Carol finished putting away the last of her clothes and stared around the room, feeling its smallness for the first time. It had seemed so much bigger when she was a kid, even as a teenager studying hard for her PSATs and SATs and ACTs and every other damned test she aced in her fruitless quest to prove herself to her father. Her writing desk was there in the corner, her bed here: always seemed like plenty of room in the past. Now, Carol curled up on her bed, knees tight to her chest, and stared out at the doorway scant feet away. Now it felt like a prison cell.
She knew she was being melodramatic, quietly histrionic, even. But Carol couldn't help but see her circumstances in the worst light. Quitting the Avengers before they could give her the boot, no job, no prospects. Everything she'd worked for in life, anything she'd ever wanted, was crumbling around her like so much infected vibranium. She gritted her teeth and blinked tears from her eyes. Nothing to be done about it now. Just time to keep keeping on. She'd get through this, land on her feet. She always did.
God, she just wished it wasn't so hard.
A knock at her door. Carol jolted, not sure what to do. "Mom?" she called out. Suddenly she was transported back fifteen years, a teenager all over again. She grimaced.
The door slid open, and a familiar smiling face peaked through the crack. The auburn curls most definitely did not belong to Mrs. Danvers, however. Carol started to smile, before she remembered herself. Remembered exactly what had happened. The smile faded as she looked away from the door, replaced by a cold hurt.
"What are you doing here?"
"Your mom let me in. Said it should be fine," Wanda told her.
Carol grimaced. "Did Steve send you? Tony? Did he ask you to check up on me, make sure I'm not drinking myself into a flophouse like he did?"
Wanda sighed and invited herself in. Carol decided to let her as she sat down on the bed. There was no stopping her, apparently. Slowly Carol uncurled herself, sitting upright on the edge of her bed, feet on the ground.
"No one sent me. My friend left her home and I missed her, so I came to see her."
"Without some much as a phone call before? Sure." Carol eyed up the room, wondering if there was anything incriminating lying around. There was beer in the kitchen fridge, but big news: there was beer in a fridge. It wasn't like Carol had bottles of it strewn around her bed.
She'd just moved in, after all. That kinda mess wouldn't develop for a few days. Though now that she was thinking about it, she sure could use a drink now... Carol put it out of her mind. If she drank around Wanda she'd just report it back to the other Avengers, and they'd end up trying to hold some second intervention for her. No thanks.
"How are you adjusting?" Wanda asked, manicured nails curling delicately around the edge of the bed.
Carol sighed and shrugged, looking away from her. "Okay. Nothing to adjust to, really. Gotta do my own dishes, I guess: no Jarvis around. But, yeah. Just finished unpacking. Boxes all out for the garbage men." No turning back now.
Wanda hummed, not sounding like she at all was actually listening. Carol bristled. What was the point of her coming over if she was just going to ignore her?
Wanda turned to her, shoulders hunched up, curls spilling over them. Her big green eyes were filled with concern. "But how are you? Are you happy?"
"Of course I'm not happy," Carol snapped. "I'm off the Avengers, I've got no job, I had to move back in with my mom, for God's sake."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"Well then don't ask stupid questions."
Heavy silence in the room between the two women. Guilt churned, thick like tar, in Carol's stomach. After a long moment the guilt burbled over and she blurted out: "Sorry. You didn't deserve that. You came all this way-"
"No, it was... I'm doing this all wrong," Wanda sighed. Her bracelets tinkled as she tangled a hand in her hair, tugging at her curls. "I'm just... not sure how to do it right."
"Does Hallmark make a card for this?" Carol asked. "Maybe that's where you should start. Find me a 'sorry you quit the Avengers in disgrace, here's a cake,' card. Actually: cake. Food. That might be another place to start, barring the lack of oddly-appropriate Hallmark cards."
"Actually..." with a smile Wanda turned to her messenger bag, digging through it for a moment. Out came two pints of ice cream: cookies and cream for Carol, mint chocolate chip for Wanda. She even had spoons.
Carol took the ice cream from Wanda incredulously. And the spoon. "Why'd you bring spoons?"
"I didn't know what you'd unpacked yet," she replied as she cracked the top of her ice cream. "I didn't realize you'd be completely finished unpacking already."
