Carol’s got a cheeseburger hovering halfway between the plate and her mouth, and she’s glaring at it like it owes her money.
“Come on, Carol, it’s not that big of a deal,” Jessica wheedles, reaching across the table to snatch a french fry from Carol’s plate as the blonde continues to glower at her sandwich, her brow furrowing from the effort.
Dropping it back down onto her plate disgustedly, Carol props her elbows onto the table, resting her chin in her hands and letting out a heavy, irritated sort of huff.
“Really, Jess? Not that big of a deal?”
Jessica reaches across the table again and taps the tip of her finger against Carol’s nose, drawing a brief, small smile from her before Carol’s face settles into worry lines again. Jessica steals another fry, dragging it lazily through the pile of ketchup on Carol’s plate for a moment before she looks up again.
“It’s just a fractured ankle, it’s not even a deal at all, really. Dr. Foster said it should be mended in four weeks, max.”
Carol’s gaze falls back to her plate, and Jessica could swear that she hears sizzling as Carol stares holes into that poor cheeseburger.
“Look, we’ll get one of the second-stringers to skate tomorrow and after that, smooth sailing until next season, okay?”
“I’m going to kill her.” Carol nods resignedly to herself, finally picking up her sandwich again, and taking a bite like she’s punishing it for something. Her mouth still half-full, she bangs a fist on the table.
“Nope, that’s it. I’m gonna use her to wax the rink.”
Jessica rolls her eyes, reaching across the table to swipe at the mustard smeared on Carol’s cheek with her thumb.
“Carol, really, it’s –“ Carol takes another bite, her nostrils flaring. Jessica waits for Carol to finish chewing, twisting the paper napkin in her lap into shreds, and when Carol opens her mouth to speak again, Jessica takes the chance and cuts across her, holding up a hand.
“You listen to me, Danvers. If anyone’s going to defend my honor, it’s me. So shut your damn mouth and just worry about the game. You leave Diana to me, this isn’t your grudge match.”
Carol’s brow furrows again. “Jess, I –” She looks back down at her plate, and Jessica’s relieved to see that at least she doesn’t seem to be trying to force a confession from what’s left of the burger anymore. Jessica takes Carol’s free hand, twining their fingers together on the tabletop.
“Come on, babe, I’ve got to have something to look forward to next season. I mean, unless I had a particularly… involved nurse at home to help me recover from a possible career-ending injury?”
Jessica watches a lethal kind of smile spread across Carol’s face, one eyebrow quirking upwards like she’s already imagining what such a job entails.
“I think that can be arranged.” Carol slips her other hand along Jessica’s knee under the small plastic diner table, leaning closer. “…If it means I get one hit in free.”
Turning the idea over for a minute, Jessica tips back the last of her beer and smirks at Carol, heaving a theatrical sigh for effect.
“Okay.” Carol’s grin widens, bright and wicked. “But just one… and don’t you disappoint me, Danvers, I want goddamned good show.”
Carol throws her head back on a laugh, her hair tossing along her shoulders as she relaxes against the cheap red upholstery of the booth. Signaling their waitress, Jessica collects the check and slides it across the table to Carol.
“So hurry up and buy your invalid girlfriend’s lunch, we’re going to be late for practice.”
Deciding it’s probably best that Natasha not break her hand working out her frustration on one of their old, rusty lockers, Sharon stands, unbalanced with one skate on and one abandoned on the floor, and lopes crookedly over to where Natasha stands peering around the corner, watching the five ladies in deep purple jerseys streak around the brightly lit rink just outside the locker room. Sharon rests her chin on Natasha’s shoulder, bracing one hand against to doorframe to balance her, and rubs circles between Natasha’s shoulder blades with the other.
“We’re going to be fine, Natasha. Stop torturing yourself.”
Natasha grunts a reply, and Sharon watches her gaze follow the tightly-knit pack of skaters circling the rink, her sea-green eyes darting from side-to-side as she reads each athlete like they’re a list of statistics, cataloguing their strengths and weaknesses and memorizing the ways they move, who’s always on the outside, who’s fastest and who’s staying in the center.
