One of the many perks of living with the Avengers is access to the database via my Avengers ID, so I can find out where other members are at the moment. Tony Stark was on the SHIELD helicarrier. It didn’t take long at all to jump on the Skycycle and zip up in the clouds off the coast.
I landed in my now usual parking space on the flight deck and made my way through the corridors inside. By that time, people knew who I was so I didn’t get stopped or even said hello to along the way. Of course the murderous look on my face was probably one of the reasons for their lack of moderate social engagement.
When I approached Sharon Carter’s office, which was one of the two places where he could be at the moment, I banged on the hatch.
“Enter,” she called from the office and I did so.
A quick look around and I saw my goal wasn’t there.
“Xander,” she said. “What’s wrong?”
“Tony Stark. Where is he?”
I tried to not snap at her, but I could tell that I wasn’t doing a very good job of it.
“He’s in the briefing room. What happened? What’s he done now?”
It sounded like she had to ask that question far too often.
“Have you seen what he wants me to do?”
Pulling the datapad out of my pocket, I dropped it on the desk. “He wants me to take etiquette lessons, specifically deportment, dining, dancing, and social graces. Then there’s the grooming, style coordination, makeup… the list goes on, Sharon. So I’m going to take this datapad and rectally insert it sideways along with…”
“Xander!” She had to bang on her desk before I stopped my rant.
“I told him to send the memos out. Everyone is taking part in this, even me.”
She shook her head and motioned to the chairs in front of her desk. “Please have a seat and I’ll explain.”
This, I had to hear. Just because she had been a woman her entire life doesn’t give her the right to dictate terms of etiquette to me. While I wasn’t the most gifted person in the world where knowing what fork to use for a multi-course meal was concerned, I wasn’t a complete slob either. Why the heck did I need to know in the first place?
Once I dropped down onto the chair, Sharon set her keyboard aside.
“Some of the missions we will be going on will require any or all of us to be in situations of which we are unfamiliar.” Before I had the chance to ask anything further, she continued. “Sometimes, Xander, we will be going into battle, of a sort, at a formal dinner or even before high members of government. Now, ask yourself this question: would you feel comfortable attending a State party where it was your job to seduce a suspect into leaving the party so you could get him alone and interrogate him or perhaps copy a passkey that only he possesses?”
My mouth dropped open. “Seduce?”
“To persuade somebody to have sex, especially by using a romantic or deceptive approach.”
I frowned at her. “I know what the word means.”
“While Yelena Belova has this type of training and can perform her job perfectly, I can’t assign her all the distasteful jobs all the time. That means you, Valkyrie, Elsa and the others will be learning the things that you are not familiar with. The fact that you have a dozen different things to learn where the others have a small handful should be obvious.”
“I’m not attracted to men, Sharon, and you want me to seduce one?”
She shook her head. “No, that was just an example. Seriously though, Xander, how many women do you think Tony has seduced, even though he wasn’t attracted to them, just to get what he wants.”
Yeah, well, Tony was, and still is, a man-whore. I obviously had to use a different tact with her.
“I’m not exactly what someone would call delicate looking. How am I supposed to pull off wearing something… slinky.”
This was the point where Sharon leaned back in her chair and laughed at me. “I know you are friends with Jennifer Walters. She does it all the time. Granted, all of her outfits have to be tailor made as yours will need to be. I’m not asking anything of you that I don’t expect from everyone else, including Tony, and myself.”
She was in her rights, and she was doing the deed properly, but I didn’t have to like it.
“Xander, you seemed to have adapted well since I last saw you: a new hairstyle, more feminine clothes, you’ve even done your eyebrows. I thought it was going to take a good deal more arm-twisting. If you take to everything else as quickly, then this shouldn’t be an issue.”
I tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t just sound like I was whining, but nothing was coming to mind. It was then that I came to the conclusion that I whine a lot.
“I’m not guaranteeing that I’ll wear a dress or heels or anything like that. I might just fall flat on my face the first time I put them on.”
Sharon showed me a soft smile. “I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit. They’re just clothes, and you won’t have to wear them all the time.”
I stood and took back the datapad. “You’re wrong. Clothes are a part of a person’s identity and I’ve lost almost everything I was before I was trapped in this body. It’s one of the things I’ve always had control over, one of the things that make me who I am, and now I don’t even have that.”
When I grabbed the knob to the hatch, Sharon had one last bit of wisdom to impart upon me, or maybe it was just a cheap shot. “We all have to grow up sometime, Xander.”
Even after a solid two hours of sulking and imagining the farce that it would be for me to even attempt becoming more ladylike, I returned to the mansion and sulked some more.
I didn’t have the courage or perhaps it was the lack of wanting to be embarrassed beyond belief to tell Laura of the conversation on board the helicarrier. She was a girl and dressing in things that I was having nightmares about was second nature to her. The memory of when I first saw her in the park specifically came to mind.
