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With you at my side

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The sight of Karolina Dean’s skin glistening with sweat, her chest heaving with a labored breath, hair disheveled, cheeks slightly red with exhaustion, is something Nico Minoru has come to appreciate, greatly, in the past couple of months, she thinks there is no sight more enticing and beautiful in the whole world, she could stare at Karrie like this for hours every day.

 

But not now, at this moment, Nico hates it, she hates it all, not only the sight of Karolina but her voice too, and her clothes and Nico’s and Nico herself. Everything is garbage and everything hurts and all this pain is pointless and she just wishes it to end. Nico collapses onto the floor, grimacing in pain, she can’t do this anymore.

 

“- C’mon, Nico! Just five more reps!” Karolina shouts.

 

“- You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”

 

It’s been two months since the Runaways were accepted into the Avengers Initiative, and since day one it was clear adapting to their new life was going to be hard work. The first step was the gym. With the exception of Karolina, they all needed to improve their physical condition, this only includes Molly because, being a mutant teenager now, she’s starting to develop her true level of strength.

 

Nico never needed a gym before, she was blessed with good genes and thus, her physique is always on the thin side. But that’s not enough anymore. Captain Marvel told her that, even when her magical powers were outstanding, she needed good physical condition, she needed to build stamina and muscle mass. That was part of their training. So, to the gym she goes.

 

After a long debate, the Runaways decided to split in two teams for their sessions, Molly and Gert go to the self-defense class in “The Gauntlet”, the special facilities Captain Marvel told them about. In there, Molly could train with teachers appropriate to her strength, so she agreed immediately. Gert refused at first, arguing that she would not abide to societal rules about body type, she only agreed when she found out she could bring Old Lace to an open-air obstacle course that the dinosaur seemed to like and an instructor told her they could teach her sixteen different ways to kill a man in self-defense class.

 

That leaved Nico, Karolina and Chase on the other team, they decided to go to a regular gym for the time being. The first few days weren’t that bad. Nico went with the enthusiasm of trying something new, it also had the benefit of spending more time with her girlfriend and Karolina made it even more enticing by wearing gym clothes (Nico was so in love with her toned abs… and muscular back… and defined arms… alright she was in love, period) but as time progressed, it got harder and harder.

 

Nico is exhausted. There’s so much on her plate she doesn’t have time to remember what not being stressed feels like. One of the conditions to join the Avengers Initiatives was for all of them to return to school, and everyone has. Nico is not particularly happy about that arrangement, she hasn’t missed school. Part of it is because she was always the outcast, she was either the Asian nerd or, later on, the weird goth chic. She’s even less happy now that she has to balance her job (as boring as it is) the Initiative training, school (home school, but still) house work and she needs to take care of her personal life, she has a girlfriend now and she takes it very seriously.

 

All of it is beginning to take a toll on Nico. Today she got home from work and wanted nothing more that take a bath and rest, but she couldn’t, first, it was her turn to do the dishes, then she needed to write a paper for her Community Engagement class and, of course, physical training. That’s where she is now, collapsed in the middle of the gym, physically and mentally incapable to keep going.

 

“- You can do it, Nico, just five more” Karolina keeps encouraging her.

 

“- Karrie… I really can’t” Nico’s muscles have given up, she’s been in the gym for an hour already.

 

Karolina frowns and kneels beside Nico “- Are you hurt?” She says, her gaze full of caring and worry. Nico shakes her head. “- Okay, we can leave it here, no big deal”

 

Nico looks at Karrie and sighs, she needs to finish this. She’s sure someday she’ll need to push past her limits again and life will not give her a time out. “- No, I have to go on” She says and picks up the 50 lbs. barbell “- Help me here, please?” Karolina grabs the barbell and helps Nico putting it over her shoulders.

 

Nico squats, as slowly as she cans, she wobbles a little and Karolina puts her hands over Nico’s hips to stabilize her, she gets up and lifts the bar with a grunt, completing a shoulder press. Repeat four more times.

 

“- Okay, what’s next?” Nico says throwing the barbell to the floor, breathing heavily.

 

“- You sure?” Karolina asks.

 

“- Yeah”

 

“- Alright” Karolina pulls out her phone and checks her gym app “- There’s still two more series for both of us. Back for you and arms and legs for me”

 

“- Fine, I’ll get it done. Could you check on Chase, please, see if he’s ready to leave?”

 

That’s another thing that annoys Nico. Chase isn’t bothered by the chore of going to the gym, that doofus actually enjoys it, and seeing his dumb smile plastered on his dumb face while doing pull ups, pushups and who knows what other kind of ups, is unbearable.

Nico goes to do her series of rows. She finds these to be not so bad, she has a fairly strong back and has a good range of motion, who would have thought? Nico throws a glance to where Karolina and Chase are talking, after a few amicable words, Karolina starts to walk back to her when a gorgeous girl, Nico is sure is one of those Instagram fitness models and that she already talked to Chase first, approaches Karrie and begins to chatter her up.

 

Fine, that’s another thing Nico gets annoyed with in this damn gym, half of its patrons blatantly flirt with Karolina, and to be fair the other half flirt with Chase; there was even a particularly gross couple that, when Karrie and Chase told them that they were siblings (a half lie that they’re been using to avoid the comments of how hot their boyfriend/girlfriend is) they responded with a “That doesn’t bother us!”. Ew. And of course Nico isn’t worried that Karolina might take one of those offers, not one bit, what it’s really annoying is that nobody acknowledges her as Karrie’s girlfriend. It’s not like they’re being subtle or something, the arrive and leave together, they hold hands, they kiss all the time, they call each other pet names, like “babe” and “honey” ¿What does Nico have to do? ¿Fuck Karolina in the middle of the gym? And surely not even that, some gross dude or girl would ask to join. Fucking people.

