Mailbox full, said the alert that was currently scrolling across Jess' phone. Please delete old messages so that new messages may be saved.
It wasn't like the PI gig was a new thing for Jess; since her previous career had included such hits as Hydra agent, full-time Avenger, SWORD agent, and the ever-popular Held Captive By Skrulls And Impersonated By The Skrull Queen For Two Years, being a private investigator again felt, comparatively, like a familiar old friend. Sure, there were going to be other superhumans. There were always going to be other superhumans, and she was positive she was going to end up mixed up in it eventually. That was just how her life worked. But maybe this time it would be less of a mess.
And right now, she had a business, and she had Ben Urich feeding her information. Act locally, wasn't that the slogan? She didn't have to get up and save the galaxy every Wednesday. Nah, she could leave that to Carol.
It did mean, though, that she had to deal with the nitty-gritty of being a PI. And that meant sitting here in her pajamas at eight in the morning checking last night's messages, because -- even if she needed to rest -- crime really didn't sleep.
(She'd wondered, sometimes, if one of the villains was subtly influencing that. Maybe one of these days she'd go ask Spidey.)
"This is an automated message for--"
Yeah, no. Next.
"I'm calling to offer you a unique opportunity--"
"Jess, this is Ben. We're still on for nine tomorrow, right?" He sounded tired. "See you then."
Well, at least so far the morning was crime-free. Good for life, bad for business. Next.
"This message is for Jessica Drew," an unfamiliar woman said. "Ms. Drew, I'm a doctor at Metro General Hospital, and I'm calling because Carol Danvers has you listed as her next-of-kin and medical proxy--"
Jess went cold all over.
Please let her be all right.
She slid into her costume and vaulted out the window before the message even finished playing.
Okay, so. On the plus side: Carol wasn't dead.
That was pretty much the only plus to this.
She lay in the hospital bed, unconscious. Her nostrils flared as she breathed, and the monitors showed all the usual vital signs -- well, probably usual for Carol, anyway, Jess thought. She had a hell of black eye. She was probably going to joke about it, when she woke up.
She wasn't waking up.
"We didn't know who she was at first, Ms. Dr-- uh, Spider-Woman-- uh. Ma'am," the flustered nurse said, apparently going for every possible way to address Jess. "She wasn't in costume or uniform or whatever you all call it. She was just... passed out, on the street, and when we checked her wallet we found this." He gestured to Carol's old Avengers card. "So then we checked her records. You're listed as her medical proxy."
"Yeah," Jess said, her mouth moving on autopilot. "We listed each other, of course, because we-- okay, why isn't she awake? What's wrong with her?"
All Jess could think of was how she'd met Carol just like this, years ago and thousands of miles away. She'd been in San Francisco then, and Carol had been unconscious in the bay, left for dead by Rogue. Jess had scooped her up out of the water, taken her to the nearest hospital, and then gotten Charles Xavier to help Carol get her memories back, when it turned out Rogue had taken them all away.
"That's the thing," the nurse said. "We don't know. She should be fine." He gave Jess an awkward, sidelong glance. "We were assuming it was one of your... superhero things."
That meant magic. Or, as the quotation went, sufficiently advanced technology. But whatever it was, very few adversaries ever managed to get the jump on Carol at all -- thanks to her seventh sense -- and almost no one ever took her down this badly. This wasn't looking good.
And if it was superhero business, the superheroes should handle it. Jess opened her mouth, ready to say that the Avengers would take care of it, as always -- and then she actually thought about it.
Tony Stark was broke, and the main Avengers team was operating out of a hangar in New Jersey. Even if broke by Tony's standards wasn't really broke, he still didn't have the same facilities he used to have. Cap's Unity Squad was living in a theater and funding itself selling Deadpool merch -- although Johnny Storm might have been joking about that one. Bobby Da Costa owned AIM now and was running an Avengers team out of their old HQ, but she was damned if she was going to ask AIM for help. That was several bad ideas just waiting to happen, and she didn't care how "advanced" they were. And of Carol's two current major affiliations, Jess didn't trust Gyrich even as far as she could throw him, and the Ultimates were in space. Doing space stuff.
That just left Jess.
And there was no way Jess was going to let Carol down.
"Don't worry," she said. "I've got people."
She had people. She could find people. That was her thing, right? She could find people.