"Ripping off a bandaid," Carol told her. She turned the pint over in her hands, arguing with herself. She lost that argument pretty fast: miserable as she was, she wasn't quite miserable enough to turn down ice cream. If Wanda had brought any other comfort food, maybe. But not ice cream. Carol wiped some of the frost off the packaging with her thumb before peeling open the top and digging in. "Gotta do it quick," she said around a mouthful of ice cream. Damn, that was good. As she swallowed, Carol poked her spoon at Wanda. "And I was moving back into Mom's: she's got spoons."
Wanda shrugged. "Well, when I can't be lucky, I compensate by being over-prepared."
"You're always lucky," Carol murmured into her pint. The black and white swirls of cookie and cream seemed significant, somehow. Symbolic. Or maybe that was her histrionic sense of self-importance rearing its ugly head again.
"Not always. Not like that. I've had my fair share of upheavals, too."
Carol shut her mouth. She wanted to point out that life seemed pretty good for Wanda right now: old boyfriend back, ex-husband comfortably on the team, playing nice. Friends and family around her, though Pietro was off on his own more than not right now, he still dropped by often enough. A home, a team, a life: Wanda had it all going for her. Didn't point it out, because like she'd said, she'd had her own trials and tribulations in the past.
"You're just in a valley right now," Wanda said, reading her thoughts. "We all go through them. But you'll swing up soon enough. It's... ah, there's a term for it, you pilots use it..."
"Parabolic," Carol supplied her. "It's a math thing, not a just pilot thing. But, yeah. I guess."
The ice cream wasn't even enough to stop the self-loathing from rearing its ugly head once more. Carol set it on her nightstand, spoon sticking out. Just having to supply that one word for Wanda reminded Carol what a waste of space she'd become. She was a deft hand at math, an ace pilot, a top-notch reporter and a superhuman. And she wasn't using a single ounce of her skills to do jack shit right now. She had every gift in the world at her disposal and at the end of the day it was all she could do to unpack a couple boxes. She was worth less than nothing: if she was worth nothing then at least she wouldn't have the weight of her cosmic debt pressing down on her shoulders. As she was, sitting on her thumbs and wasting her talents, Carol was an active detriment to society.
She wrapped an arm around her stomach and shut her eyes. She wasn't going to cry in front of Wanda. Not over this. Not over moving back in with her mom, over quitting the Avengers. Not this.
"You should take a shower," Wanda told her, sandals scuffing at the nappy carpet in Carol's bedroom. That carpet was the same carpet Carol grew up with: hadn't been changed once. There was still a burn in one corner from when her rocket engine misfired when she was trying to install it; another glob of blue in the back when she was working on an English project painting Susan Calvin on her tri-fold poster board. The carpet was practically an antique, but it certainly wasn't the type of antique carpeting like Tony and Jarvis were always fretting over in the Mansion. This was... shit. Was what it was. Shitty, nappy, old, trampled-down worn-out carpet.
Felt like there was some symbolism in there or something. Carpet looked like Carol felt. Something.
"I don't-" Carol hesitated. Clamped her mouth shut. Just the thought of going into that little, cramped bathroom with its grimy grout that needed replacing a decade ago... Carol shuddered and gripped her right arm in her hand, squeezing just the wrong side of too-tight. She'd rather stay dirty than shower in there. Really, she'd rather shower in Avengers Mansion, in her home. Or in her apartment in New York, where she had made her life herself before moving into the Mansion. Anywhere but this shitty little bathroom.
But she couldn't explain that to Wanda. It sounded psychotic, even beating around inside Carol's own skull.
"I'll do it later," she settled for instead.
There was a pause, while Wanda's sandal drew little circles in Carol's awful carpet. Her ice cream was set aside, perched on the bed on the far side away from Carol. After a moment Wanda suggested, calmly: "It's the bathroom, isn't it? You hate it."
Carol snorted, deflecting. Her eyes skittered away from Wanda. "Guess you got a look at it before you came in here, huh? Pretty rinky-dink."
"Come on, Carol: you know what I meant."
"Didn't," Carol grumbled.
Wanda's hands fluttered on the bedspread, numerous bracelets jangling. Finally she sighed and settled her hands back in her lap without touching Carol. "You know, the Jewish people do know something about time spent in exile. Half our stories we tell our children are about that. And... Pietro and I, we spent so much of our lives looking for a home. I know what it feels like to be homesick. Even though we were usually homesick for a home we'd never seen."
Something clicked in Carol's brain. She glanced over at Wanda, mouth open. "Homesick?"
