's got itself a superhero!" Batista said, watching the girl rise until the dark swallowed her. His words reached Alex's ears, and she couldn't help but grin.
The late-model Cadillac spun onto A1A under the I-95 overpass. Two police cars, lights flashing and sirens blaring, were in pursuit. The driver of the Caddy pulled left, sending his car up and over the sidewalk and between two of the concrete support pillars. The first of the patrol cars managed to repeat the maneuver and maintain the pursuit. The second slid into one of the supports.
The Cadillac squealed into a one hundred and eighty degree turn and sped back up A1A, rapidly pulling away from the police cruiser. It swerved through traffic, and then made an abrupt right turn onto Oceanic. Two blocks later, the Caddy had pulled into a darkened parking lot.
Three young men piled out of the car. All of them were armed.
"Let's go, let's go. Grab the shit, let's get gone!" The obvious leader turned away from the car to head down the alley next to the parking lot, only to stop dead in his tracks.
"Hey, guys! Did I miss the party?"
When the police arrived, not a minute later, they found the three hoods unconscious, seat-belted into their car. The car itself was upside down in the middle of Oceanic Avenue, spinning like a top.
At first, the shift supervisor for the Miami Police Emergency Services Office thought that it was a joke. She'd taken the frantic call from the guy who said that a flying girl had caught a crashing helicopter out of the air and then directed him to call 911 for the crash victims as a joke. Oh sure, she sent the ambulance, but she also sent a squad car, because it had to be someone trying to prank emergency services.
But the other calls. Eventually it added up.
… the desperate man whose tire had blown out while trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. The flying girl had told the couple to strap in and she carried the car through the air to Mercy General...
… the man chased by the pack of teens, howling racial epithets at him and blaming him for things that people who looked like him had done, who'd been rescued by a vision of strength and purity who had dropped out of the sky...
… two police officers reporting a girl who had quite literally dropped two burglary suspects off in front of them...
… the house fire that had been extinguished by "a flying teenager who just huffed and puffed and blew the fire out!"...
… the little girl who told the emergency room doctor that an angel had come and helped her Momma, when she couldn't get her Momma to wake up...
… the convenience store clerk who reported that the attempted robbery was foiled by "this hot chick with really righteous ta-tas' who just grabbed the gun and tore it to pieces with her bare hands"...
… the attempted rape that ended with both rapist and victim at the emergency room, him being treated for trauma, her being treated for multiple broken bones...
… the man on the ledge who'd been ready to jump until a blonde girl appeared out of thin air. She sat down next to him on the ledge and asked him if he'd like to talk about it...
These were real. These were really happening. Someone out there was helping, one person at a time. This person was trying to make a difference. The shift supervisor wasn't sure, but it seemed as if there was a super-strong flying girl out there somewhere, and she was helping just because she could.
It looked like Miami had its own superhero, finally.
Louise woke up to the sound of tapping.
For several minutes, she had incorporated the sound into her dream, but eventually something in her mind recognized the incongruity of a bell that sounded like someone tapping a finger on a windowpane and caused her to wake up.
She stood up, rubbing at the back of her neck. Sleeping on the couch, she'd developed a crick. The tapping occurred again, and Louise turned to the balcony door. It was still dark outside. A glance at the clock read 5:39 am. Sunrise was an hour away, still.
And there was Alex. A very sheepish looking, guilty-looking Alex. Alex had a box of Dunkin Donuts in one hand and a carrier full of what could only be coffee cups in her other. It was an obvious bribe to get Louise to not be so upset. She stood in front of the sliding glass door, hands on her hips, staring at the Kryptonian through the glass. Louise tapped her foot in what was admittedly an over-dramatic fashion, thinking all the while.
"Come on, Louise... let me in. Don't make me stand out here all morning!" Alex's voice was distorted by the glass. "I'm sorry! I bring sugary goodness as a peace offering! Please! I need to talk to you! I had a revelation!"
Louise's eyes narrowed. She wasn't quite ready to forgive being abandoned in a strip club for fuck sake, but she also wasn't quite ready to throw Alex out on her ass because of it. Louise unlocked the door, then turned her back and strode into the room's kitchen.