"So she's not waking up," she said, and she was distantly aware that if she gripped the edge of the Starbucks table any harder, it was going to crack. "And I don't know what to do."
This wasn't the morning she'd meant to have. Not by a long shot.
Ben's face was grave. "I'm not telling you how to do your job, Jess," he said, finally. "But it seems to me like you might know at least one... specialist."
"She's got doctors," Jess said, glumly. "Dozens of doctors. I met them all. She'd need a doctor who knows about entirely unknown realms of medical... oh."
She stopped. Yeah.
That... that could work.
Jess paced her office. "Come on," she said, into the phone, and she heard her own voice try to break in barely-suppressed panic. "Don't you make house calls?"
On the other end of the line, Stephen's voice was calm. Unruffled. Perfectly serene. Like she'd just called him away from his perfectly good morning having a nice cup of tea and communing with some happy fluffy astral plane. Hell, that probably had been his morning. "Jessica. Jess." He sighed. "I don't even have admitting privileges anywhere anymore. You know that, right?"
"Well, it's a good thing Carol's already in the hospital, then," she snapped.
There was a pause. "Carol? Carol Danvers?"
"You know another Carol?"
Another pause. "What's wrong with her?"
"Nothing that they can find," Jess said, desperately. "But she's not awake. And I figured if it wasn't something medical science knew the answer to, then maybe-- maybe it was magic."
She could have tried Wanda, but Wanda had been hard to find lately, or so Carol had complained, the last time she'd mentioned her. Not returning her calls these days. Something about going to find herself. Besides, Stephen had the advantage of also being a doctor. She could always track down Wanda later, if Stephen couldn't help.
"Magic's been a little unreliable lately," Stephen said. "But I'll do my best. Give me a second."
The phone went dead in Jess' hand.
Then there was a puff of red smoke, a crackle, and then Stephen was standing in the middle of Jess' office, his arms crossed.
"That was at least three seconds," Jess told him.
Stephen raised an eyebrow. "It's not like Domino's. You're not getting the pizza for free."
"Are you actually charging me?"
"No." He half-smiled and held out his hand. "You look like hell, Jess. Where is she? What's her room number?"
"Three-twelve. At Metro General."
She took Stephen's hand, and they were gone.
The first thing Stephen did was grab the chart off Carol's door and start paging through it. Jess glanced surreptitiously outside, but no one in the hallway seemed to have noticed their sudden appearance, and of course here in this otherwise-empty room, Carol still hadn't stirred.
The monitors beeped away to themselves.
Stephen frowned. His brow furrowed.
"There doesn't seem to be any reason she shouldn't wake up. Medically, at least." He put the chart back on the door and turned around to glance at the array of machines. "Vitals are normal. Probably."
Jess breathed out, realizing only then that her fists were clenched. "Probably?"
He gave her a dubious look. "Well, I've never examined a Kree hybrid, and I don't have any other charts of hers for a baseline."
"So there could be something horribly wrong with her?"
Stephen's face, oddly, softened. "Jess."
"She could be dying," Jess said, and she could feel her own voice drop low, an angry growl, "and you don't know--"
Stephen was smiling broadly, kind of dopily -- and, at the same time, gritting his teeth. "Pheromones, Jess. Could you not?"
Goddammit. She didn't usually lose control. Not like this.
She'd always been a little unpredictable where Carol was concerned, hadn't she? Yeah, a tiny part of her mind said, yeah, and she knew exactly why, didn't she?
She damped down on the half-formed thought, the one she tried never to even think, and she breathed in and out. Pheromones. Under control. Right.
Stephen murmured something, a few syllables that didn't sound like they should come out of a human throat, and a floral-scented breeze filled the room. She watched him take a steadying breath. He was clear-headed now.
"Okay," she said. "Sorry. Now what?"
He looked over at Carol, and his eyes went unfocused, like he was looking through her and seeing something else. "Well. Bad news is there aren't any demons, parasites, or other extradimensional drains on her energy."
Oh, right. The Sorcerer Supreme's actual day job. "That's bad news?"
He blinked and focused, and his gaze went back to Jess. "In a sense. If it were something I could see, I could fight it. That would be easy. Relatively. This means that the problem is more complicated."
"So what's wrong with her?"
Stephen took three steps to Carol's bedside, and he extended his hand, very slowly. He made a fist, thumb out, and he rested his thumb, gently, in the middle of Carol's forehead. His head went up. He wasn't even looking at her. Or anyone. Jess shivered.