Wanda was looking at her. Her face brightened when Carol finally turned to meet her gaze, though she tampered the emotion down a bit. "Sure. Homesick. It's what you are."
Carol hesitated, jaw working. "I..."
Wanda's green eyes went wide. "Haven't you ever been homesick before?"
Carol shook her head. Oh gosh. That's what it was. Wanda was a horrible genius, that's what this feeling was twisting at her gut. That's what the lead ball of guilt and regret was in her stomach, feeling like it would consume her. That's why she hated that fucking awful bathroom of hers: she was homesick.
"No," she finally answered, head still spinning. "I... No, never."
"Not when you first left home?"
Carol shook her head again. It all made sense now. "No. When I was eighteen I was headed for the Air Force, where they'd pay for my college. My dad reneged on that promise because I was a girl, so I was happy to see the back of this place. When I left the Air Force it was for a job as the youngest chief of security at Cape Kennedy, working for NASA. When I left that job it was to become the head editor of Women's Magazine in New York City. When I left that it was to become an Avenger. I..." She stopped, swallowing hard. She looked away from Wanda, not wanting her to see the shameful tears in her eyes. Her pale skin was probably blotchy red already. It was so easy to see when she was crying. "Every time I've moved, it's to something better. It's to somewhere I want to be. This is moving backwards, and I can't..."
"Parabolic flight. Isn't that what the quinjet does, to get us across the world faster?"
Carol shook her head, then shrugged. "Kind of, yeah. It's a sub-orbital... Yeah," she finally settled on. "Yeah, sure."
"Maybe that's all this is for you," Wanda suggested softly.
"It's just... it's so..." Carol growled, trying to latch onto anger instead of sorrow, rage instead of shame. It wasn't working too well. "I feel like a failure," she whispered. If she couldn't say it to Wanda, who could she admit it to? "I don't even have health care," she half-laughed, half-sobbed.
Wanda's fingers reached out, fluttered against her elbow, pulled back. "Oh, Carol. I... You know, we always would be there for you if you needed us. We won't let you end up stuck with hospital bills or on food stamps or-"
"That's not the point," Carol grumbled. "I know I have a safety net. I know worst comes to worse and I have Tony fucking Stark as a 'friend'. But what if I just want to get my damn teeth cleaned? What about a birth control prescription? I've got a few months' worth, hopefully I can get another job before I run out..."
Wanda blinked. "Oh. I didn't..." Carol raised an eyebrow at her as she blushed, just a little. "I didn't realize..."
Carol rolled her eyes. "It's just to keep me regular. So I know when it is or can change it for incidental space-battles. I'm not exactly what you would call 'sexually active' right now. Though hey, fun fact: trying to figure out where to stash your vibrators in your childhood bedroom is a weird experience that I never recommend."
Wanda's flush turned into a full-body laugh, mouth covered with one hand as she tried to smother her laughter. Carol laughed with her, a reluctant huff, because the situation was funny. Horrible, shitty, degrading, but yeah: humorous in its absurdity.
"You're a jerk." She punched Wanda lightly in the arm.
"Where did you hide them?" Wanda asked once she quieted down. "If you don't mind me asking."
Carol nudged her nightstand with her foot. "Didn't even hide them. They're in the drawer under a couple books and reading glasses, but they're pretty obvious. I figure what's the point, you know?"
Wanda eyed the drawer like she almost was going to ask... but then she let it drop, shaking her head in bemusement.
"If I help you clean up the bathroom, will you take a shower?"
Carol eyed Wanda up, considering the offer. Finally she sighed, shrugged. "Alright. Since you won't leave it. You gonna give it the Scarlet Witch patented touch?"
Wanda smiled as she stood. She waved a hand at Carol, helping her to her feet. "Of course. And maybe next day I'm free, we can work on the living room? Or the yard--the gardens are looking a little neglected."
"Do you garden?" Carol asked incredulously.
They scooped up the ice cream and deposited them in the fridge before heading for the bathroom together. "Not ever before," Wanda admitted. She smiled at Carol, one of her impossible-to-resist smiles. "But I'd be happy to figure it out with you."
Carol shoved open the rickety old bathroom door, tamping down her own answering smile. "I hope you screw up and I end up with Maleficent's thorn garden."
Before they took a single scrub brush to the grout, Wanda's tinkling laugh already made the bathroom seem just a little bit brighter.
"If I do, I know just the superhero to call to save me."