"Hey, Louise -"
"I'm not talking to you."
"No! No talking! Right now I'm pissed off, and I'm justified in being so! You just be quiet and sit at the table and take your punishment!" Louise glared. "You just sit there and don't say a word. And don't move. Don't even breath! Just... just sit there!"
Louise poured herself a glass of orange juice and downed it in one long pull. She eyes Alex, who had done exactly as she demanded. Alex was sitting at the kitchen table, her hands in her lap, staring down at the tabletop. Her face showed clear signs of dejection.
It took a moment for Louise to realize that Alex was holding her breath. She really wasn't breathing. Rolling her eyes, Louise said, "I'm going to go take a shower and get dressed. You're going to sit there and when I come back out, you're going to explain to me why you left me at a strip-joint, where the fuck you've been all morning. Why are your clothes all dirty? And why do you smell like smoke?" She suddenly realized she was not not talking to Alex, and stomped off out of the room for the bedroom.
Louise took her sweet time with the shower, and afterward brushed her teeth diligently. She then took great care in picking out her clothing for the day. When she was done, a grand total of an hour and ten minutes had gone by. Alex was still sitting there, looking at the tabletop. Louise stared at her partner, thinking but not making any decisions.
Louise retrieved the complementary newspaper from in front of the suite's entrance and tucked it under her arm. It was time. She walked into the kitchen – sending Alex an unseen yet forgiving glance; her partner still hadn't moved from the table – Louise pulled two glasses from the cabinet, grabbed the milk from the fridge, and poured. One of the glasses she put in front of Alex, who looked up at her surprised.
"Can't eat donuts without something to drink, and since I'm why the coffee you brought is cold, I figured I'd supply the substitute." Louise pushed the donuts close to Alex. "Go ahead. I'm still annoyed, but I'm not pissed anymore."
"I'm sorry about just leaving you like that. I needed -"
"That's not good enough anymore, Alex." Louise shook her head. "it's not. Either we're married and we act married by sharing our problems and helping out, or we're not. Now, are we?"
"Are we what?"
"Are we married? Are we partners? Are we helping each other?"
Alex sunk into herself. "I hope so..."
"Then don't just walk away from me. Don't go into this weird existential crisis where you, I don't know, go into a depression because Oh My God you find out your stuck being rich and pretty with a sexy woman in your bed every night who loves you! Sorry if that's not good enough for you! If I'm not good enough for you! Sorry you can't get back to your precious little Buffy and your even more precious Willow, Alexandra! But hey, I know, let's get all upset and forget that we're in a committed relationship that for one of us at least means something!" Louise surprised herself with the rant; she really thought she wasn't pissed off anymore.
Looking for something else, anything else, to take up her attention, Louise yanked open the box of donuts and grabbed one. She was just about to bite into it when she realized that it was maple glazed. She looked at the box and found that they were all maple-glazed. Her favorite kind of donut; maple glazed donuts brought her back to the days before she came out to her parents as a mutant, back when they still loved her and hadn't tossed her out on the street.
She'd told Alex about maple-glazed donuts early in their relationship, and why she loved them. Alex had tried one, at her urging, and had to spit the bite out. Alex could not stand the taste of them.
And Alex had just brought her an entire box of them.
Louise put the donut down with a sigh. "You brought me an entire box."
"Of maple-glazed donuts.
"Which I know you hate."
"You really are sorry."
Louise opened up the paper and was immediately riveted by the images on the front page. "Alex, is there something you want to tell me?" She held up the headline so Alex could read it. In big, 30-point font, it read FLYING SAMARITAN STUNS CITY!
At first Alex's eyes bugged and Louise could see that she obviously was struggling to say something that didn't sound stupid. In the end, she just shrugged. "I helped people last night. I'd like to keep doing that. I think I can be good at it."
Louise lifted her head and stared. "When you say you helped people, you mean..."
"Rescued some people, stopped some criminals, put out a fire."
"That's the smoke I smell." Louise said casually. "So, you helped people. And you... you enjoyed it?"
"Well, yeah." Alex shrugged. "I don't know what to say. I guess I just got... carried away. I just never imagined..."
"How good it could feel to help people?"