It’s only when the team’s captain hops the guardrail, blowing a whistle and gathering the rest of her team into a huddle near their bench, that Natasha tears her eyes away. She starts cracking her knuckles again, turning so quickly Sharon has to hop around on one skate to avoid being bowled right over, hobbling along behind Natasha as she resumes her pacing, and Sharon can almost see the gears turning below her hair.
The back door that leads in from the parking lot bangs open, and Jan bounces in, two large bags swinging from her arms, a giant yellow sunhat flopping with her every move.
Sharon forces back the snort that seeing Natasha’s raised eyebrows almost drags out, and returns Jan’s enthusiastic hug, craning her neck to avoid losing an eye to the brim of Jan’s hat.
“Look what I brought!” Jan’s already busy dropping the heavy-looking duffel bags onto one of the benches, unzipping them and pulling out several crimson jerseys, handing a poorly folded one to Sharon, who shakes it out and holds it up for a better look.
Splashed across the front, in huge white script, is New York Dolls, with Sharon’s name and number printed large across the back. Natasha’s is the same, with a large ‘C’ for captain printed on both shoulders, and Jan’s already discarding her hat to pull her own jersey over her head when Sharon turns to thank her.
The door swings open again, and Carol and Jessica step inside, arm-in-arm, Carol’s laugh echoing along the porcelain tiles of the locker room. Pepper trails in behind them, one hand pressed against her ear as she frowns irritatedly at whomever’s on the other end of the phone she’s holding.
“Listen, I told you idiots that Resilient would be completely Leeds Certified by the end of the year.”
Pepper waves at the rest of the team as they gather around Jan, shedding clothing and pulling on their new jerseys excitedly. She gestures toward her cellphone and rolls her eyes, shrugging at Natasha.
“I don’t know, how do they look?” Jessica braces her hands on her hips, throwing out her chest and wagging her eyebrows at Carol. Carol snorts, admiring her own reflection in the ancient, blurry mirror hanging nearby.
“Watch it, Drew, you’ll put an eye out,” Natasha teases, socking Jessica on the arm. “And we can’t stand anymore injuries, can we?”
Jessica’s face falls for a moment, her smile going slack, until Jan taps her on the shoulder, pulling another bit of scarlet fabric from her bag.
“Look, Jess, I made this for you, too.” She presses the fabric into Jessica’s palm, squeezing her hand for a moment. “It’s a matching cover, for your ankle brace. I figured you’d want to cover it up, and well, just look at it.”
With a weak kind of half-smile, Jessica inspects the cover, and after a minute, she lets out a peal of laughter, her face splitting into a grin.
“Jan, you’re terrible,” she gusts out, between breathless giggles, and Carol finally jerks the fabric from her hands to figure out what’s going on. And there, on the sole of the cover, right where Jessica’s injured foot will hit the pavement with every step she takes, is an iron-on photo, one that looks startlingly like…
“Diana?” Carol’s snort is nearly drowned out by a fresh wave of giggles from Jessica, who’s clutching her sides as Jan just smiles innocently. Carol reaches across the bench to high five her. “Well played, Van Dyne. Well played.”
Jan busies herself stuffing one empty duffle bag inside the other, grinning to herself, her voice musical with mirth. “I just figured, you know, maybe Jess would feel better knowing that she was walking all over the player who injured her, is all.”
Sharon and Natasha take turns inspecting Jessica’s new accessory, and even Pepper finally gets off the phone long enough to get a good laugh out of it, before the sounds of five pairs of exhausted footsteps echo down the hall, signaling the end of the practice time for the team booked on the rink before them, the Gotham Girls.
The five skaters Natasha had been watching earlier troop into the locker room a few moments later, sweaty and chattering loudly among themselves, their post-workout taunts and laughter echoing through the cement hallway and into the tiled room, raising the room’s noise to an almost deafening level. Led by their captain, a tall, lithe redhead everyone calls Kate, the Gotham Girls are the best team on Eastern seaboard, going undefeated for five seasons.
