In Jessica's homeland this sort of thing was a good deal less complicated. There was summer (rainy) and winter (rainy), foggy (usually a signal of impending rain) and overcast (indicating that it had rained not long ago), and of course partly cloudy (which necessitated a trip to the beach). America, land of ten thousand weather patterns, had apparently chosen to invent sunblock for patriots of all species.
"Really?" she said. "Do we really need this?"
"We have to be prepared, Jess," Carol said, and from that tone of voice Jessica knew there would be no moving her. "I have the food, the water, the bed, the blanket—"
"But can't we just keep it pinned in the apartment?"
"No," Carol said.
"I just think that most people don't take theirs out so often. Letting it roam our flat isn't as bad as leaving it pinned in a cage, when you think about it."
"A cage?" Carol said, and set down the sunblock. "You want to put it in a cage? I know I'm not an expert, but I don't think Toni wants you putting it in a cage!"
"The vet keeps cats in cages," Jessica pointed out. "I'm not proposing it leave it shut in there, but it isn't as if I suggested—"
"Wait," Carol said. "Cat?"
"Absolutely not," Jessica said.
"So help me god," Jessica said.
"If you want to continue this relationship," Jessica said.
Carol shrugged. "Too late," she said, and walked away down the aisle whistling.
By the time they got home, Jessica was desperate. She looked around the kitchen, at the sunblock (three varieties), the ducky blanket (suspiciously stained), the small hats (no holes cut for kitten ears), and the food (and didn't that explain a great deal; she'd never met a cat who ate apricots. Chewie certainly didn't). The situation had spiraled rapidly out of control while she'd been busy deciding which kind of Oreo to bring home.
She panicked. Just a little. The blast of pheromones wasn't intentional, but it wasn't entirely...unintentional, either.
Twenty-three minutes later, Carol rolled over and stretched out on the tile floor, unabashedly naked. "I think we've gotten better at that," she announced.
"I don't suppose I could convince you—"
"Already promised Toni," Carol said, "but good try."
Jessica dragged a hand through her hair, encountered a rat's nest, and surrendered both battles. "And why, exactly, do Iron Woman and Captain America need a..."
Carol lifted an eyebrow.
"A you-know," Jessica said, and waved a negligent hand. The key was to appear aloof. Unconcerned. Never let them see you sweat.
"You can't even say it."
"I can! A...a sitter."
"Cop-out!" Carol said, with all the good cheer that had been denied to Jessica by her ancestry. "They're going to be out of the solar system this week. Someone had to watch the kid."
Jessica, who had been studying her girlfriend for weaknesses during that little spiel, spotted a tell and pounced. "They offered you something, didn't they?"
"I have no clue what you're talking about," Carol said, but her Boston accent had reared its head, broadening her "a"s and swallowing her "r"s. She was starting to sound as though she was speaking through a mouthful of marbles; Jessica had never been to Boston, but if they all thought so little of diction, she'd done well to stay away.
"It wouldn't be money," Jessica said slowly, "and I assume Toni's offer of a bacon farm was facetious, so that means—oh, no. No, Carol, please don't tell me—"
"Come on, what's a week of babysitting compared to lifetime membership with the Avengers?"
"A week‽" Jessica said.
By evening, her panic had developed into full-blown paranoia. In its own way, paranoia was a comfort—certainly not one that calmed her nerves, but it was familiar, like an old friend, or the Phad Thai in the back of the fridge that Carol refused to throw out. Growing up with that many brothers certainly skewed one's sense of personal hygiene.
"I heard that," Carol said. "If it bothers you that much, throw it away yourself. It's your week to clean the kitchen."
"I," Jessica said, with a great deal of dignity, "am preparing contingency plans."
"Oh, the Brood," Carol said. "They are getting to be a problem."
Jessica made a dismissive noise and turned back to her laptop. "This isn't for the Brood, don't be absurd."
"...You aren't arguing on the internet about the subjunctive again, are you?"
"It's a perfectly legitimate mood that is in no way obsolete," Jessica insisted. "And no. I'm researching infants, if you must know."
"Something like that. This one is...what, three months? Five?"
"Ish," Carol said.
"They're potty trained at that age, aren't they?"
Carol thought about it for a minute. "Yeah, probably."
"Right," Jessica said, "excellent," and then went back to examining leashes.
The infant didn't appear threatening, but in Jessica's long experience, something like looked like a duck and quacked like a duck might very well be a shape-shifting cannibalistic alien in disguise. It certainly seemed content to perch on Toni's arm and chew on her chin.