"Yeah. How good it could feel to help people." Alex nodded, eyes downcast.
"Hey... it's okay. Nothing to be ashamed about." Louise kissed Alex's neck, just under her jaw. "You helped people and you liked doing it because it was the right thing to do, right?"
"So now you want to be a superhero? After all this time saying you just wanted to lay low, you want to be a superhero, now?"
Alex shrugged again. "I guess. Are you mad at me?"
"Am I mad at you for wanting to be a good person and using your abilities to make the world a better place?" Louise almost laughed. "How could I be mad about that?" Louise almost said something else, but stopped. She was quietly thinking again. "All right. We'll do this. I mean, obviously you'll be doing it, but I'm going to be there backing you up all the way. But you're going to have to get a costume, of course. And you might want to call yourself something other than Power Girl. You've got to try and keep the identity secret."
"Well, I can think of two reasons right away." Louise held up a finger. "First, you can't be a hero twenty four hours a day. If it got out who you were, people would be calling on you to help 24/7, 365 even for little things people can take of all by their lonesome. I mean, people are lazy, right?"
"And second, you're going to make enemies being a superhero, and some of those enemies are going to want to hurt me to get to you." Louise watched the sky through the window in the kitchen as it lightened. "I'm all about being the supportive wife of the hero, but I do not want to be taken hostage by some creep with a grudge."
"Okay. it's good that you say that. About wanting to support me. I wouldn't want to do this if you didn't." Alex grinned. "I'll get you a t-shirt or a hat or something something that says Miss Lane on it. That way they'll know not to kidnap you."
"It's a joke. I'll explain later."
There was one question Louise needed answered. "What about SHIELD? What about the government?"
"I think I know what to do about that."
"Good." Louise stood and pulled Alex after her. She dragged her partner out onto the balcony.
"What are we doing out here?"
Louise leaned into Alex and hugged her. She whispered "Catch!" and jumped, and almost reflexively Alex caught her in a bridal carry. She reached up and cupped Alex's face and smiled. "I promised you yesterday that we would watch the sunrise together. Sun's almost up."
Alex's face was a portrait of quiet confusion.
"It's okay, baby. You're forgiven for everything. Just don't do it again. No more running off without talking to me." Louise rested her head against the slope of Alex's breasts.
"I promise." Alex swallowed. "I, uh, figured something out last night. I, uh... we, I mean. We can stick around here. I mean, you know. Miami. South Florida some where. Maybe the Keys, or even Tampa or Daytona. Somewhere on the water. Buy a house, or I dunno, maybe just an apartment."
"Sounds good. What'll we do after we settle down and get all domestic?" Louise brought a hand up and ran it along Alex's shoulder, then down the shallow at the base of her neck to just above the valley of her bosom and then back up.
"We'll live. Have fun. I dunno... join a country club and learn to play golf or tennis. Buy a boat and go sailing maybe. Travel the world. We'll have fun."
"Sounds like fun." The sky had begun to acquire the rosy pink of an imminent sunrise. The new day was dawning, in more ways than one. Louise, who was no dummy even if she lacked much of a formal education, understood symbolism. She looked up at Alex, and saw a Something Face. "What is it?"
"I'll tell you later." Alex said. "The show's starting." They were silent, watching as the sun painted the day in oranges and yellows and pinks.
When it was all over, they stayed on the balcony, listening to the city wake up. "I think I had a couple of ideas for Halloween costumes." Alex said. "We're going to need to find someone who can make them custom. Because I want mine made to last, and I want yours to be perfect."
"You want your costume... you're going to dress up in your superhero costume for Halloween, aren't you?" Alex grinned, but didn't answer. "It might cost, you know." Louise stood and stretched.
"What do we care? We still have the duffle, not to mention our cut of the money Victor laundered for us. If we're sticking around this world, we can access it."
"Ah, no worries then." Louise hopped down out of Alex's arms. "I'm going to call the concierge, see what he can do about tickets to some big-time Halloween party. How about you start looking through the phone book and we'll see what can be done about your costume?" She poured herself another glass of milk, grabbed another donut, and headed for the phone.