Well, undefeated until they’d met Natasha and the rest of the New York Dolls last week for an exhibition match in anticipation of the Eastern Championships. Between Pepper and Jess they’d taken seventy points in the first twenty minutes, leaving a hole the Gotham Girls just couldn’t manage to dig themselves out of, even when Kate and the rest of her team resorted to skating dirty, ganging up on Jessica in the last five minutes of the match and taking her to the floor. Diana, Kate’s co-Captain, had even “accidentally” skated right over Jessica’s ankle as she hit the hardwood. Even so, Natasha’s team had taken home the win and the cash prize, as well as the bragging rights going into the Championship match tomorrow.
Pepper finally finishes changing, joining Sharon on the bench to lace her skates. Sharon’s pulling on her lucky socks, one red-and-white striped and one blue with white stars, tugging on the laces of her skates to secure them, and when Pepper sits, Sharon smiles up at her. Natasha’s already changed, leaning against one of the lockers and plucking absently at a hole in her fishnet stockings at her thigh, prodding it larger until Carol finally puts a hand over hers, stilling the nervous movement.
A few minutes later, Kate steps out of the showers, wrapped in a large black towel and running a hand through her long, wavy hair. She stops at the entrance to their row of lockers, smirking at Natasha’s team as they finish lacing up.
“Don’t tell me you’re actually even bothering to work out today, Romanov?”
Still leaning casually against her locker, Natasha doesn’t look up, even as her teammates begin to gather around her, Sharon moving to stand at Natasha’s side, her arms crossed. Natasha tilts her head, catching Kate’s gaze and refusing to break it, her eyes determined and icy.
“What can I say, Kane? I’ve got a pretty motivated team.” Natasha goes back to examining the knuckles of her gloves, but Sharon can see her shoulders stiffening.
Kate laughs, a sharp, cold sound. She tosses her hair back, water-dark red waves falling across her forehead. “And you think motivation is enough for our match tomorrow?”
Carol takes a step forward, her mouth half-open, but Pepper wraps her fingers around Carol’s wrist gently, pulling her back again. Natasha answers Kate’s laugh with one of her own, devoid of the warmth it had held a few minutes ago.
“Why don’t you wait and see on the rink?”
“Are you even a full team anymore, Romanov?” Kate’s smirk deepens as she watches Natasha’s face. “I seem to recall that you’re down a girl, right?”
“We’re good, no thanks to your team.” Natasha spits back, finally rising up to her full height as she pulls her back away from the locker. Sharon watches Carol’s hands ball into fists, her jaw set, and behind her, Jessica’s eyes narrow dangerously as Natasha takes another step toward Kate.
“So why don’t you head back to them, Kane?”
Another flip of sodden scarlet hair, punctuated with more of Kate’s glass-sharp laughter as she turns to leave. “Well, I guess it takes more than a shattered ankle to knock out the little Dolls that could.”
Jessica snorts derisively, having heard enough, and she pushes past Carol and Pepper as Kate turns to walk away. She hobbles as fast as she can to the end of their aisle, pointing an accusing finger at Kate’s back.
“Listen up, bitchcakes, it’s fractured, and it wouldn’t even be that if it wasn’t for your little team of show-off thugs…”
Kate whirls back, glaring at Jessica, at the same time that Carol hisses, “Jess!” and Jan claps both her hands over her mouth in surprise. Natasha raises her voice, beckoning to the rest of her team, hustling them toward the entrance to the rink, Carol grabbing Jessica by the sleeve as she passes. Kate stands gaping, smirking at Jessica as the rest of the team files out.
“Save it for tomorrow, Kane.” Natasha waves at her, before turning to rush out of the locker room.
Leaning into her final turns, Carol slows, regretfully, straightening up and surveying the stands. She completes a final lap as the rest of her team settles on their bench at the far end of the rink, Jessica on the end with her scarlet-covered brace propped up on a folding chair. Natasha and Sharon are taking turns stretching, facing one another seated on the floor as they stretch their legs, chatting quietly. Natasha’s face is pale, her smile at Sharon’s jokes thin, but she catches Carol’s eye as she makes her way back toward them and nods.