It wasn't like Jess was the biggest fan of magic, but then, she also wasn't a big fan of science, so it evened out.
"Her aura is shadowed," he intoned. "It is dim. Dull. There is a fog over her soul, and it has wandered astray from the path to her body."
Save for the beeping of the machines, the room was silent. She waited, but he didn't say anything else.
"So, uh," she said, "is that some kind of official diagnosis? Can she get a pill for that?"
Stephen didn't even give her his usual long-suffering stop giving me shit look. His face was still blank, and his hand was still pressed against Carol's head.
She wanted to hold Carol's hand. There were so many reasons why that was not a good idea.
"I can light the way to her body," he said. His voice echoed, like it was coming from far away. "Her spirit may not follow, but without this, there is no chance."
His other hand was splayed out in the air, a foot or so above Carol's chest. He whispered a few words that definitely weren't English, fast and sibilant, and then he drew both his hands up with a flourish. He was a stage magician doing a trick, a puppeteer making his toys dance.
Carol's body arched off the bed, like Stephen's hands had lifted her up. She gasped. Her eyes flew open. And then she settled back down. But she was awake.
Jess watched as Carol's gaze focused first on Stephen -- given his usual eye-catching appearance, who could blame her, really? -- and then on her. She didn't look soulless. She looked very definitely alive. Stephen had done it. She was back. Jess started to smile.
"Carol?" she ventured.
Carol blinked. Her face twisted up.
"Who are you?" Carol asked. "Do I know you?" She frowned. "Who am I?"
This was just like when she'd met Carol in so many ways, and this was the final and most agonizing of similarities: her memory was gone.
The thing was, it wasn't like amnesia was unusual in their line of work. Some of the other Avengers had had pretty bad cases, over the years. Bucky Barnes' brain had been the neurological equivalent of Swiss cheese, after decades of mindwipes, until a Cosmic Cube had fixed him right up. Hell, Tony Stark was still running around missing a couple of years, and he seemed to be doing okay; if Jess hadn't spent those same years locked up in the hold of a Skrull ship, she probably would have found his gaps in knowledge more disconcerting, like everyone else did, but it wasn't like she'd actually been there for the superhero Civil War. No, that had been Veranke.
Yeah. Jess didn't really want to think about that.
And then there was Carol.
At this point, Carol was probably the Avengers' poster child for Not Remembering Her Own Life. She'd had amnesia when Jess had met her, when Rogue had ripped everything out of her. And then a brain tumor last year, during the Builder War, had done it again.
They'd fixed it. Sort of.
She'd gotten her memories back, both times, but she'd gotten them back without any emotional component attached. From what Jess had learned about Carol's history, she suspected there were several spans of time for which Carol was much happier not having any feelings about the events she'd undergone.
But now she didn't even have that.
Jess had been sitting here at Carol's side for another two hours, after Stephen had made his apologies and left, after the doctors and nurses had come and gone. She'd been sitting here, trying to explain Carol's life to her. Again.
"So you're a superhero," Carol said, and then, even more skeptically: "So I'm a superhero."
Her tongue poked out of her mouth as she thought. Jess had seen that face on Carol a million times, so familiar that it made her heart ache. "And you said you were Spider-Woman."
"What's my superhero name?"
Carol blinked. "Am I in the military?"
God. She didn't know anything. "You used to be in the Air Force. You were a major."
She frowned again. "If I'm not a captain, why am I Captain Marvel? Was I a captain then, when I got the name?"
"Well," Jess said. "There was this Kree guy, name of Mar-Vell, and he--" She sighed. "It's complicated. You took the name to honor him."
"I've had... different names?" She squinted.
Jess nodded, on firmer ground now. "More than most of us. Except maybe Clint. Before that you were Ms. Marvel, and before that you were Warbird, then Binary, and then at the beginning you were Ms. Marvel. That was years ago. That was your name when I first met you." She found herself giving Carol a tiny smile. "I always kind of liked that one best. I don't think I've ever told you that."
"You know me pretty well, huh?" Carol murmured.
She did, indeed, know Carol well. Even if Carol didn't know who she herself was, even if she didn't know what to think, Jess could practically read Carol's emotions playing over her face. She'd never really been one for subtlety -- she liked Star Wars and punching things, she'd always said, laughing -- and maybe that was why Jess, lifelong secret agent, had been drawn to her, a stalwart friend who was always exactly who she claimed to be. No lies. No deception.