Alex's costume took almost a week and a half to finish and now she was putting it on for the first time. Given the time of year, she'd been initially skeptical of getting it in time for Halloween, but it turned out that you can achieve miracles when you tell someone that money is no object and mean it.
She stared at herself in the mirror, not believing what she was wearing. It wasn't the white tights of Power Girl. It was mostly blue, with red paneling under her arms that joined with more red on the hips and legs. There was a gold belt, and a long red cape. They were his colors. In hindsight, Alex couldn't believe that she'd had the brass to actually ask the costumer to make this costume. It wasn't identical to his outfit. She wouldn't ever do that. But it was close.
She kept the decolletage. Kara had her reasons for including the boob window, and Alex respected it, so it stayed. So did the red gloves; they matched the red boots anyway. But Alex also couldn't wear this suit without the sigil of the House of El. It would have been disrespectful, she felt. As a result, the symbol adorned her belt buckle, and the two broaches that held the cape on.
Alex found herself feeling humble wearing his colors.
"Hey! Open up! Let's see it!" Louise banging on the bathroom door ruined Alex's ruined mood, and she couldn't help but laugh.
"Okay, okay, I'm coming out." Alex opened the door, and there stood Louise in her own costume. At Alex's request, she'd dressed as Poison Ivy, a villain no one on this world had ever heard of. It had taken time to glue the latex leaves in place, but applying the light green body paint had taken the longest.
"Wow. That's impressive. That's like, major impressive." Louise ran a hand along Alex's shoulder. "And hot, too. You look... wow... you're just all sticking out there..." Louise was having trouble keeping her eyes off of the boob window.
"Louise, you do remember that you've seen them before, right? I mean, you've seen them without anything covering them up. You've had your hands and... other things... on my tits. What's the big deal?"
Louise laughed. "Doesn't matter, sweetie, this is something different. Just draws the attention to them. Yowzers."
Alex rolled her eyes. "Right. Let's go... we're going to be late for the party."
It wasn't until they were in the elevator that Louise spoke again.
"So... uh... what's the S for?"
"The S? What S?" Alex looked around.
"On your costume. Those shoulder things, and your belt buckle? It's an S in a diamond."
"Oh. Its not an S. Its a Kryptonian word. Kryptonian writing is symbolic, like Chinese or Ancient Egyptian. A single symbol is an entire word, not just a single letter. On Krypton, this..." Alex tapped one of the broaches. "... means 'hope'."
"Yeah? Well baby, here on Earth, that's an S."
Alex sighed. It was likely going to be a long night.
Author's Note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the property of Warner Brothers in conjunction with Mutant Enemy Productions. The Marvel Universe is the property of the Walt Disney Company. Power Girl is the property of DC Comics, which itself is the property of Warner Brothers.
Author's Note the Second: Some of the action in this chapter is derived from scenes in the now-classic 1978 film Superman: The Movie starring the late, great Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. This derivation was done as a tribute to the character, who I still believe is one of the greatest fictional icons the human race has ever created, and to the man I believe best portrayed that icon. There are some people out there who think Superman is trite, boring, behind the times, and reflects a moral stance that is unrealistic in today's world of terror alerts and public paranoia. On the contrary, I think that we need Superman and what he stands for more than we ever have.
Author's Note the Third: The part where I portrayed a mystic sorceress whose power rivals that of Doctor Strange an exotic dancer is not original to me. Believe it or not, that's part of her back-story. Yes, she defends the Earth from invaders that come through the Nexus, but her day job is taking off her clothes and dancing for money. Personally, I've never had a problem with men or women choosing that profession; its actually a pretty high paying gig.
Author's Note the Fourth: Scarlett's Cabaret is a real place. It combines the best elements of a strip club with the best elements of a night club, and is pretty much packed every night. Its classy, clean, safe, and ritzy, mostly because it caters to the high rollers who don't mind paying a $30 cover charge, $10 a drink, and so on.
Author's Note the Fifth: And lastly, the title "Definitely Miami" is taken from the title of the twelfth episode of Miami Vice's second season. The episode was broadcast on January 10, 1986, and featured rock star Ted Nugent as a serial killer who preyed on drug dealers and prostitutes. This was, of course, before Ted Nugent turned himself into an ultra-right-wing nutjob.