Jan’s double-knotting her laces, hunched over the bench, and she looks up and grins at Carol. Jan doesn’t usually compete with them; over the two years she’s been part of their team, she’s taken to managing their travel schedule, designing their uniforms, and only skating in a pinch, like today. But she’s a solid skater, her small stature lending her great speed and an uncanny talent to flit around the rink, squeezing between the larger, more athletic women gracefully.
Jessica leans over Jan as she concentrates on her laces, pressing a kiss to Carol’s cheek.
“Ready to give ‘em hell?” Jessica smiles, dragging her folding chair around to the front of the bench so she can still prop up her injured ankle while facing Carol more fully.
Carol tugs at her ponytail, tightening the red, yellow, and blue ribbons Jessica had insisted on tying to it for good luck. She sighs, meeting Jessica’s eyes again.
“I’d be more ready if I knew you were going to be out there with us.”
“Hey,” Jessica winks at Carol, her smile encouraging. “It’s not like you won’t be able to hear me.”
Nodding, Carol laughs. “Loudmouth.”
“What can I say, everyone has a calling.”
Natasha and Sharon walk back to the bench, sitting on Carol’s other side, and Carol’s glad to see Natasha’s smiling. Sharon pulls a felt-tip marker from her bag, turning to ink Natasha’s player number on her arms, where the referee can easily see it. After she finishes, Natasha returns the favor, penning a large ‘13’ on each of Sharon’s biceps, before handing the pen to Carol.
Just as Carol finishes marking up Jan’s arms, Pepper jogs over from the check-in table, greeting them all with a bright smile as her two bright-red braids flounce with each step.
“We’re all checked in, ready to play,” she says, and Natasha smiles back at her.
Jan reaches out, pulling Pepper toward her and uncapping the marker again, inking Pepper’s number onto her arms and then handing the pen to Jessica.
Jessica pockets the pen, looking up as music begins to fill the arena, loud bass pumping through the speakers that circle the rink. Kate’s team files out of the locker room, already suited up, and the five women take their seats on their own bench. Kate’s girlfriend, Renee, a strong, petite woman, walks out with them before kissing Kate quickly and taking a seat near their bench. She waves excitedly at Sharon from across the rink, and Sharon waves back, Natasha looking confused at the exchange. Sharon leans over to Natasha and tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear.
“Montoya’s a good cop; I met her last week, she got brought in on a case we’re working. I didn’t realize she and Kate where a thing.”
Natasha makes a face, and Sharon just smiles bemusedly back, reaching her arms over her head to stretch.
There’s a sharp burst of microphone feedback through the speakers, drowning out the music for a moment, before the voice of the league’s head announcer, Maria Hill, rings through the arena.
“Good afternoon, derby fans! It’s a great day for a match, and we’ve got a great one stacked up for you today. What’s better than a grudge match between two outstanding teams? Nothing you can get for the same price, I’ll tell you that.”
A weak laugh echoes through the crowd, as Maria continues.
“Approaching the rink is the Eastern League commissioner, Ms. Emma Frost, to begin the match!”
Frost, impeccably dressed like always in white cigarette pants and a matching jacket, steps carefully onto the rink in her towering heels. She looks to each team, nodding with a swish of her platinum hair, before beckoning them onto the hardwood.
Jan stands up first, carefully examining Emma’s suit as she makes her way toward the center of the rink. She elbows Pepper as they go, whispering, “I would kill to be able to cut a suit like that, it’s incredible.”
Pepper leans down to answer conspiratorially. “I would kill to own a suit like that.”
As all ten women gather at the center of the rink, Emma clears her throat.
“Now, ladies, I want a clean, tight game. Captains?”
Kate reaches her hand out to shake Natasha’s, and for a few moments, Sharon’s sure that they’re both doing their level best to break the other’s fingers, their faces set in two identical expressions of competitive focus.
Finally, the two women break apart again, gathering their teams behind them. Emma passes a star-spangled helmet cover to each team, used to delineate the team’s scorer, and then exits the rink, leaving the two teams to choose their scoring skaters and ready themselves at the starting line.
Maria’s voice crackles over the loudspeakers again.