 

“- Another girl asking for your number?” Nico asks humorlessly stepping out of the machine she’d been using.

 

“- Nha, she actually asked me for my brother’s number” Karolina says, taking a barbell and adding some weight to it. She notices the look on Nico’s face. “- Don’t be mad, we talked about this”

 

“- I’m not mad, just annoyed, no one seems to know the definition of boundaries, that same girl already went and tried to board Chase”

 

Karolina begins to do curls with the barbell, after twelve repetitions she put it back down and shakes her arms and stretch a little, then she starts all over. “- Yeah, I hear you, I mean, what do we have to do? Have sex right here?”

 

“- I know, right?”

 

“- I mean, I would be down with that, but I bet someone would ask to join, the creeps” Karolina says nonchalantly.

 

It doesn’t escape from Nico that Karolina would be okay with… that… the room feels really hot all of a sudden.

 

“- Oh, by the way, Chase said he wanted to check the boxing area, I told him we leave in twenty minutes” Karolina drops the barbell and places the weights back in the rack she found them, she has perfect gym etiquette.

 

“- Okay”

 

“- You mind if we grab a shower here? I feel all sticky” Karolina says.

 

“- Sure”

 

They don’t usually shower in the gym, Karolina is always adamant they don’t waste any more water than the strictly necessary, so, they bathe at home.  Nico and Karolina retrieved their bags from the lockers, when they reach the showers there’s only another woman in but she didn’t pay any mind to them.

 

Karolina leads Nico to a secluded corner in the far end of the showers room, she pulls a bar of soup and a small bottle of shampoo from her bag, then, in a swift motion she takes off her Janet Van Dyne collection sports bra and throws it towards the bag. Nico stares only for a moment until she remembers they are in a public place, she retrieves her things from her bag too and peels her clothes off with as much grace as her sore muscles and exhausted state permit.

 

Nico turns the shower on and soaps her body without much trouble until she reaches for her neck and back, or you might say, tries to reach for her neck and back, her arms feels like they’re made out of rubber and couldn’t, for the life of her, move them far enough. That seems to amuse Karolina because Nico can hear her giggling softly.

 

“- Need any help?” Karolina offers.

 

“- Yeah, I’m gonna regret this in the morning” Nico says turning her head slightly to see her girlfriend coming closer to her, Karrie is wearing only flip flops and her suppressor bracelet.

 

“- When we get home, I’m gonna give you a nice and long massage, how’s that sound? Karolina says

 

“- I will love you forever… ” Nico tried to say more but she was cut short when the expert hands of Karolina grabs her at the shoulders and begin to apply her body wash. A loud moan escapes Nico’s lips, she didn’t mean it, really, but she couldn’t help it either.

 

“- Nico! We’re in public” Karolina says jokingly.

 

“- I’m sorry, is just that I’m really sore”

 

Karolina keeps washing Nico for a couple more minutes filled with soft moaning and whimpering. Nico doesn’t mean anything sexual about it, she’s just enjoying the attention, she thinks of it as a teaser of the massage Karolina promised. Too bad Karolina didn’t get the memo. She looks around and see they’re completely alone for the moment. Nico notices Karolina pressing her body against her back, eliciting another moan that turns into alarm when Karolina hugs her and a hand travels down her navel. “- Karrie!” Nico almost shouts.

 

“- It’s okay, we’re alone” Karolina says and turns Nico around to face her planting a searing kiss.

 

Karolina kneels in front of Nico, who just stares at her with shocked expression.

 

“- What are you doing!?” Nico asks in alarm.

 

“- What do you think? Now relax, we got to make this quick before someone comes in”  

 

Karolina pushes Nico to the wall and scoots closer lifting one of Nico’s legs, hooking it up over her shoulder.

 

Nico gasps when she feels Karolina’s tongue entering her “- Oh god, Karrie…!” Nico needed this, it has been a few weeks since they were able to have sex, their lives were simply too busy, sometimes was Karolina who had to stay in her dorm in campus to finish some project or a meeting with her lawyers  trying to fix the issue with her parents disappearance (a whole issue that she prefers not to dwell on it) and other times Nico was so tired she fall asleep as soon as her head touches the pillow or there was homework to do, whatever the case, their sex life has suffered.

 

Nico is being held in place by Karolina grabbing her by the hips. She knows Karrie can be a very sexual person but, having sex in a public place? Even if they’re secluded, it seems a little out of character. Nico is not about to complain, though.

 

“- You need to let go, baby, we don’t have much time” Karolina says taking a moment to breath “- And I really want to see you cum”

 

That is something Nico is not particularly good at, letting go, she always wants to stretch every single intimate moment with Karolina, every kiss, every caress, every look, she wants them all to last as long as possible. But Karrie is right, they don’t have much time, anyone could enter the showers at any moment. Nico finally let herself relax and enjoy her girlfriend’s attention. In just a few moments she’s breathing heavily, unable to form coherent thoughts anymore, the only thing her mind is registering is Karrie’s face between her legs.

 

It’s over all too soon, Nico feels her orgasm building far too quickly for her liking but there’s no way to stop it now, all she can do is grasp Karolina’s hair trying to ground herself. She shudders when it finally hits her, Nico forces herself not to scream, she arches her back and tugs firmly at her nipple, her legs give up and the only reason she doesn’t fall on the shower floor are Karolina’s strong arms.

 

“- Easy, babe, that’s it” Karolina says, planting tender kisses on Nico’s pelvis and helping her regain her footing.