And then Carol's face softened into an expression Jess had never seen. Not on Carol. It was a thought Carol had never had about her; Jess knew that, just looking at her. Her eyes were just a fraction wider, brighter and darker at the same time. Her lips were parted, her cheeks were flushed, and she was looking at Jess like she wanted to keep looking at her forever.
This time it wasn't Jess' pheromones. They didn't work on women. They couldn't work on Carol.
No, this was all Carol.
But it couldn't be. Carol couldn't be interested. Carol wasn't interested. Carol was a hundred percent straight. Wasn't she?
What did it mean if Carol liked her better when she had no memory left?
She waited for Carol to ask the cliche question of the amnesiac: Are we together?
She didn't have an answer ready. What was she supposed to say? No, because I'm a goddamn coward? No, because I've got enough trust issues for a lifetime subscription? No, because you're the one person in my life who's never fucked me over and I wouldn't be able to stand it if I lost you because of some stupid feelings?
The question didn't come.
"Yeah," Jess said, in answer to the question Carol had actually asked. "I know you pretty well."
Carol was still smiling, soft and sweet. "I kind of like the idea of that."
They'd kicked her out at the end of visiting hours, but dammit, there had to be something she could do. Jess paced her apartment, and all she could think about was the way Carol had looked at her.
Carol had been confused, but so happy.
No. She couldn't think about it. It was going to break her heart.
They'd fixed this. She'd called up Xavier, and he'd put Carol's mind back together.
Unfortunately, Charles Xavier was dead, and the Red Skull was currently borrowing his brain -- or had been, last she checked.
Welcome to Earth-616, she thought, as she stared out her window into the night, watching the cars pass by on the street below. The world where omega-level telepaths are so valuable that villains can wreak havoc with just their corpses.
Well, it wasn't like she had any more of those lying around--
She wasn't sure this was going to work. Not at all. And she'd-- well, she'd have to owe someone a really, really big favor.
But it was worth a shot. It was the only shot she had left.
Carol pushed aside her breakfast tray, looked up, and smiled at Jess and the woman behind her.
"Good morning," Carol said, but she looked a little uncertain. "Are you-- are you another one of my friends?"
Emma smiled in that way that Jess secretly envied: in command, collected, cool and confident, not a hair out of place. Jess wondered it was the sort of thing you just picked up as the White Queen.
"I'm one of your... colleagues," Emma said, smoothly. "My name is Emma Frost, and I'd like your permission to examine your mind."
"Sure," Carol said. "I already had half a dozen neurologists, but I'm up for more."
Emma smiled again, a little friendlier, this time. "I'm a telepath."
Jess waited to see if Carol would refuse, but Carol only nodded briskly, businesslike, like this was just some Avengers mission. Had to be done. "Go for it," she said. "It's not like I have anything to hide. That I know about."
Emma didn't do any of the flashy things Stephen had. There were no words, no gestures, no overdramatic hands pressed to her temples. She sat down in the chair at Carol's bedside. The room was silent. She didn't even touch Carol. She just watched her.
"Uh," Carol said, after about twenty seconds of this. "When are you going to start?"
"I already have," Emma said, and then she sat back and looked over at Jess, like she wanted Jess' opinion too. "And the good news," she added, "is that your memories are still there."
Jess started to smile. Carol was going to be herself again. It was going to be all right.
But Emma wasn't looking like it was good news, and Jess faltered. Carol started to frown.
"What's the bad news?"
Emma bit her lip; for once, her perfect composure slipped. It had to be awful. "There's no way to put them back."
"The memories are there," she repeated. "The integration with the rest of Carol's mind -- that's gone. It might be possible to reintegrate them, but without anything left to model it on, there'd be no guarantee I was doing it correctly. The missing emotional component of much of them makes it even trickier."
Okay. She wasn't going to panic. This couldn't be the end. They'd fixed this before.
"I'm not going to get better?" Carol asked, and there was fear in her eyes that Jess had never seen before.
"So, what," Jess said, "you need a model? What does that mean?"
"If she had even a few memories left from before this--" Emma waved one elegantly-manicured hand-- "I'd be able to see how they fit into her mind, and I could put them back. Everyone is different. But there's nothing there, and if I put them back wrong--" She swallowed. "Let's just say, you don't want me to do that."