“And it looks like we’ve got one hell of a set-up here folks, with the New York Dolls’ coming for revenge on the Gotham Girls after their bang-up exhibition last week that left the Dolls one skater short after their starting scorer, Jessica ‘Fair Moans’ Drew was benched with a shattered ankle.”
“It’s FRACTURED!” Jessica calls out, her voice drowned out by the din of the crowd, and Carol smiles around the plastic of her mouth guard at the sound.
Both teams gather at the starting line, lunging forward and coiling to spring, ready to strike out fast as soon as the referee blows her whistle.
“And let’s not forget our great referee today, Maddie Murdock, who’s here to keep this game on the straight-and-narrow!”
Another weak cheer from the crowd, mixed with a few boos, as Maddie approaches the starting line, whistle clenched between her teeth. Natasha glares at her; she’s the same ref from their last match, the one who didn’t even bother to call a foul after Jessica was injured, and really, with their history, Natasha doesn’t want Maddie anywhere near her team or herself.
The rink is silent for the space of an overlong heartbeat, the cheers of the crowd and Maria’s commentary falling away as all ten women crouch at the starting line, muscles strung tight and faces determined. The silence rings in Natasha’s ears as she looks over her shoulder and nods at Sharon and Carol.
Maddie blows her whistle, and the sound of ten pairs of skates hitting hardwood slams Natasha’s heart back into rhythm, Maria’s commentary filling the arena once more.
“And what a great pair of teams today, folks, with two impeccable records. In the deep purple jerseys, you’ve got the dynamite Gotham Girls, co-captained by Kate ‘Brat Woman' Kane and Diana ‘Golden Lass’ Prince, along with their nearly undefeated team of Selina ‘Meow Minx’ Kyle, Helena ‘Night’s Daughter’ Wayne, aEnd Dinah ‘Babe of Prey’ Lance.”
Ten women streak around the rink, the star-spangled cover on Diana’s helmet standing out above her dark hair as she speeds ahead of the pack of skaters, pushing through the first turn in hopes of lapping the rest of the skaters and scoring an early point for the Gotham Girls.
“But let’s not forget the powerhouses in the scarlet jerseys, the New York Dolls, captained by Natasha ‘Red Dawn’ Romanov, and chock-full of some of derby’s toughest ladies, including Carol ‘Blonde Bomber’ Danvers, Pepper ‘Virginia Slim’ Potts, Sharon ‘Gal Friday the 13th’ Carter, and, skating for their injured fifth player, Jan ‘Tinkerhell’ Van Dyne!”
Carol pushes her way through the pack of skaters gathered around her, forcing herself faster, as she races hot on Diana’s heels, hell-bent on scoring the first point of the match. She can see Natasha streaking by, her hair flying behind her as she does her best to box Selina in, throwing up her arms and getting an elbow in the side for her trouble. Pushing faster, Carol leans into the next curve, so close to Diana she can almost touch her.
There’s a yell, and a thud, behind them, and Carol doesn’t bother to turn to see who’s fallen but Diana does, hesitating just long enough to look back and that’s all the time Carol needs, rushing past her and completing the first lap of the match, ready to lap the rest of Diana’s team and start scoring.
Jessica stomps her remaining good foot on the ground, rattling the folding chair her injured ankle’s propped on and hollering. “That’s my girl!”
Pepper reaches out, gripping Carol’s hand and whipping her forward, the hit of momentum rocketing Carol ahead and past Dinah and Helena, lapping them both and easily scoring two points. Carol pumps her fist in the air, not even slowing for a moment, and she can hear Jessica’s cheers from the other end of the rink. Leaning forward, Carol tries to force her legs to move faster, pushing past the burning in her muscles as she approaches Kate and Dinah. The two women are skating close together, hoping to block Carol’s passage, but Natasha swings past Carol and barrels through them both, leaving a clear path for Carol and almost knocking Kate to the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, Carol can see Sharon at her shoulder, following close enough to make sure no one gets the jump on Carol from behind.
Kate swears loudly, her arms circling as she tries to regain both her speed and her balance, and as she does, Jan flits past, nearly a blur as she slips between players, past Carol and Sharon and right between Dinah and Kate again, making sure they can’t reform their block.