"He doesn't like it when you wear pastels," Steve was saying. "And remember, no glass bottles, toasters, nail polish or cleaners or any kind, no sockets, no pudding, no shoestrings or rubber bands, absolutely no thumbtacks or fire alarms—"
Toni, oblivious to the baby gnawing on her face, pulled out her phone and began to thumb through it one-handed. The baby ceased its gumming long enough to smile and wave its hands about. "Probably not until you're older, sprout," Toni said.
"No synthetic fabrics," Steve said. "I can't emphasize that enough. He won't take a bath if the water is warmer than a hundred and ten degrees; I packed a thermometer in the blue suitcase, you don't have to buy your own."
"On the other hand, we could count this as stress-testing," Toni said, and handed her phone to the baby, who promptly stuck it in its mouth. "Let me know if it starts to crack," she added, and then produced another phone for her own amusement.
"Under no circumstances should he be around batteries. He tries to put them in his mouth. Here's my phone number, Toni's phone number, SHIELD's emergency line—"
"Steve," Toni said, "here," and passed the baby to her partner, chew toy and all. "Danvers, listen up: you screw with my kid, and I hunt you down. The kid survives to the end of the week unscathed and I'll retroactively make you a founding member of the Avengers. Deal?"
"Sir yes sir," Carol said, and shouldered both the nappy bag and the six additional bags Steve had prepared 'in case of an emergency.'
"Drew," Toni said, "don't hesitate to bother Fury if you have a question. His private number's on Cap's list, and he—I can't emphasize this enough—he adores children. Are we clear?"
"Crystal," Jessica said. "Send us a postcard?"
"At those distances even I can't afford the postage," Toni said, "and if you haven't heard, I'm richer than Scrooge McDuck. See ya, kiddo," she added, smacked her lips against her son's head, and flicked on a pair of sunglasses with the kind of panache and dedication Jessica could only admire.
There was an expectant silence.
"Steve-O, that's your cue," Toni said.
There was an expectant silence.
"Oh for god's sake," Toni said, "give Carol the baby."
Steve scowled and passed his son over, but not without some limited fussing over the arrangement of the baby's hat and shoes. It was dressed head-to-toe in red, which made a certain amount of twisted sense; Toni, if left to her own devices, couldn't coordinate any colors that weren't native to a hot-rod.
"Now say good-bye," Toni prompted.
"Your mom and dad love you," Steve said, and not in the cutsy voice most people used to talk to babies. "We'll be back soon, okay, buddy?"
"I said 'say good-bye,' not 'send him off with an inspiring speech,'" Toni grumbled.
"Fine," Steve said. "Bye-bye, Gizmo!"
Toni waved, threw a peace sign, and then pulled her partner away to the waiting shuttle.
"Gizmo?" Jessica said. "Gizmo? Oh, you have got to be kidding."
Carol shrugged. "How hard could this be?"
"Jesus Christ," Carol said. "Cap wasn't kidding about the pudding."
"It shouldn't be able to petrify that quicly. Should it?"
"I have no idea."
Jessica stepped out of the range of fire; a gelatinous glob sailed past her head and plastered itself to the wall. "He has Steve's arm, I'll give him that."
"He has Steve's arm and Toni's love of excess," Carol muttered. "How the hell do I—"
Carol shot her a strange expression, one she couldn't immediately identify, and wasn't that odd. "How do I get him...?"
"Magic Eraser?" Jessica said.
"Do Magic Erasers work on pudding?"
"You could just leave him that way," Jessica started to say, working under the logic that Steve could just bathe his spawn in hundred and ten degree water when he returned, but at that moment a phone rang.
"YOU DON'T WANT A BOYFRIEND, WHAT YOU WANT IS MR. SPOCK—"
"That's for you," Jessica said.
"Jess, would you mind? I'm covered," Carol said, and made a gesture that encompassed far more pudding than should have fit in a palm-sized box. Jessica couldn't help but mourn the state of the universe; Carol dipped in chocolate should have been cause to celebrate, not invitation to brainstorm cleaning solutions.
She located Carol's phone on the bookshelf and flipped it open. "Danvers' phone, Drew speaking."
"Jess. Jessica. Light of my life!" Toni's voice was tinny, but it was probably miraculous she could make herself heard at all from that quadrant of the galaxy. "Just thought I'd call to check that the Empire State is still standing."
"Yes," Jessica said. "It is."
"Great. Hey, while I have you on the phone, how's the pipsqueak?"
After a moment of consideration, Jessica finally decided on: "Gooey."
"Huh. Yeah, they get like that. I don't think twice about going in public with spit-up on my shirt anymore."