There was nothing left. Carol didn't remember anything.
This couldn't be it. Carol had beaten this twice. She was going to get lucky. She always did.
God, she was never going to know that Jess--
Jess gritted her teeth. She was never going to know that anyway, because Jess wasn't going to tell her.
"But she's in my memories," Jess said. "I mean, I have memories of Carol. So do a whole lot of people." She didn't really want Emma in her head, but if it saved Carol, it would be worth it. "Can't you look at me, or someone else, and use us as models?"
Emma was shaking her head. "It wouldn't work. Those are your memories, of things that happened to you. They'd have to be her memories. And only Carol would have had those."
That was it. It was over. No one else remembered Carol's memories for her--
She had Carol's memories.
"Jess?" Emma asked, sympathy in her eyes now. "Jess, are you okay?"
"I have her memories," she said, with growing certainty. "Emma, I have her memories."
"What do you mean?"
Jess was on her feet, pacing the room, animated by the idea of it. Carol was watching her, starting to smile. "Not all of them," she said. "Nowhere near all of them. But a few." She breathed in and out, a ragged breath. "When I first met Carol, when she had amnesia then, I asked the professor for help, and I guess it was different, what happened, because he could put her memories back. But I was there, with her, in her mind, and I experienced her memories, too. I felt what happened to her." And some of it had been awful. But now wasn't the time to think about that. "They're her memories, Emma. They're Carol's memories. Would it be enough?"
Carol's face lit up. She wanted this. Of course she did.
Emma rose from her seat, and she caught Jess' arm. "One second," she told Carol.
Before Jess had quite processed what was happening, Emma had dragged her into the hallway, far enough down the hall that Carol wouldn't be able to hear them. Her jaw tightened.
"Would it work?" Jess searched Emma's face for answers. "Would it work? Please say it would work, Emma, I'll do anything--"
Emma nodded. "If there's enough there, it would work. But," she added, "the connection would be deep. Intimate."
"Whatever it takes," Jess said, headily. "I swear--"
Emma's pale eyes met hers. "Jess. She'll know."
Oh, God, Jess thought, and her stomach flipped over. She tried to smile. She tried to play it cool. "Know what?"
Emma raised a disdainful eyebrow. "Jess, are you seriously trying to lie to a telepath? I already know. And she'll know."
Her secret. Her feelings. Everything she felt for Carol. Everything she was never, ever going to tell her.
But Carol would have her memories back. Carol would be herself again.
Even if she decided never to speak to Jess again, it would be worth it. Carol would be back.
She knew what she had to do.
"Does she," Jess began, "I mean, do you know if she feels--"
She was helpless, at the mercy of her own feelings, this stupid, hopeless infatuation, and she hated that she was even asking this. Bur she couldn't stop.
"I don't know," Emma said. "I never looked closely enough, before. I try not to. You've been... broadcasting." She shrugged. "She thinks you're pretty, though."
Yeah, she'd gotten that much. She didn't have to be a telepath to know that. It didn't mean anything.
They had to do this. No matter what Carol was going to think of Jess' feelings.
Jess swallowed hard. "Okay. Let's do this. Let's get Carol back."
They'd pulled up two chairs at Carol's bedside: Emma was in the closest one, and Jess was in the other.
"All right," Emma said. "Are you ready?"
Carol nodded once, firmly, determined. It was the look she got right before punching the world's latest bad guy in the face. Even Galactus, Jess was sure, had quailed at that look. Not that Carol remembered that. "I'm ready." She glanced over at Jess and smiled a tiny smile.
It didn't mean anything. Carol was amnesiac, scared, and reaching out for anyone who looked like help, but Jess' throat went tight anyway.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," Jess said.
She meant not at all, of course. But this was what she had to do.
Emma took Carol's hand. With her other hand she reached out toward Jess. She stretched, and their fingers touched, and--
Emma's voice echoed through her mind. Think about Carol, Emma said, and Jess wanted to laugh, because she couldn't hold anything back now, could she?
Think about Carol.
They were in Cadiz. Carol's uniform was black and silver, the color leached out of it. Carol had picked SHIELD's side, Steve Rogers' side, and Jess had picked the rest of the Avengers, and as they stood next to each other and watched the man who had once been Captain America scream at the only Illuminati he could find, Jess thought about a cell she'd been to in Wakanda, a cell containing the only one of them he'd wanted, the one he couldn't stop hunting, his oldest friend in this century. But the rest of the superheroes were together. The Avengers were together. The world was going to end, maybe, but at least she and Carol could be together again. At least they didn't have to fight each other. Not like Cap and Shellhead did.