“Looks like Diana Prince’s strategy for scoring today is all finesse, ladies and gentlemen, she couldn’t be racking up those points any faster if she was lassoing them in!”
Carol speeds up again, leaving Sharon behind and pushing her way through another lap, chasing Diana around the rink in dizzying circles. Helena tries to make a play, shoving Carol roughly out of the way as she moves to protect Diana’s flank, but even as Carol slams into the guardrail at the end of the rink, Pepper streaks by and blocks them both, busying them just long enough that Carol can recover.
“YOU ARE KILLING ME, MURDOCK!” Jessica bellows from the sidelines, up in arms and hobbling toward the guardrail, her face reddening. “ARE YOU BLIND? THAT’S A FOUL!”
There’s no whistle, and Carol gathers herself again, moving to catch up, knowing she’ll have one hell of a bruise to show for that tomorrow. She spots Diana streaking along the rink nearly a half-lap ahead of her, and swings her arms to propel herself forward more quickly.
The match flows at a breakneck speed, Diana and Carol managing nearly an equal number of points. Natasha and Kate stay neck-and-neck, constantly working to block the other’s scorer, and Sharon takes an elbow to the back from Selina, leaving her winded and wheezing as Natasha calls a time-out.
“The match is now 178-180, with the Gotham Girls in the lead with a mere two points with only two minutes left in the bout. Can the Blonde Bomber pull it out for the New York Dolls?”
Jan rolls her eyes at Maria’s commentary as she huddles near their bench. All five ladies are dripping sweat, their chests heaving. Sharon drops unceremoniously onto the bench, grimacing, and Pepper pats her shoulder gently as she regains her breath. Natasha frowns up at the scoreboard.
“Okay, ladies. We’ve got this. Carol?”
Carol’s doubled over, her hands on her knees as she listens to Natasha, her hair ribbons hanging loose and tangled from underneath her helmet. “Yeah. I can do it.”
“What about Diana?” Pepper whispers, cocking her head in Carol’s direction. “Do you want us to take care of her?”
“No,” Carol answers, between deep breaths. “Leave her to me. I’ve got a hit I haven’t gotten to use yet. Just keep everyone else out of my way.”
Natasha nods, her eyes flinty, and says, “Alright. Sharon, Pep, you two keep Dinah and Helena busy. Jan, Selina’s all yours, if you’re fast and unpredictable you can get her confused. I’ve got Kate. Carol, this is your match to win.”
“Don’t I know it,” Carol grins. “As if you’d ever let me forget it if I don’t.”
Jessica pokes her head into their huddle. “Hey, Danvers, I was promised a spectacular hit in the name of my honor?”
Carol gestures toward her sweat-soaked jersey. “Been kind of busy, dear.”
Jessica smiles winningly. “You’ve still got two minutes. Get out there and make me proud.”
All six women gather their hands in the middle of the huddle, counting down from three and shouting the name of their team for the final time of the season before standing and filing back onto the rink. Jessica reaches out from her perch on the bench and slaps Carol’s behind as she passes. When Carol turns back, one eyebrow furrowed, Jessica raises her palms in a shrug.
“For good luck?”
Carol shakes her head as she makes her way back onto the hardwood, wiping a drop of sweat from her forehead as she takes her place next to Diana once more at the starting line.
“How does it feel to lose, Danvers?” Diana smirks, twisting to look at Carol from her crouch.
“Tell me in two minutes.” Carol snaps the straps of her helmet closed, leaning forward in a lunge and waiting for Maddie’s final whistle.
“With only two minutes left in the bout, it looks like the Dolls are going to really up their defense to make sure that Danvers, their scorer, can get through to collect those crucial last three points.” Maria’s voice rings out in the arena again, nearly drowning out the sound of Maddie’s whistle, and the ten skaters take to the rink again, forming into a pack almost instantly.
Carol swings wide on the first lap, avoiding the largest group of skaters and drawing on every last ounce of power in her legs as she pushes to finish, to make it past the starting line again. Diana is following her closely, just behind her right shoulder, taking great care to stay in Carol’s blind spot.