 

“- Oh my god, Karrie, that was…” Nico can’t find her words, barely can even breath.

 

Karolina gets up and plants a last lingering hot kiss on Nico’s lips. “- Now, behave, let’s actually shower”

 

Easy for her to say.

-

 

Nico and Karolina finally walk out of the gym sporting an ear-splitting grin, Chase waiting for them at the reception looking not the least amused.

 

“- Shoot, I forgot my water bottle, be right back” Karolina says before going back inside the gym.

 

Nico gives Chase a soft smile “- How did you like the boxing area?” She says.

 

“- Uh?”

 

“- The boxing area, you were gonna check it out?” Nico asks again, there’s something wrong, she can feel it.

 

“- I didn’t?” Chase answers.

 

“- Karolina told me”

 

“- No” Chase retorts “- She told me to wait for you guys… oh… you guys were…” Chase gestures with her hand crossing her index and middle finger.

 

Nico blushes like crazy. Everyone knows she and Karolina have a very active sex life (on a particularly heated night Gert banged on their door shouting a friendly shut the fuck up!!) but is one thing that your family are aware that you have a sex life and another one entirely that they know, like, really know.

 

Karolina returns to them saving Nico to any further embarrassment “- All set guys” She looks at her friends, both of them blushing and avoiding eye contact “- Are you two okay?” She asks.

 

“- You used me, Karolina, I’m hurt” Chase says.

 

“- What are you talking about?” Karolina says feigning ignorance, she spots a perfect chance to tease both Nico and Chase.

 

“- You used me, you lied to me so you could…” Chase says gesturing towards Nico, who’s face is as red as a tomato.

 

“- Yeah, you’re the best wingman, Stein!” Karolina gives him a quick hug and a sly smile to Nico. The ride back home is a little awkward.

 

-

 

The next afternoon Nico found herself in a rare situation, she was at home with some spare time. Karolina was staying at campus to finish a project, Chase was doing some over time, Molly had band practice, even Gert went out on her own to watch a movie, in fact, Nico manufactured this situation on purpose, that leaves Vic, Old Lace, Rufus and herself alone in the Hostel. A couple of days before she requested a meeting with her sponsor for this very same day, and she wanted to have some privacy to speak with her. Luck was on Nico side when a message on her phone notified her that Captain Marvel was ready for their weekly report, turns out there’s an Avengers app for members of the initiative.

 

“- Vic, I’m gonna be in the corner for a while, you need anything?”  She says to Victor, who was, as usual, just watching reruns of old shows on the TV, he’s the only one of the team Nico couldn’t make to leave the house but he wouldn’t bother her.

 

“- Nope, I’m fine” Victor responds.

 

The “corner” is the nickname that stuck to their “control corner” where the Runaways keep their Portable Control Center, a couple of screens and some chairs, their own humble version of a control room.  Originally the corner was nicknamed like that because it was located in a literal corner of the living room but they had it moved to one of the empty rooms of the Hostel after one of Molly’s friends visited her and asked if they could use their sweet home cinema.

 

Nico enters the room and turns on the Control Center, logs in and grabs a seat in front of the screen, after a few seconds, the image feed shows Carol Danvers in civilian clothes. That’s been a recurrent thing, even when the weekly reviews are official business with the Avengers Initiative, Carol always wear informal clothes. Nico isn’t sure if it’s a weird power move, or something designed to lower her guard or Captain Marvel’s way of saying I don’t even bother pretending this is official or what. It’s also possible that Carol Danvers likes to be comfortable.

 

“- Hello, Nico” her sponsor says.

 

“- Good afternoon, Captain”

 

“- Where are your friends?” So far, in the majority of meetings with Captain Marvel, the Runaways were all present.

 

“- I wanted to talk to you in private this time”

 

“- About?”

 

“- About the Doombot situation, has been any advance on that yet?”

 

In the first remote meeting with Carol Danvers, Nico told her about the attack they suffered at the hands of a Doombot. It surprised everyone that the Avenger hadn’t heard anything about it. The appearance of a hostile AI on American soil is not exactly the kind of things that go unnoticed, especially when Doctor Doom was involved, but apparently, the attack was never reported, which was odd, Karolina told them that Julie had filled the report herself with the LAPD. When they asked Julie about it, she confirmed she did file the report, and that should have been enough for the Avengers to know about it.

 

Nico went to the LAPD precinct a couple days later, and found that they had no record of any robot attack but one officer did confirm that Julie Power had been on the station that night and that she filled the report, but there was no trace of it in the police system.

 

There hadn’t been another attack, still, the Avengers sent a team to the Hostel to scan the remains of the Doombot, they scanned it, took some readings and pictures and then left. Nico was worried sick that freaking Doctor Doom was after them, until Carol told her that was impossible, Victor Von Doom disappeared more than six months ago.

 

“- Well, I can confirm you that Doom is not involved in this” Captain Danvers says “- The Doombot that attacked you is an old model, Doom stopped using that technology years before his disappearance. We still don’t’ know who’s behind this”

 

“-  Captain, I was thinking, aside from Doom, who has access to Doom tech?”

 

“- You suspect of someone? That’s why we are talking in private, right?” Carol asks.

 

“- I don’t want to scare my friends with guesses, but maybe it was some old enemy of mine when I was with you and Jennifer, or maybe one of Victor’s, he used to be an Avenger too” Nico explains.

 

“- Hmmm, it’s unlikely some villain out there has a Doombot just laying around. Doom wasn’t particularly fond of sharing”

 

“- Perhaps it was stolen, there must be somebody else with access to Doom Tech”

 

“- Well, yes, the Avengers, but we keep all that stuff in our vaults, they’re impregnable”

 

“- Nobody else?” Nico tries again.