Not that, Emma said. You know that's all you. Come on.
Further back, then.
The hold of the Skrull ship opened up and nearly every superhero she'd ever known was standing on the other side.
And when they saw her -- her, Jessica Drew -- the entire mass of people took a step back, in a wave, and Jess thought oh God, what did I do, I wasn't even here, what did they do in my name--
Carol was the only person who never moved. She was standing in front of the group, and she was smiling. She was the only one who was smiling, and she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Jess, and she didn't smell like a Skrull, and she was warm and alive and real, God, this was real. Carol. Carol had come for her. She'd been asleep, she'd been sleeping for so long, and she'd dreamed of Carol, she'd always dreamed of Carol.
"Oh, thank God," Jess breathed. "Carol -- man, are you a sight."
"Are you okay?" Carol whispered into her hair, and something was wrong, because Carol was shaking, and Carol couldn't be afraid of her, could she?
Oh, God, what did they do?
"No!" Jess said. "I'm tired, and I'm so out of sorts it's not even a little funny, and I--"
She raised her head. Nick Fury was staring at her like he was about ready to murder her, and behind him, Reed, and Logan, and Spidey, and Norman fucking Osborn, who looked like he maybe had murdered her, what the hell, and oh God what happened what happened what happened--
"What?" she asked. "What did I do?"
Carol pulled away and wouldn't meet her eyes. "You didn't do anything." And the way she said it, it sounded like a lie. Why was Carol lying?
"Why is everyone looking at me like that?"
Carol made a noise that was almost a sob. "No one knows what to think."
Watching this, Jess twisted away, up and out of the memory. She couldn't think about this. This wasn't right.
But Carol had been there for her, God, Carol had been the first one there for her, and she hadn't turned away--
No, Emma's mental voice said, a little impatiently, further back. When you met. Think about when you met.
It was a cold night in San Francisco, and the visibility was down to damn near zero with the fog. Jess' costume as she flew over the bridge. A night like this was almost always irresistible for jumpers, and in this weather she could hardly see them at all.
And there was another one, tumbling through the air, the glint of their golden hair barely visible, and Jess dove--
The jumper was a woman, and oh hell, she hadn't jumped. Not of her own accord, anyway. As she landed hard in Jess' arms Jess realized the stranger was already out cold -- she'd been pushed -- and then Jess overbalanced and the two of them swooped and fell, and Jess rolled onto her back so that she took the hit, as the water swallowed them both--
Yes, Emma said. This.
Jess struggled against the current, the stranger in her arms, and dragged them both to shore, dripping and shivering, but alive. She looked down at the woman, still out cold, too pale, and she pushed a tangle of darkened blonde hair out of the woman's face, exposing an elegant fine-boned profile. Something about her looked fierce even in sleep, Jess thought; God, she'd been spending too much time around superheroes.
Who are you, hmm? Jess wondered, with an odd surge of fondness. Someone must miss you. I would.
She was a PI. She could find that out. She hefted the woman in her arms again and got a running start, and then leaped into the air. She needed a hospital.
Three hours later, Jess was still waiting in Ocean Beach Hospital's hallway when the fingerprints came back on Carol Susan Jane Danvers, Major, USAF, retired. Ms. Marvel, former Avenger. And they couldn't tell how badly she was hurt.
That was when Jess had picked up the phone and called Xavier.
Just outside the memory, Emma's mind colored with pain, grief, sorrow. Then there was a tinge of embarrassment, and the memory stabilized.
Xavier had been here, like Emma had been here, and he'd reached out, and he'd shown her Carol's mind--
She was Carol, and she was on the bridge, and Rogue pulled everything she was out of her, and Rogue let her fall--
I remember this, a familiar voice said, a little uncertainly. Carol. Jess? Carol asked. Jess, you're in my mind?
"I didn't realize you remembered that for me," Carol said, and she was speaking aloud now. Jess opened her eyes, and Carol was smiling. "Do you remember anything else for me?"