“And that’s the Gotham Girls’ Dinah Lance with an excellent block on the Dolls’ Pepper Potts, taking her nearly to the hardwood. What can I say? Never underestimate a lady in fishnet stockings!”
Diana puts on a burst of speed, ending up shoulder-to-shoulder with Carol as they both cross the starting line, signaling the beginning of their last scoring lap. The large clock near the scoreboard is counting down the last sixty seconds of play, and Carol’s legs are screaming, but she just pushes harder.
Ahead, Dinah, Selina, and Kate are skating in a tight-knit pack, Pepper and Natasha circling them. Carol knows if she can lap all three of them, she’ll pick up three points, and the win.
Unfortunately, Diana knows that, too.
Without warning, she tosses her arm across Carol’s stomach, catching her just below the waist, knocking the wind from Carol’s lungs in a gasp. Carol grips Diana’s elbow, trying to force her off, break her hold, but it’s difficult at their speed. Carol slams one of her skate’s breaks onto the rink, the rubber screeching as she slows, and Diana’s unprepared for the change, speeding past Carol again. With a laugh, Carol picks up speed again, dragging in chest-deep breaths as her eyes water, and gaining on Dinah, Selina, and Kate with thirty seconds left on the clock.
Diana sees her coming, and tries to box her in, prevent her from scoring, and reaches out to grip Carol’s wrist. Jerking from her grasp, Carol brings her elbow up and it connects with Diana’s chin with a crunch, the heavy plastic of Carol’s pads splitting Diana’s chin open. Diana’s eyes fly open wide for a moment, blood dripping from her chin onto the front of her uniform, before they narrow dangerously as she glares at Carol, spitting pink onto the wooden floor.
“Now that’s that I’m talking about!” Jessica calls, her voice carrying through the roar of the crowd.
Carol turns before Diana can get another hold on her, her entire body thrumming with adrenaline, her exhausted muscles trembling, and drags out a final burst of speed, streaking past Dinah, Selina, and Kate a heartbeat before the buzzer goes off, scoring three final, winning points as the match ends.
The arena explodes into cheers, every scarlet-jerseyed fan in the stands jumping to their feet, as Maria’s yells filter through the loudspeaker.
“And that’s it folks, the Dolls win!! Carol Danvers turned it out in the final moments! Ladies and gentlemen, your new Eastern Champions!”
Carol finds herself suddenly buried under the crush of four sweaty, enthusiastic hugs as Pepper, Jan, Natasha, and Sharon converge on her from all four corners of the rink. Even Jessica tumbles over the guardrail, hobbling along the hardwood to gather Carol up in her arms, not even giving her a chance to take her helmet off before she kisses her, smiling against her lips as she punches a fist in the air.
There’s an undignified squeak of surprise from Natasha when Sharon dips her for their own celebratory kiss, Sharon’s blonde hair hanging long over her shoulders and hiding Natasha’s face. Pepper cheers, high-fiving Jan in the center of the rink, and as Jessica winds her arm around Carol’s shoulders, she lets out a whoop. Carol can’t quite contain the grin spreading across her face, even as they line up to shake hands with the Gotham Girls.
Everyone stands, silent, as Natasha and Kate shake hands.
Kate slopes forward from behind her teammates, her hair lank and sticking to her forehead when she takes off her helmet. She eyes Natasha for a moment, and nods.
“Good match, Romanov.”
“You, too,” Natasha says, a tentative smile crossing her face. “You’ve got a lot of tough players, Kane.”
The two captains fall into an awkward silence, avoiding each other’s eyes for a moment, before Sharon finally breaks the silence, rolling her eyes at the two of them.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake… Natasha, quit being an idiot. First round’s on us, ladies, you played a damned fine game.”
Kate’s face breaks into smile, the first genuine one they’ve seen on the rink, before she nods.
Jessica makes a show of sniffing Carol’s hair before pulling a face.
Sharon elbows Jessica, turning to take Natasha’s hand as the two teams make their way toward the locker room.
“Tell you what, Kate, I’ll even throw in a pizza.”