"Stark, I've seen TMZ footage of your college days. Did you ever worry about that?"
"And now I'm just going to run some cool water on that burn. You superspies have fun. Do everything I would do."
"Did she say anything about pudding?" Carol called.
Jessica weighed the pros and cons and decided that bold action was its own reward. "She said we might have to shave the baby's head."
"Damn it." And then Carol turned the full force of her most hangdog expression on her girlfriend; her eyes spoke of years of friendship, her lips whispered of affection turned to abiding love, and her eyebrows suggested the many nasty things she enjoyed doing in or out of the bedroom.
"If you want to fly it down to the alley and hose it off, I'll open the window," Jessica allowed. "And I'll find the electric clippers, but only if you wear the flight suit for me tonight."
"Done," Carol said, and hoisted the baby into the air, high chair and all.
Commitment. Life, like child-rearing, was all about commitment.
"You're going to have to hold him sooner or later."
"No," Jessica said, "I'm not. That's what the robo-nanny is for."
"I don't think the robo-nanny has hands. And, and its top speed is only twenty miles an hour. Why would Toni even stick repulsors on it if she didn't want it to go fast?"
"I expect it's her idea of infant-proofing," Jessica said, and draped herself over the table. "This is ridiculous," she mumbled into her elbow. "Does it ever sleep?"
Carol's eyes were red-rimmed and her hands, usually as steady as a safecracker's, had developed a fine tremor. This was why the Jedi had the right idea; you had the baby, you passed the baby off to a qualified individual for rearing, the baby grew up and learned how to levitate itself and its qualified nurse. Jessica was aware that her own experiences may have biased her against the idea of parents, but something had to be done until science figured out a way to produce fully-formed adults from test tubes.
"Probably not," Carol said. "Have you seen Toni? She doesn't need sleep if she has coffee."
"Maybe it would stop crying if we gave it a cup."
Carol bounced the baby on her knee. "That's a bad idea, but I can't remember why. I don't understand, Gizmo's so happy with Toni." She looked like she was about to cry, which was as severe an indicator as any; Carol had some kind of warrior-complex going that Jessica appreciated and detested in equal measure.
"Do that zappy thing again," Jessica said. "It likes that."
"I am going to have to eat so many cheeseburgers to replace all the calories I'm burning," Carol complained, but she sent a couple of stings of energy at the wall. The scorch marks formed a ring around the pudding still caked on the paint. If she squinted, Jessica thought it might pass as modern art.
A phone rang.
"SOMEONE WITH BLOOD THAT'S COLD AND GREEN—"
Carol picked up her phone. "What."
Jessica raised her head enough to lock eyes with the infant. It stared at her goggle-eyed for all of three seconds before breaking into wails again.
"Yes, Toni, I had heard that about Boeing," Carol said.
Jessica sniffed and realized, suddenly, why the baby had stopped crying when it had. "Ugh," she said. "Crap."
"No, Toni, that isn't Gizmo. Yes, Toni, he's fine," Carol said, which was the precise moment when Jessica realized the depth of her partner's commitment to the Avengers. She was sitting in a kitchen that was still more pudding than countertop after twelve minutes of sleep; the love of her life was cradling an infant while lying through her teeth—or, apparently, talking engines, while dressed in a t-shirt two sizes too tight and a pair of men's boxers two sizes too large; and Jessica still found the whole scene radiant. Even the glimmer of light reflecting off the baby's glossy head had a certain amount of charm. She realized with a faint sense of horror that she was in this for eighty years to life.
"Sure," Carol said. "Uh-huh. Whatever you say, boss. Got it. Uh huh. Bye."
"How did she not hear the crying?"
"No clue. She's calling from across the universe, so I think it's safe to say these phones don't work like normal phones."
"Psychic phones. Fantastic. I'm starting to believe that Steve's the relaxed parent."
"That's the third time she's called us today to 'check on the weather,'" Jessica pointed out.
"She's a little..."
"And it's six in the morning."
"You just don't like the climate here," Carol argued.
"Well I don't need a fancy aeronautical background in meteorology to know that this much sunshine is unnatural. Do the zappy thing again."
Carol, obedient to someone other than a superior officer for once in her life, fried a spatula from across the kitchen. The baby quieted briefly and then began to gurgle, much like a backed-up drain but perhaps with a touch more delight.
Babies. They were worse than a hangover.
After that, Jessica located a pair of earplugs and retired to the bedroom. She was willing to deal with Carol's bright ideas, but after a point a woman needed her beauty sleep. When she emerged from the in-suite bathroom eight hours later, she found Carol drifting lazily across the room. In mid-air. On her back. With the baby resting on her stomach.