 

Captain Marvel thinks for a moment before answer “- The Fantastic Four and the Future Foundation, surely, but their security measures are as strict as ours”

 

A chill creep up Nico’s back. “- Could you still ask around, Captain? It would mean the world to us”

 

Carol Danvers makes another pause “- You’re right, it’s not like our systems hasn’t been compromised before. Alright, I’ll look into it, that’s good thinking, Nico”

 

“- Thank you”

 

“- Is there something else?”

 

“- That’s all, Captain, I really appreciate what you’re doing for us”

 

“- No problem, I’ll see you in couple days, have your report ready for our weekly review, okay?”

 

“- I will” Nico logs off after that feeling uneasy, she doesn't move for a long time.

 

You see, people don’t give the Runaways enough credit, they are still alive (mostly) for a reason. They are survivors, and the key to survival is always be on your guard.

 

In her short life, Nico has been through a lot, and one of the first lessons she had to learn is how to identify threats. It became a sort of new sense for her, one that is even more heightened now that she has her family back.

 

Since the Doombot attack weeks ago, Nico felt something was awfully wrong, there were many questions that went unanswered by the sheer relief of everyone being alive.

 

The first question that popped into her mind was, why? Why would someone send a Doombot to attack the Runaways and kidnap Victor? It makes no sense because, when they were attacked, the had no strategic value, they weren’t a threat to anyone, they weren’t even a team.

 

It makes even less sense because, it may sting her ego a little bit, but no one knew that they were back together, or even who the Runaways were. How did they find out? How did they know where to find them?

 

Furthermore, who could send a Doombot? To her knowledge, very few people has access to that kind of technology.

 

And, what benefit could someone get by attacking the Runaways? Again, they are nothing, they have nothing. Going after Victor would be useless, he himself may be a wonder of technology, but Ultron created him with so many fail safes designed to prevent anyone to exploit him, every attempt to do that has been proved to be a fool’s errand.

 

The first clue Nico had was the timing of the attack. It came at an odd time, when they were together, and at broad daylight. It was completely the wrong move If the objective was to snatch Victor.

 

Even more, the Doombot used non-lethal weapons against them. It seemed like a ruse, like someone really wanted to fright them, not harm them.

 

Nico also found very weird that they were attacked only once, if they wanted Victor it would be normal to expect more attempts but there were none.

 

Nico had her suspicions and slowly, carefully, the facts backed her up. It was at work when it hit her, there was a possibility… it was farfetched but… maybe… Nico needed confirmation.

 

That’s why she asked a meeting with Captain Marvel, that’s why she had to act meekly like a good recruit around her (it killed her to do so) Nico needed information and she got it.

All the pieces fit together.

 

Nico did know someone who, since day one, knew the Runaways were back together, someone who has a motive for staging an attack, who, at the time, could benefit from inflicting fear in them, who has very obscure knowledge of Doombots, who is close friends with people with access to Doom tech and more importantly, someone who, now that Nico and Karolina are together, has a reason to stop.

 

Julie.

Chapter Text

“- Nico, no, just… no”

 

Karolina Dean never thought she could love someone as much as she loves Nico Minoru. Not really. She loved Xavin, maybe not at first but eventually. It hurt when they were forced to leave the planet, still, Karolina always knew that relationship was doomed from the start so she never let herself fall completely for them. Then, there was Julie Power.  Julie was everything you could wish in a partner, she is the kind of person that drives you to be the best version of yourself, she’s kind, selfless, funny, committed, gorgeous looking, accomplished, the list goes on and on. Karolina loved her, she did her best to love her, and then she didn’t.

 

And now there’s Nico. For many people, Nico doesn’t seem the type of girl you’d die for, but that’s because those people are idiots. Karolina knows that Nico is loyal and caring beyond belief, and she is so selfless and brave almost to a fault, after all, Nico did join the Avengers and put her life on the line to help others. Nico is also so funny in a sarcastic and self-deprecating kind of way, okay, it’s also that she is so gorgeous and stylish, ever since they were kids Karolina had a fixation on her that only grew stronger when she started with her goth aesthetic; Karolina normally has to stop herself from drooling every time she sees Nico whether she’s wearing clothes or not (especially when she’s not)

 

But for all of Nico’s qualities that doesn’t mean she can be an infuriating ass sometimes, like right now.

 

“- Think about it Karolina, it actually makes sense” Nico pleads with her girlfriend.

 

“- No, it doesn’t, it’s ludicrous”

 

Karolina came to the Hostel to spend some time with her family, in the past days she barely saw them and only on the gym at that. What she found at home was a very nervous Nico with the most asinine notion in the world, that Julie Power is responsible for the Doombot to attack from a few weeks ago.

 

“- It adds up, she has means and motive” Nico says like she’s in some corny TV show.

 

“- Now I know you’re not serious, how in the hell does she has means and motive?” Karolina says.

 

“- She knows a lot about Doombots” Nico begins to count using her fingers “- She’s good friends with Franklin and Valeria Richards, people with easy access to Doom tech, the attack came when she was around…”

 

“- And why would Julie do something like that?!” Karolina asks.

 

“- You told me she was trying to convince you to move to New York, right? And you wouldn’t move since you got us all back…”

 

“- So, what?”

 

“- If we were scared out of our minds we, potentially, would run to New York for protection, and problem solved for Julie”

 

Karolina pinches the bridge of her nose and frowns, this conversation is already giving her a headache “- You are really over reaching for this, Nico”

 

“- Then why we haven’t been attacked again? Now that you’re with me she has no more reason to try to get you to New York” Nico says.

