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Lion Champion

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Nancy's normal, okay? She has absolutely zero superpowers. Zilch. Nada. She does not speak to animals and under no circumstances does she speak to lions.

Ergo, this cannot be happening and she must be dreaming.

"Oh my god, Nancy, you can talk to lions!" Doreen says, in that special way of hers where every! word! is! followed! by! an! exclamation! mark!

"No," Nancy says. "No. No no no. Nope. No. I am gone, goodbye."

She pinches herself. No luck. Still happening. Still surrounded by lions at the zoo. Still hearing the lions talk to her.

Nancy would ask how she got into this mess, but she knows exactly how she got into this mess: once Nancy helped Doreen get back from the 60s (Nancy is still confused about why/how Doctor Doom was there), Doreen had decided that they needed to go back to the zoo, because they hadn't found out if Nancy could talk to animals before Ratatoskr got in the way

Hence, the zoo.

Hence, the lions.

Hence, Nancy's life, right now.

Deep breaths, Nancy Whitehead, deep breaths.

"Hey," Nancy says. True, it's not the world's greatest oratory statement, but you try coming up with something smart when a bunch of lions are looking at you.

Besides, it worked for Beowulf. She knows, because she's had to look up various translations of "Hwæt" for a fic once.

And honestly? It's either that or something out of the Lion King and the only parts of that Nancy knows by heart are Hakuna Matata -- no -- and Be Prepared -- HELL NO.

Nancy decides right then and there that if she can't get rid of the whole "talking to lions" thing, she's making her pride a democracy.

"Hail," the lioness says.

"Hail yourself," Nancy says. Doreen and Tippy-Toe's excited chattering wasn't exactly making it easy to come up with good come-backs, especially not ones that would come out -- or across -- well.

"We have been waiting for you," the lioness says.

Aaaaaaaaaand Nancy is out of here. Talking to animals? Fine. (Well, not fine, but you know what she means.) Being the lions' Chosen One? NOT FINE.

Luckily, that's when the zoo finally realises the lions are out of their cage and intervenes to get them back in.

Nancy does her absolute best to avoid thinking about the whole incident and yet, there she is, two days later.

"So you can talk to lions," Ken says.

"No," Nancy says, even though it is a blatant lie.

"Okay," Ken says, "so you can't talk to lions." He clearly doesn't believe her, but she appreciates that he's willing to pretend he does.

"Right," Nancy says. The thing on the table buzzes and she looks up at Ken.

"Means our order's ready," he says.

"We have our orders already," Nancy says, gesturing with her hot chocolate to prove the point.

"You can -- or cannot -- talk to lions, that calls for something stronger than chocolate," Ken says as he gets up.

"Don't diss the chocolate," Nancy says. Ken is probably too far away to hear her.

Ken comes back with... Nancy had no idea what that thing even was. It was green and had what looks like (also green) Kit Kats stuck in it.

"It's bingsu," Ken says. "Korean ice cream."

"Okay." Nancy shrugs. She can't tell what about her situation apparently requires huge amounts of Korean ice cream, but ice cream time it is.

Ken hands her a spoon and she tries the Korean ice cream.

"Tastes like green tea," she finally says.

He nods. "And those are green tea Kit Kats. My cousin brought some back from Osaka last month."

From here on the conversation devolves into what kind of Kit Kats are better -- black chocolate (Nancy) or green tea (Ken) --, which kind of ice cream is better -- gelato (both of them) -- and how Ken had even found this place -- someone had asked him if he was related to the owners. The awkward laughter after that dies down and Ken asks, "Feel better?"

"Yeah," Nancy says, the Kit-Kats all gone and most of the ice cream as well. "Yeah, I do."

"Good," Ken says.

"It's just that I always thought I was normal, you know?"

"Sorry," Ken says. "I don't."

"What, you've always talked to fish?"

He nods. "There are a lot more decorative ponds with koi in them than most people pay attention to."

Nancy chomps on her ice cream -- can it even be called ice cream when it's just ice, she wonders -- and thinks. She'd wanted to talk to Ken because out of the three people in her life who talk to animals on the regular, he'd been the one most likely to be able to calm her down (which he had, to his credit). Nancy loves Doreen, but level-headed wasn't even close to how Nancy would describe her.

"But maybe Tomas can help," Ken says. "He grew up in a place with no chipmunks until he was fifteen."

"There are places with no chipmunks?"

"Everywhere but North America," Ken says. "Tomas grew up in Perth."

"Right," Nancy says. "Get Tomas, then."

They did not get Tomas.

Tomas had been busy, so they'd agreed to meet in the lounge as soon his study group was over and now here they were, trying desperately to ignore the group of students watching a horror movie on the big screen.

Tomas nods. "There are no chipmunks in Australia and my parents weren't big on zoos, so I kind of freaked out the first time a chipmunk talked to me after we moved back here."

"Back?" Nancy asks.

"My parents are from here. We were only in Australia because of my mom's job."

The rest of Tomas' speech is covered by the sudden screams of the students watching the horror movie.

"So you freaked out," Nancy says.

Tomas nods. "I did."

"How did you stop freaking out?" Nancy kind of, sort of accidentally elbows Ken. He may have heard Tomas' story before, but Nancy is still freaking out and the horror movie isn't that good, anyway. (She's seen it before, with the exchange student who is currently asleep on the couch.)

"I became a superhero," Tomas says, like that's a logical answer.

"Really," Nancy says. It's not a question, just a statement of disbelief.

"Come on, Nancy, you know I'm a superhero!" Tomas whisper-shouts.

She waves a hand. "Yeah, I know. I just don't understand how you made the jump from 'freaking out over talking to chipmunks' to 'be a chipmunk themed superhero'."

"The best way to defeat a fear is to take control over it," Tomas says.

Nancy stares.

"I took a Psych 101 class once," Tomas says.

"When you were fifteen?" Nancy asks dubiously.

"No, last year. It's how I met Ken. Right, Ken? Ken? Ken!"

They have definitely, 100% lost Ken to the horror movie.

Tomas and Nancy look at each other and go back to their conversation.

"So why the superhero?" Nancy asks again. She would be more cautious about bringing this up in public, but there is no way anyone is listening to a word they're saying, if the movie managed to spellbound even Ken. "If you didn't know that at fifteen."

"I didn't become a superhero at fifteen," Tomas says. "I just got better at not freaking out where people could see me."

"So you're saying I should become a superhero?"

"If you want to or if you feel like you need it. I don't know if it'll help you. I just know it helped me."

Nancy thinks about that for next week and a half. She thinks about it while brushing her teeth, while pouring orange juice in her cereal, while she should be listening to the C++ lecture. Doreen, sweetheart that she is, has the good sense not to say anything at all about either superheroing or talking to animals or lions or orange juice not going with cereals.

Finally, Nancy says, "Lion Champion."

Doreen keeps singing under her breath to -- it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks, but it can't be, because Doreen has some amount of taste.

Nancy repeats herself, louder.

Doreen looks up and pops an earbud out of her ear. "You said something?"

"Nothing important," Nancy says. "Just my superhero name."