There was a tangle of memories, feelings, thoughts that weren't hers: Stargazing. Test flights. The stars-- the stars! Falling into the Psyche-Magnetron, and how she hadn't known, at first, that she was Ms. Marvel. Immortus, Jess thought, and then everything turned to ice, because Carol didn't remember Marcus, because she didn't have feelings about Marcus anymore--
She'd gone to New York, to the Avengers, while Carol had still been in SF, and she'd listened to the team explain that nothing had even seemed fucking fishy about Carol's apparent happiness about her miraculous super-fast alien pregnancy, and they'd been happy to leave her. She'd disappeared and they hadn't cared.
So she'd gone with Carol to Xavier's school, and she knew as she thought it that these were her own memories, that Carol was going to find out--
They were strapping themselves into the Blackbird and laughing.
"You offer this service to all your clients, Ms. Drew?" Carol had said, with a smile.
"Only the special ones," Jess had said, and she knew she was flirting, and Carol was military, God, Jess knew better than to fall for the straight ones--
They'd stayed in the mansion for a good two weeks while Carol recuperated, while the professor helped her integrate more of her memories. And Jess-- God, she'd loved it. She'd been happy. And Carol had been happy.
There was an answering kind of echo from Carol's mind, a wave of happiness reflected back. I was so grateful, Jess. I didn't have anyone. There wasn't anyone I could trust, and then there was you.
Jess understood that, all right.
And then the Avengers came to try to take her back.
Jess had been holding Carol's hand. She remembered that more than anything, the feel of Carol's hand in hers.
"If you need a friend, call," she'd told her. "I'll hear you."
I was so afraid, Carol said, in her mind. I wanted you back. The instant you'd dropped my hand.
Jess had gone inside with the professor, but of course she could still hear every word Carol said, as she'd confronted the Avengers, as she'd told them exactly why she wasn't coming back.
She'd slapped Thor in the face, Jess remembered now. Thor. God.
And all Jess could do was stand in the mansion and watch.
"I helped her relive those awful events," she'd told Xavier. "I shared her pain, her grief, her loss, her shame. Her anger."
Xavier had half-smiled. "Because you gave unstintingly of yourself, Jessica, she survived. No friend could have done more."
Out on the lawn, Carol was crying. The Avengers had failed her.
"There's such agony in her voice," Jess had said, raw, as raw as if she could still feel Carol's pain herself. "I want to go to her, stand beside her, help her."
That was when I knew I was in love, Jess thought, and Carol was here, in her mind, Carol heard her, God, Carol knew, Carol knew everything--
"Jess," Carol said, and Jess blinked and came up and halfway out of the mindlink, and Carol was... smiling? "For God's sake, Jess, don't be an idiot. I love you too."
"Yeah," Jess said, miserably. "As a friend. I know."
"What did I just say about not being an idiot?" Carol asked, and then she was pushing herself up out of the hospital bed. The oxygen monitor came off her hand and she ripped three electrodes off; machines started to beep in annoyance. "Excuse me, Emma. We're going to need a minute, please."
Jess was dimly aware of a white-clad figure moving away, and the sound of a door closing, and then -- oh God -- Carol was kissing her.
"You thought I was straight?" Carol asked, incredulously, pressing a kiss to Jess' jaw. "Because I was in the Air Force? And here I thought you were a detective, Jess."
Carol was entirely out of bed now, pushing them both out of bed to crash against the door. Jess reflexively adhered to it and pulled Carol halfway up the door. Carol just held on tighter.
"Eh," Jess said. "Military hits a lot of false positives on my gaydar. You and your butch haircut. You know how it is."
"I know I thought you weren't interested," Carol retorted, and she kissed her again.
"I was interested when I met you," Jess said, because there was nothing to hide now. Carol knew. "And I knew I loved you when I watched you stand up to the entire Avengers team by yourself."
"I didn't realize you'd seen all of that," Carol said, a little sheepishly.
"You slapped Thor."
Carol's eyes glinted in amusement. "Well, I'll have to remember that the next time I'm trying to impress you. Not sure how the new one would take it. She might object."
"Okay," Jess said, "so you remember everything."
"And everything I wish I'd known before," Carol said, and she kissed her again. "Wanna get out of here?"
Carol's hospital gown shimmered, and then she was in uniform again; Jess had always thought that was a neat trick. She checked herself out against medical advice. Immediately. And out the window. Jess held her hand and they flew together, in a hail of photons, toward the river. It was like the day they'd met, only in reverse: now everything was known.
Now no one was going to forget the important things. Not ever.