 

Karolina could clarify that Julie doesn’t really know that Nico is her girlfriend that Karolina never told her, she has the chance to come clean. She doesn’t. “- That’s impossible” She says.

 

“- Why?” Nico asks her.

 

“- Because I know Julie, she’s a good person, she would never do something like that” Karolina explains.

 

“- Well, I still think we need to follow this through”

 

“- Nico… it’s not necessary, I’m telling you, Julie would never do that”

 

“- Maybe you think it’s not necessary, but I do”

 

“- And it seems like you don’t trust me”

 

“- What? Of course I trust you”

 

“- Then trust me on this, you’re on the wrong track, Nico, I get that you’re scared but Julie has nothing to do with this, stop it”

 

Nico doesn’t answer.

 

“- Okay” Karolina continues “- Since you’re not thinking straight and don’t give a crap about my judgment, then I’m gonna go.

 

“- Karrie…”

 

“- Don’t” Karolina says and turns to face Nico “- You can go find me when you come back to your senses, okay?” Karolina takes her bag and leaves, she can her Nico saying something else to her but she’s pissed and ignores it.

 

When Karolina reaches her car, she expects Nico come to her and apologize. She turns her head and sees nothing. So much for wanting a quiet afternoon.

 

On her way to campus Karolina can’t stop thinking about Nico’s words, she has a point, not on the Julie part, that’s probably the dumbest shit Nico could come up with. No, it was another thing. Why we haven’t been attacked again? That is a very good question.

 

When the Runaways were, well, running away, Karolina developed a keen sense for danger. It may be one of the reasons she’s in therapy but it also kept her alive. That sense is flaring up like crazy once again. Suddenly she can only see cars that are following her and all the people in the street have something suspicious about them.

 

Focus Karolina, focus” She tries to calm herself, she’s overreacting, that’s all. No wonder Nico was all worked up, even Karolina gets jumpy with all this situation. And yet… She can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong, she needs to talk to Nico even if it means swallow her words. At the first chance, she makes a U turn heading back to the Hostel. Karolina notices another car takes the same exit as her.

 

Karolina keeps driving for a couple minutes and takes a wrong turn on purpose, the same car takes the same wrong turn. That’s no coincidence, someone is following her. Most likely it’s just paparazzi, her parents were famous and then disappeared mysteriously, that’s tabloid gold. Damn. It’s weird but she wishes some shady individual connected with the Doombot attack would be following her, that way she could prove to Nico that Julie has nothing to do with it. Oh well, she has dealt with paparazzi before.

 

Karolina stops her car in a very transited street, the car that follows her stops too, she exits her car and begins to walk toward the paparazzi, this tactic works most of the time, just go, confront them, let them take a couple of pictures and they’re done.

 

Before Karolina could get too close the car drives off.

 

Those were definitely not paparazzi.

 

-

 

In retrospect, Nico shouldn’t be surprised, what did she expect? That Karolina just took her word? It would have been nice though “- That went well” After Karolina leaves, she sits in the sofa not knowing what to do next. The buzzing of a familiar Roomba brings her out of her stupor.

 

“- You did accuse her ex girlfriend of supervillainy” Victor says.

 

Much to Nico’s dismay, Victor opted to use a modified Roomba to move around the Hostel instead of the robot body Chase fixed for him. In fact, Victor’s attitude has been a source of worry for Nico, he doesn’t attend their meetings with Captain Marvel, he barely leaves the house, he didn’t sign for school (he can’t sign at all!) and refuses any and all offers to help. Still, neither Nico nor anyone else forces him to do anything.

 

Nico sighs, she’s frustrated and upset and is clear Victor has been eavesdropping but she’ll humor him nonetheless. “- What do you think, Victor? Could Julie be behind that?” She asks lowering her gaze to meet his.

 

“- Imagine I’m shrugging” Victor says “- I actually don’t know, I mean, you’re right, it’s clear I wasn’t the target”

 

Nico thinks for a moment before continuing “Vic, did you notice anything weird when you were, uhmm, plugged into that thing?”

 

“- Well, I knew Doom didn’t send the bot after me the second it plugged me in”

 

“- How so?” Nico asks.

 

“- It’s hard to explain, uhmm, you see, Doomtech has a very particular signature to it, the software is weird, the power source is weird. But that bot didn’t have any of that. It was scrubbed off”

 

Nico is beyond pissed to hearing this just now, but again, she will gain nothing if she starts yelling at Vic. “- What you mean scrubbed off

 

“- It means that, at some point, the Doombot was captured and repurposed, deleting all trace of Doom in it, which is a very difficult thing to do”

 

“- So it has to be Julie, right? She has friends with the resources to do that” Nico says.

 

“- Well…”

 

“- Vic? What are you not telling me?” Nico asks again.

 

“- I have a friend who could help us… he’s an expert on Doomtech and I suppose he could identify where that robot came from” Victor gives Nico his best puppy dog eyes.

 

Again, Nico is pissed, he didn’t say anything back then and just now happens to remember a friend who could help them?

 

“- What the fuck, Vic? Why didn’t you tell us before?” Nico snaps at him. She can see how Victor’s gaze lowers and how he flinches, as much as someone without a body can, but Victor hasn’t turn around and left. Nico tries again with a gentler tone “- Vic, please, if you know anything that can help us…”

 

“- Alright, Nico, I’ll… I’ll contact him”

 

“- Thank you, Vic” Nico says, she makes a mental note to try to talk to Victor more often, it’s curious but they are the two runaways who had similar life experiences, both were Avengers in the past, both of them had died and, thanks to odd chances, both came back to life. They should form a club. “- Do you need any help with that?”