I didn’t know if I’d ever have enough testicular fortitude to wear an outfit that showed so much skin in such a way. I’d worn less while working out, but that was different. It just was.
Being the brave knight that I was, I snuck out the back way and wound up walking the streets of Manhattan. Another hour later, and I was firmly ensconced in the back of a Starbucks, sipping on latte, while I tried to think of another way out of my situation.
Why was it so important that I couldn’t wear a pants suit, or maybe just seduce lesbians while doing so? That even brought up thoughts of being with Laura. I couldn’t knowingly flirt with someone else while I was dating someone. It just wasn’t honorable. Hmph. I’ve been hanging around Valkyrie for too long.
“Mine if I have a seat?”
I was so self-absorbed that I hadn’t been paying attention to my surroundings. Steve was standing there, holding a cup of his own coffee. Looking around the café, I saw that he was by himself.
There was no doubt that he had the plain house brand coffee in his cup. Steve wasn’t into all the fancy drinks. Growing up in the thirties and forties does that to a person.
“Sharon called,” he said.
I leaned forward, ducking my head and groaned. “I’m sorry for having her bug you. I’m sure you’ve got more important things to worry about.”
He smiled as his lips left the rim of his cup. “That’s where you would be wrong. Do you want to talk about it?”
He nodded and sat erect on his seat, glancing around.
Of course, my mouth didn’t listen to my brain too often. It wanted to vomit forth my every fear, in fact. “I’m not me anymore, Steve.”
“Who are you then?”
I shook my head. “I have no idea.”
He looked like he was thinking on that bit of information for a moment. “You think you’ve lost your sense of identity?”
I was confused. “What’s that mean anyway?”
“Tell me what made you Xander back in Sunnydale.”
I’d been thinking far too much. “I don’t know. I was a lot less responsible. Don’t get me wrong; I went out and fought as best as I could every night, alongside Buffy, and I could gather donuts like nobody’s business. Everyone had their favorite: Giles liked jellies, but so did Willow, so I had to make sure everyone got what they needed. Buffy was more of a chocolate with sprinkles kind of person.”
Steve raised a single eyebrow at me.
“But you’re probably not with the caring about sugary goodness habits of the Scooby gang.”
“Whatever you think is important, Xander.”Important?
“Uh… well, I liked to read comics and that turned out to be pretty important. I loved my Hawaiian shirt collection. There was a second-hand store where I’d found some seriously loud ones.”
A melancholy smile rose up on my face as I remembered the reactions I’d received for a few of my more adventurous choices.
“And… well there was this….” I couldn’t think of anything else. “I’m pathetic.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. What you’ve mention was important. You aided your friends in their fight as best as you could and you liked to make people laugh. Being a hero doesn’t require you to wear a costume and have superpowers. Sometimes just being yourself is enough.”
I wasn’t so sure.
“Xander, since you’ve been here, I haven’t met a person more devoted to the quest of helping others as you have. Every day for three months you worked at turning yourself into a fighting machine, and since your return, you’ve already made a big difference with SHIELD, Laura, and your friends Willow and Tara. It may not seem like a lot at first glance, but think about the ramifications of the impact you’ve had on them.”
Not replying to Steve just encouraged him to continue.
“Sharon told me that SHIELD wants you to do something that you think goes against who you are. She didn’t go into details.”
I sighed. “They want me to…”
“I don’t want to know. It’ll bias my opinion.” He turned his coffee around in place for a moment. “I’ve been asked to do questionable things in my recent past. The way I’ve worked it out, is this. Is what they’re asking you to do important enough to take a stand on?”
After weighing the material I still didn’t know. “Maybe. It’s not earthshattering or anything. People won’t be risking their lives if I refuse.”
He shrugged. “Is it really important to you?”
That was easy enough. “I swore I’d never do certain things, but there’s not really a good enough reason to refuse. It’s just… I’d be really embarrassed doing them.”
I think he was beginning to get an idea about what the whole issue was regarding. “The only person that can make you feel embarrassed is you, Xander. If you allow the opinions of others to rule over your life and the decisions you make then you’ll always be insecure. You’ll be living how other people want you to live and that’s always been a sticking point with me.”
Steve’s Avenger’s ID beeped at him and he pulled it out. A few moments later he stood. “I’ve got to get back to the mansion. I hope I’ve helped you out some. If not, then wait until I get back tonight and we can talk some more.”
I nodded, and he started out, but stopped and turned back around.
“Be who you want to be, Xander. I’ll don’t have a problem with telling Sharon to back off.”
Steve’s last words were what brought me hope.
Then I realized what my problem was; I didn’t know anything about what I was talking about when it came to things from the feminine side. Back in Sunnydale, when we didn’t know anything about the bad guy we were facing, we did research.