"Who's a good little Kree soldier? James is a good little Kree soldier!"
Jessica may have, at that point, made a noise like a strangled moose. "It has a name?"
"Mm?" Carol twisted around to peer at Jessica upside-down. "What, you thought Steve would let his kid be legally named Gizmo? Everyone calls him that, but it doesn't sound very Kree."
"You," Jessica said, "are ridiculous."
Somehow Carol managed to inject military stiffness into her spine despite her lazy wafting. "Some of us are proud of our mixed-race heritage."
"You've been part Kree for all of two years. You don't have much of a leg to stand on."
"Hey. If I wasn't the only hybrid on the—"
"If I WEREN'T," Jessica said. "It's WEREN'T, you're expressing unreality!"
Carol turned upright and dropped lightly to her feet. She had to bend down a few inches to get her face at the same height as Jessica's; after a moment of hard scrutiny, she said, "You seem stressed," kissed Jessica on the lips, and dropped the baby in her arms.
"Oh," Jessica said.
The baby's bulging blue eyes fixed on her face and then, inexplicably, the thing smiled. It was, Jessica thought helplessly, really sort of adorable; she didn't want one now, but it did smell nice and maybe, one day, far in the future—
The smile disappeared in favor of a pained expression. Jessica felt a wet patch soak the front of her shirt.
"Did...did it just pee on me?"
"Oops," Carol said. "Sorry. I'm still not great with diapers."
Test tubes. Fully formed adults, grown in and harvested from test tubes. That was humanity's future. On the other hand, Jessica's pre-natal care had involved a great deal of time spent in a laboratory and look where she'd ended up: in a third-story walk-up in Brooklyn with urine on her clothes. Admittedly, genetic engineering did a lot for the body and volume of one's hair, but that was hardly enough to compensate.
She changed into Carol's favorite shirt, the one with the Bradbury quote and more holes than hemline, in retaliation. "I should shower again, but I seem to lack the energy to care."
"Babies," Carol agreed, and applied a final strip of duct tape to the new diaper.
Then—a phone rang.
"YOU WANT A GUY WHO CAN BRING THE BACON—"
"Yes, Toni," Carol said, but almost immediately her face lit up. "You aren't kidding? Now? Yeah, we'll be here." She mouthed something at Jessica, but Jessica was too busy studying the new pattern of scorches on the ceiling to catch all of it.
"Toni says," Carol repeated at a speaking volume, now that she'd hung up, "that they're back. And on their way. To get the kid."
Someone knocked at the window; the baby shrieked. Jessica dove for a gun. It wasn't until Carol opened the window that she realized the shrieks were shrieks of glee.
Iron Woman was hovering outside with Captain America riding shotgun on her boot.
"Hey, kid," Toni said. The infant recognized her even with the armor's vocal distortion, because it shrieked again and started writhing in Carol's arms. "C'mon, Cheeseburger, pass him here."
"Is that safe?" Carol asked.
"What? Yeah, sure. Gimme the widget." Steve hopped through the window just before Carol passed the baby out; it—Gizmo—James—seemed to have no compunction about cuddling up to the cold alloy of Toni's chest.
"Sorry to drop in on you like this," Cap said. "We got back early and couldn't wait. We were supposed to swing by Clint's first and pick up the cat, but he's gotten attached and he did go to all the trouble of buying that specialty pet sunblock—"
"Thank you," Jessica said, more fervently than she'd ever thanked anyone in her life.
"Danvers," Iron Woman said. "Why is my baby bald?"
Many explanations later, Carol looped an arm around Jessica's waist as they watched Avenger Jr. fly off into the sunset with its family.
"I'm thinking a diner," Jessica said. "Maybe a Bloody Mary."
"Perhaps a chisel for the kitchen."
"Whatever you think." Carol tugged her closer and hooked her chin over Jessica's shoulder. "You know, when Toni asked me to watch her kid, I thought it would be a good test flight."
"We'd have to invest in a baby cage first. Or we could grow an adult in a test tube to support us in our old age," Jessica said.
"And then, five seconds later, I realized it would be a lot better to let the paranoia and adrenaline addiction hit a genetic dead-end."
"Brilliant," Jessica said. "And anyway, nobody sane has time to be an Avenger and take care of a baby and a pet, and we've already picked two of those. No, but thank you."
After a moment, Carol said, "So. Baby cages."
"You know what seems more humane?" Jessica said. "Free-range babies. Why has nobody thought of that?"