 

“- Could you plug me into a computer, please?” Victor says.

 

“- Sure, is the Control Center okay?” Nico asks.

 

“- No need, just a regular computer is fine”

 

Nico picks Victor up, unplugs him from the Roomba and takes him to her laptop. There’s a lot of history between them but they have avoided each other. It’s beyond awkward trying to make small talk to your brought back to life-ex Avenger-ex boyfriend.

 

Nico plugs Victor to her laptop, again, the whole process feels weird and unnatural, tilting Victor’s head up to search for an entry (seriously, Ultron should’ve have built him with an USB port) and placing him in front of the screen.

 

“- So, what? Do I open Google for you?” Nico asks.

 

Victor laughs humorlessly “- I can actually control the operative system now. I’m sending an encrypted message via web, my friend has a private server and should pick it up easily. This will only take a few minutes and then we wait” Victor says.

 

“- Cool, cool”

 

Tense silences were always Nico’s specialty, but somehow, she begins to get uncomfortable, which is unfair, Victor has done nothing but keeping to himself and, in his own words, avoid being a burden, he has been a sweetheart to Gert and Molly and Chase, although he has barely spoke to Karolina or her. Nico suspects he might be jealous.

 

“- I’m very happy for you, you know?” Victor says when the silence was becoming unbearable. “- Karolina and you are a great couple, despite your different opinions on her ex. You look happy”

 

Just like that, that sweet, awkward, coke loving, spicy food enthusiast of a boy has done it again. The tension in the air is gone finally and Nico can breathe a little easier.

 

“- Thanks, Vic, I am happy, and yeah, I think I should have managed that better” Once things have cool it off a bit, she will call Karrie to apologize.

 

“- And relax, I’m not looking for the nudes you send Karolina while I’m here” Victor winks at her.

 

Nico laughs and, damn, she did miss her family.

 

“- Joke’s on you, perv, I keep those in my phone”

 

They banter for a little longer, then, out of the blue a ping sound comes from the computer even when Nico couldn’t see it doing something.

 

“- Okay, it’s done, I sent my friend a message and attached every bit of info I got from the Doombot. He should call back soon.”

 

“- Who’s this friend of yours by the way”

 

“- Another Avenger from when I was running with them, we were in a sweet group of AI individuals there. We kept contact after we disbanded but he’s… shy. Maybe I’ll introduce you some day” Victor smiles at the memory of his former team. Good times.

 

“- I heard about your group, you did good things there.” Nico wants to probe further but doesn’t. She’s sure Victor will tell them all when he’s ready.

 

“- Hey, since you’re home, John Carpenter’s The Thing is on TV, wanna watch it?” Victor asks.

 

“- Sure” Nico smiles at him and takes him to the living room to enjoy a well deserved 80’s style horror filled couple of hours.

 

-

 

Karolina doesn’t want to run away again. She has a family, a girlfriend she loves (and who drives her crazy sometimes, but that’s beside the point) This time she will fight. If some rando follow her on its car and threaten her or her loved ones she will blast them to oblivion. It was probably reckless but, for the past half hour, Karolina tried, and failed, to locate the car that stalked her, she even flew over the block a couple times, but to no avail.

 

“- Shit” Karolina says out loud once she gets back to her car, it’s getting late and she needs to go the Hostel to tell everyone about this.

 

When Karolina arrives, she finds Nico and Victor amicably watching a movie, like nothing has happened. “- Well, it’s good to see you were so worried about me” She says.

 

“- Karolina!” Nico jumps out of the couch and goes to her. Karolina notice Nico is approaching her cautiously raising her hands as to pacify the situation in advance. “- I was just giving us some time to cool off, I swear”

 

Karolina sighs for like what it feels the hundredth time this day, she leads Nico to the sofa where Vic could also see her. It always feels bad to leave Vic out of a conversation simply because he can’t turn his head around.

 

“- Hi, Vic” She says to the android.

 

“- Hi… uhmmm… would you guys like some privacy?”

 

“- It’s okay, I wanted to talk to everybody. Where’s everyone, by the way?”

 

“- The usual” Nico shrugs “- School and training for Molly and Gert, and Chase took Old Lace and Rufus to the vet”

 

“- Okay, well, since you’re already here” Karolina takes a deep breath and then she continues “- I don’t want you guys to freak out, I was followed today”

 

“- Followed as in… ?” Nico asks her.

 

“- Straight up followed, stalked, a car was tailing me when I left earlier, and it wasn’t a run of the mill paparazzi”

 

“- How could you know?” Vic asks this time.

 

“- Sometimes when paparazzi follow me I just give them the chance to take a couple of pictures, they get satisfied and I get to go in peace; but today I stopped and went to the car but it drove off before I could get close”

 

“- So they didn’t want pictures” Nico says.

 

“- No, and maybe I’m being paranoid, but…” Karolina sits in the sofa next to Victor. “- I’m wondering if this is connected to the Doombot attack, we’ve been asking lately and now I’m being followed.”

 

Victor and Nico look at each other, they look worried. “- I do think is connected to the Doombot” She says

 

“- How do you know?” Karolina asks her.

 

“- Vic told me he has a friend who could help identify the responsible for the Doombot, we send him a message earlier today” Nico tells her. “- It’s too much of a coincidence that you were tailed the same day.”

 

“- And before you blame me” Victor interjects “- I used every security measure available and every encryption and code I know off. But if the same people who hacked a Doombot were monitoring us, it’s possible they hacked into my message too”

 

Karolina thinks it’s true, she has a good sense for when someone is following her and she’s sure nobody has done that for months, she would have noticed. This also means she was right on something else. “- Okay, Nico, you have to admit this doesn’t sound like something Julie would do”

 

Nico nods slightly at her “- It does seem out of place” She concedes.

