The light was terrible. She must have been spending too much time with Jan, if that was what she fixated on, but it was true. The low-watt bulbs flickered so that she constantly saw motion from the corner of her eye. Even with her vision--and it had always been excellent, long before she became Ms. Marvel--she was squinting and peering like an old woman just to see her sash as she re-tied it around her waist.
She checked herself in the mirror Jan had found. The bluish light brought out unfortunate red highlights in the black cloth of her suit. Against the ugly pallor of her skin under the same conditions, it looked like some sort of clown costume.
“It’s kind of tight, don’t you think?”
“It’s kind of gorgeous, you mean.” Jan, of course, looked perfectly thrilled with the whole situation- awkward colors, remarkably tight clothes and all. Her own costume was all long lines and hints of concealed beauty, and the red just turned a deeper ruby in the dim light.
Despite the way the two of them went together, obviously teammates, Ms. Marvel felt like this set them apart even more. “Does it make me look less…” She stretched a leg. The costume rode up a little on her hip. “I’m a Major in the US Air Force. I’m an agent of SWORD.” Carol tried to be matter-of-fact about it, but in truth, she was proud. She’d worked hard. She didn’t do the job for the title, she did it because she thought it was important, and because she loved it; but the title summarized all that. Pilot. Agent. She’d worn whatever uniform the job called for. Even her first costume as Ms. Marvel, not so very different in form from what she now wore, paid homage to the uniforms of the Kree warriors from whom she’d gained her powers. This, though, this reminded her of playing dress up, showing off to her mother and her brothers.
Jan had a slightly different view of life. “You’re also a superhero.” She said it as a casual statement of fact, something both marvelous and patently true. “Face it; you came by your powers just because you were doing the right thing, and then you’ve earned the title as an Avenger.”
“I know that.”
“So do they.” Jan flicked a hand to indicate the people outside, summarizing them as a group with a single mind and voice, prone to loving or hating en masse. “This is a reminder--you look like exactly what you are. You’re intimidating, you’re amazing, you’re gorgeous. Really, you should see yourself when you’re out there, throwing cars at monsters or knocking down aliens. Gorgeous is the only word for it.”
Ms. Marvel shook her head, not denying it but dismissing. It was different for Jan. Jan had made her own way through business savvy. She’d learned to socialize both for recreation and as a survival skill. She was charming. She was creative. This was a chance for her to show off her Wasp outfit, her design for Ms. Marvel.
Carol, on the other hand, had made it this far by being excellent without being showy. At what point did fighting dinosaurs cross that line?
“We kicked butt out there,” said Jan, firmly, as if Carol might need to be convinced.
“That we did.”
And now they were supposed to stand up publicly and let the reporters weave whatever fabrication they chose around the events that had happened. It was a nice story: Two Avengers go off, somewhere politely away from human habitation, and track down an escaped prisoner from the Raft, bringing him home without any dramatic damage. To make up for the lack of battle footage, the two Avengers in question were being offered up to the media for questions that would might be silly, shallow, and possibly in poor taste. New costumes on pretty ladies just gave the press something to talk about when they lost interest in the blasting and punching.
“And we’re about to tell them about it.” Jan’s enthusiasm was sincere, but then, for her this was an opportunity rather than a chore.
“You don’t want to brag?”
“I just want to get it done, and let people know what the situation is, and go home.” She’d done that all her adult life. I don’t need this.”
“Of course not.” Wasp’s pride shone through her smile. “It’s because people want heroes; that’s why they have us flashy types as well as all the people who put their lives at risk every day. We’re standing in for all of that, and we’re looking darn good while we do it. They need this. You just get to enjoy it.”
Wasp made a face. “Or you could face it down, tough it out. Whatever works.” She reached out, retying Carol’s sash for her and slipping a long subtle pin through it to hold it in place. Her hands were quick and her work neat. “I’m going to enjoy it. You can enjoy it with me if you want, and if not, you don’t, and either way we should really go treat ourselves to some overpriced fruity drinks afterwards.”
Well, when she put it like that, it was different. Maybe the ‘it’ Wasp intended to enjoy was the whole: the being a symbol, getting to remind people that the extraordinary existed within their reach and that goodness and justice mattered. It certainly included things beyond showing off a new costume, however much fun that might be.
For all that Jan was so much more casual than Carol in how she approached her life as an Avenger, it had a flip side: she was so certain of her status that she never hesitated, never felt like she had to try harder. She knew that it consumed all of her. For Carol, being a role-model was a prized value her entire life; for Wasp, maybe it had the same value. Maybe she’d learned to show it differently. Maybe for her it was about standing out where Carol had learned to hold the line, but that doing it differently doesn’t mean they were reaching a different end.
Maybe they were the same sort of hero, that way, after all.
She reached out, and clasped Wasp’s shoulder in returned. “You are definitely the smartest Avenger. Don’t let Hank ever tell you otherwise.”
Jan barked a short laugh. “Oh, don’t worry, I know.”
“Are we going?” Ms. Marvel stepped to the front.
Jan reached for the door, opening it in an over the top fashion, like a high-end butler. She stepped aside with a bow, letting the bright daylight in. It was only blinding for a moment.
Carol smiled at her, and led the way.