I know what you’re thinking; Xander and research don’t do the mix-o-lot thing together. The way I looked at it, I was the only one keeping me back. Two people accepted me as I was, Steve and Laura. I seriously doubted that Steve knew anything about being a girl and Laura was low maintenance. That’s not a bad thing. I prefer girls that don’t stop every five seconds to check their makeup, like Cordelia Chase. That left everything up to me.
At one of the ever present newsstands littering the streets, I loaded up on all the current girly magazines. I have a question for the more periodical focused girls out there: how can a single magazine focus on one single topic and stay in business? I didn’t think it was possible, but there it was. Vogue, Cosmo, Marie Clair, Elle, and a whole host of others were on my purchasing list. Each had their focus: style, makeup, clothes, age-related clothes, and so on.
I took them over to the Park, across the street from the mansion and started flipping through the contents. Did you know that they sell a tool specifically designed to curl your eyelashes and nothing else. It’s called an eyelash curler; seriously. They also make a specialized tool to pluck eyebrow hairs. You’d think it would just be a pair of tweezers, but no. These have little places to stick your fingers through, like scissors, so you don’t drop them.
I was overwhelmed with all the little things it takes to just work on someone’s face. Then I found out that the makeup I grew up seeing on girls wasn’t in style. Nowadays, unless you had a skin condition and were all blotchy, it was just about eye makeup and lipstick, even then it was supposed to be light applications for the most part. What I’m getting at is I wouldn’t have to take a trowel to put the stuff on, which was one of the reasons I was so against the idea.
The details about the rest of the stuff would probably bore you to tears, so I’ll spare you the suffering. It took me three hours and a boatload of those mini Post-it notes to make my case, but make it I would.
By the time I made it back inside it was late afternoon and Laura was busy with Clint, who had taken her under his wing like Steve did for me. I moved covertly up the stairs to my bedroom where I had time enough to stash the magazines under my bed. It almost felt like I was hiding porn from my parents… which I never did, of course; really. No, really.
After checking the time and realizing that I had another hour before my not-date with Val. I rinsed off in the shower and set out my clothes for the evening before I made my call to Sharon.
“Xander. Steve told me you two had a talk.”
“Yeah. Look, I’ll get straight to the point. I did my research and decided that I’m not wearing any dresses, and I’m not seducing any guys.”
I heard her sigh on the other end of the line. “Do you think it’s fair that the others will have to take up your slack?”
“I didn’t say that I wouldn’t do everything else. Current styles aren’t dictated by how much leg you show, Sharon. I’ve got a copy of Vogue sitting here in my lap and a good portion of the women in this issue are wearing pants, slacks, whatever you want to call the things, to social events. Their… tops are more revealing, which I don’t have a problem with.”
There was silence before me. Ha!
“It’s more about accessorizing, which is annoying, but I don’t have a problem with that either. High heels aren’t the only way to go, especially for tall women. Anything more than two inches for a woman of my height is overkill. Mostly they wear flats.”
“I see,” she said.
“And light makeup is in. I’ve seen some of the people that grace the pages of these magazines and they’re made fun of because they put so much on. So if you have someone that will work with me on creating a certain look then I’ll agree to your terms.”
Sharon cleared her throat. “And what about the seduction portion? I’m sure you have an answer to that as well.”
“I do. In this body, I’m considered a lesbian. If you have women that need to be seduced then I’ll do my job, although I’m not the best person for the job. I’m usually on the receiving end and totally clueless most of the time.”
Odds are that they would wind up seducing me and I’d spill all the secrets of my group.
“If I agree to this, Xander, you won’t give me or Tony a hard time in the future regarding things of this nature?”
I shrugged to nobody in particular, trying to think of an angle to leave me enough room to wiggle if need be. “As long as whoever you set me up with in creating this look is able to work with me, then no, I won’t fight you.”
“Agreed,” she said just a little too quickly.Damn, I forgot something, and I just screwed myself. I know I did.
“Janet Van Dyne will be your style coordinator. She’s more than happy to help you out in this project.”
I groaned. “Crap.”
Janet aka The Wasp has been dying to get her hands on me for this specific reason and I’ve held her off for more than three months. She’s only gotten worse since the spa day, where she accompanied Jennifer, Wanda and I. When she’s not flittering around in her Wasp uniform, she’s a highly sought after fashion designer and I was her ultimate mission quest.
Sharon giggled on the other end of the line. “No hard time. You agreed.”
I sighed. “Fine. I’m working with Valkyrie tonight, so it’ll have to be tomorrow sometime.”
“Xander, it’ll be all day tomorrow and probably several full days after as well. I’ll let her set the schedule as she has other duties to think about. Please make yourself available accordingly.”
Valkyrie showed up for our non-date in fairly casual clothes, bearing gifts. Needless to say I was somewhat flabbergasted. Something told me that I forgot to send out a memo or something.