 

“- It does, so can we forget about it for good?” Karolina asks.

 

“- Karrie, I’m thinking she might be involved by accident, she’s an Avenger and she’s bound to have enemies, maybe she joked about it and someone took it seriously or she’s wired and doesn’t know…”

 

“- Where are you going with this, Nico?”

 

“- Let me talk to her, I just need to know for sure and maybe she can help us figuring things out.”

 

It looks like Karolina would have to call her ex and ask her if she’s a secret super villain or something. “- Fine”

 

This is a bad idea.

Chapter Text

Someone followed Karolina.

 

Some motherfucker followed Karolina.

 

Some fucking piece of shit with a death wish followed Karolina.

 

Nico is seeing red. The moment Karolina told her and Victor she was being followed Nico could focus on nothing else but her desire to kill the bastard that was stalking Karrie.

 

“- Okay, Nico, you have to admit this doesn’t sound like something Julie would do” That’s what Karolina tells her, she doesn’t buy if for a second. This is Julie’s doing, she doesn’t know how but she got people following Karolina, probably following all of Nico’s family.

 

“- It does seem out of place” No, it doesn’t. Nico has known people willing and able to do crazier, more damaging shit for lesser reasons.

 

“- It does, so can we forget about it for good?” Karrie wants to forget about this? Like hell, it’s high past time to up the situation.

 

“- Karrie, I’m thinking she might be involved by accident, she’s an Avenger and she’s bound to have enemies, maybe she joked about it and someone took it seriously or she’s wired and doesn’t know…” That harpy is knee deep in this shit, she got someone following Karrie, what would have happened is she got hurt? This is out of hand and Nico is going to put and to it.

 

“- Where are you going with this, Nico?” Preventing anyone from hurting her family, what else?

 

“- Let me talk to her, I just need to know for sure and maybe she can help us figuring things out.” She’s going to force that bitch to confess!

 

“- Fine.”

 

-

 

Alright! That went better than Karolina expected. She knew Nico would be reasonable. The only problem will be breaking to Julie the news of hers and Nico relationship. She should have done it earlier, Julie meant a lot to her, still does, if she were a decent person she would let Julie know, its basic courtesy. Ideally, Karolina would prefer to do that in private… or never, and let Julie find out some other way. But if Nico is willing to eat some crow about this, then, she’s capable of telling Julie she was, basically, replaced… This is gonna be bad.

 

“- So, I still have her number, do you want it? You could call her whenever you want, or maybe text her, that would be better.” Maybe Nico would be satisfied with that, yeah, why not? She could call Julie at other time.

 

“- Actually, I want to call her on the Control Center, if we’re gonna talk about super villains and Julie’s enemies, I think it’s better to do it on a secure channel. would you mind logging in while I put my coat on?” Of course, Karolina thinks Nico has, as she always does, put on her professional façade before even speaking to any Avenger, but she doesn’t know that Nico is already forming a plan. She wants to use the Control Center because it has a recording function and, maybe, Julie will let her guard down if she sees Karolina first, she will need everything in her favor to set Julie up.

 

“- Alright”

 

“- Hey guys, can I come with you? Maybe it will help if I tell her everything I know” Victor says.

 

Oh, great! More audience “- Sure” Karolina picks Victor up carrying him in her arms and heads to the Control Corner with Nico. Now Victor will witness how much of a bad person she is.

 

Karolina puts Victor on a chair facing the screen and turns the Control Center and logs in, about a month ago the Avengers Headquarters created a shared account for all The Runaways to use, that account links to their personal Avengers App for their phones and uses biometrics, so, when one of the Runaways logs into the Portable Control Center anyone on the Avengers network can know which individual of The Runaways is calling, it’s with this account that Karolina calls Julie.

 

Julie answers almost immediately.

 

“- Karolina! Hi!” Julie answers in the perkiest tone possible “- This is such a surprise, how are you doing?” She doesn’t seem to notice Victor at all.

 

“- Hi, Julie, I’m fine, thank you, uhmm, listen, I…”

 

“- K, I have great news! the Avengers are planning to establish a team in Los Angeles! We still don’t know who’s going, but I’m thinking in applying, and if I make it, maybe, I don’t know… distance was an issue for us, but it could be not anymore…”

 

Oh god, Julie hasn’t get over Karolina, far from it, it’s obvious she wants another chance. Karolina feels like shit; how many time does she have to break the heart of this amazing girl.

 

Nico finally comes into the room, Karolina notices she didn’t just grab her coat, she changed her outfit completely, now wearing a long sleeved black laced shirt, grey fitting pants and, most curios of all, a pair of sturdy boots that Karolina recognizes are the same ones Nico uses every time they have a combat drill. What’s more, Nico’s posture is changed, shoulders squared, chin up, it’s not meant to intimidate or anything, it’s how she behaves when she’s about to argue about something with Captain Marvel, a pose carefully designed to be taking seriously. What the hell is going on? Is Nico expecting to fight someone? No, it must be that she want’s Julie to know she’s serious, that this is formal business. Right?

 

“- Hello, Julie” Nico says positioning herself at Karolina’s side.

 

Julie’s expression falters, hard, the second she sees Nico “- Oh, hi, Nico”

 

“- Julie, we have a… situation, and we might need help with it.” Nico says.

 

“- Okay, I’ll help with what I can”

 

“- It’s about the Doombot” Karolina says to Julie.

 

“- What about it?”