“It is tradition in the village I was raised to present flowers to our intended.”
I took the medium sized vase and looked at it for a second. “Um… thanks.”
What exactly did it say that I didn’t bother buying anything for Laura? Bad me.
The Æsir entered and held out another gift. “I have noticed it is tradition amongst the mortals to bear chocolates as well as a small token of appreciation to remember the evening by.”
I swear I didn’t laugh. Apparently Val had researched the wrong decade, or even the wrong century by the looks of things. However, chocolate was always a good gift anytime.
“Thank you, Valkyrie.”
The token wound up coming from a decent sized jewelry box, which I was a little wary of. She opened it for me, and inside was a simple silver looking necklace with a pendant hanging from the end: a bird with open wings, clutching three runic symbols in its talons and a sword that crossed the breadth of the wings.
She took it and I allowed her to drape it over my neck. “The raven is the symbol of the Valkyrior, and the sword, Dragonfang, is my personal symbol.”
I picked up the pendant as she fastened the clasp. “It’s very nice, Valkyrie, thank you.”
“It is my pleasure, Xander Harris,” she said rather softly, for her anyway.
When she returned to her place in front of me, I could see something in her eyes. She was happy. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that the leader of the Valkyrior is emotionless or anything, she is, however, controlled.
“So, uh…,” I said with just a touch of nervousness. “Where are we off to where I can teach you about human customs?” Which was a nicer way than teaching her to take a pill.
She took hold of my left hand and set it at the crook of her arm. “Tonight we dine in Asgard.”
That made no sense whatsoever. “Shouldn’t we stay on Earth for that? I mean the whole point was to…”
“I shall be more comfortable and isn’t this lesson about teaching me to relax in my surroundings? We must learn to walk before we run, Xander Harris.”
Okay, that made a little bit of sense. I’m talking about microscopic sized, but still. “Okay. Lead on.”
I’d like to say that the evening wore on as any other when you’re trying to teach someone something that they aren’t comfortable with, but I would be a big fat liar if I did.
As I mentioned early on in my tale, Asgard was basically something out of a Scandinavian history book. Unclean would be the most commonly used adjective if I had and say in the matter.
After we dropped down off of Aragorn, Valkyrie swiftly took hold of my hand again and placed it on her arm. At first, I thought it was a little game she was playing, since I just can’t comprehend Æsir humor in the slightest. I was wrong again. Apparently, I was being escorted by her in the dating sense of the word.
Whenever anyone looked at us, they acknowledged her, then they caught a glimpse of the necklace I was wearing and did the same for me. You probably think that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, people being civil to one another. Here’s the sitch. When I was here for Val’s duel, I was mostly ignored, and now I was given the same respect as Val was.
Something was stinking up Denmark.
When we arrived, strangely enough, at the tavern Thor and I drank at last time, we got a table and she ordered for the both of us.
Mead tastes better than it smells.
“What’s this mean?” I said as I fingered the pendant on my necklace.
Val swallowed about half a mug of mead. “The Raven is the symbol of the Valkyrior.”
It was obvious she wasn’t telling the whole story. “Yeah, you said that before. I’m not good enough to be a Valkyrie and I’m sure you would have said something if I was. So, what else does it mean?”
She looked to the side for a moment, composing herself, I guessed.
“Amongst the Æsir is a declaration of intent. It means that I have chosen you to be mine and while you wear that necklace, no other may enter into courtship with you.”
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Among the Æsir only, right?”
She nodded. “Correct. It raises your status amongst my people. Those of Asgard will treat you as they would me. If they do not, then they will suffer the consequences.”
Looking about the tavern I noticed one other similar necklace on a younger girl who was happily being manhandled by her date. I also noticed that a few women were wearing thick decorative rings that hung loosely around their neck, some of which didn’t entirely close.
“What are those ring things? Do they mean something different?”
Val followed my eyes to an older woman. “They do.”
No amount of needling I did got an answer out of her.
Have you ever felt that you were in over your head?
Janet Van Dyne owned three floors of a building on Madison Avenue, where she ran her business. That’s where I wound up at the next morning, nursing the mother of all hangovers.
Hank was nice enough to empty a bag of fluid into me intravenously. That killed most of the headache, but I still felt like crap afterward, and I had to promise to stay away from Asgardian mead. Janet had the most devious smile on her face as I entered her office.
“Finally!” she declared.
Before she started in on her I have you in my clutches speech
, I cut her off. “You’ve already talked to Sharon? You know there aren’t going to be any dresses involved, right?”
Her face fell, denied. “Yes.” Then it returned to its triumphant grin. “Still, you’re in my clutches! Mwahahahah.”
Author's note: Wow, I guess you guys and gals didn't like the last chapter too much. Very few reviews and recommendations in relation to the hit count. Hopefully this one meets more to your approval. Thanks ahead of time for your consideration.