 

“- We have reason to believe the person behind the attack is closely attached to us” Nico says.

 

What the hell? This isn’t what Nico told before.

 

“- Someone who knew where to find us” Nico continues. “- And who had motives to scare us and now that Karolina and I are together, this person has a reason to let go”

 

Oh shit, of all the ways Karolina wanted to Julie found out about her relationship with Nico this certainly wasn’t it. Nico just spilled it out! And, is she still accusing Julie? They were over this, what is happening?

 

Julie doesn’t say anything. For a couple of seconds, she just stares at them from the other side of the screen.

 

“- Wait… are you guys… together?”

 

Now is Nico’s turn to look confused.  Karolina throws a glance at her and Nico returns it, silently asking for some explanation.

 

Karolina takes Nico’s hand, she can’t help the coy smile that plasters onto her face.

 

“- Yeah, I mean…” Well, cat’s out of the bag, might as well try to feed it too “- Yes, Nico and I are together now, Julie” Karolina says. It feels so wrong to tell that to the person that, merely months before, she loved so much, but at the same time she feels elated every time she states out loud that she and Nico are an item.

 

“- Oh, I see… that… actually makes sense” Julie says.

 

Blessed the heart of this amazing, selfless, caring girl, Julie Power. She understands! Even Nico is taken aback at Julie’s words.  Karolina beams at her girlfriend and squeezes her hand. Everything is going to be alright. Nico may have started the conversation a little rocky but now they can have a civilized conversation and start figuring out who wanted to hurt her family.

 

“- I’m so glad you understand, Julie” Karolina says still holding Nico’s hand. “- I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you sooner, I didn’t want to hurt you and…”

 

“- No, it’s not that” Julie interrupts her. “- It’s just… our problems began the second she stepped back into your life”

 

Shit, Julie is not taking this well at all. Karolina turns to Nico with a semi-panicked expression. Nico is just staring at the screen.

 

“- No, Julie, it’s not like that… we…” Karolina tries to explain but she gets cut short by Julie again.

 

“- I finally get it, why you can’t keep away from her. She bewitched you…”

 

“- What the fuck did you just say?!” Nico almost shouts, now she’s pissed.

 

“- You heard me, witch, you must’ve cast a spell on Karolina and now she’s stuck with you!”

 

“- Julie!” Karolina yells, trying to stop this before escalates further.

 

Nico scowls, this can’t go unanswered “- Fuck you! You can’t get over that Karolina broke up with you.

 

“- Nico!”

 

“- Even more evidence of your witchery! Why the hell would Karolina choose you over me? I’m calling Doctor Strange and he’ll undo your fucking spell and Karolina will finally be free from the likes of you!”

 

“- Guys, enough!” Karolina yells again, but this has become a shouting match and neither Julie nor Nico acknowledges her.

 

Nico had enough of this. “- You sent a Doombot to attack us and put our lives at risk out of jealousy! You wanted Karolina close to you and you would do anything for it. I should have you arrested!”

 

“- Are you serious!? I would never do something that idiotic.”

 

“- And now you’re sending your people to stalk Karolina!”

 

Julie looks truthfully surprised. “- Someone is stalking Karolina and you’re blaming me? Are you a fucking moron? Go deal with that shit, call the cops or something!”

 

“- I’m gonna prove you’re behind all this and then the Avengers are gonna have your ass!” Nico points at the screen furiously.

 

“- When your spell gets undone everyone will finally be free of you, witch!”

 

The transmission interrupts abruptly, the screens get shut off. From the look on Nico’s face she was about to shout something else but Karolina acted first. She turned the Control Center off and is now staring directly to Nico.

 

“- What the hell was that?” Karolina asks as calmly as she can.

 

Nico takes a moment to respond, she is visibly shaken and her breath is labored. “- Well… you saw how she accused me…”

 

“- Not that, Nico!”

 

“- Okay… yeah… I got angry when you told me someone was following you.”

 

Karolina relaxes a bit, she knows this is how Nico operates. If her family is in danger she will lash out, sometimes with disastrous results. Karolina is mad, but now is not the time to scold Nico.

 

“- I get that, but you started throwing accusations…”

 

“- You heard what she said to me!” Nico interrupts her.

 

“- And it was uncalled for, but you were pretty aggressive too.”

 

“- I know… I lost it”

 

At the sight of Nico looking so deflated Karolina takes her hand and leads her out of their homemade control room towards the living room. She makes Nico take a seat and begins rubbing the back of her hand until she looks a little calmer.

 

“- Look, Nico” Karolina says. “- I don’t wanna fight, I just wanna now if you’re okay” Karolina gets slightly shook at the vulnerable look of Nico, she squeezes her hand a little tighter.

 

“- I’m scared, Karrie… awfully scared. Of you or anyone of the guys getting hurt, it’s driving me crazy and today has been tough already… and… I don’t know.”

 

Karolina hugs her girlfriend as tight as she can, she can feel the ill disguised sobs coming from Nico. After a few minutes, she breaks the hug and gives Nico a quick kiss on her forehead.

“- I am too, you’re not alone”

 

“- Yeah, but you handle everything so well and it kills me that you have to take care of all of us.” Nico retorts.

 

Karolina gives a sad smile. “- I don’t, really, I…  I know I sometimes avoid conflict, I was three seconds from flying all the way to San Francisco back there” She says pointing to the control room. “- But I’m getting help. Nico, I don’t want to overstate, but, have you considered therapy?”

 

“- Yeah” Nico nods slightly “- For a while now, I think I will go soon. There’s still the issue of the attacker and your stalker though.”

 

“- Right, maybe we should wait for the others” Karolina says.

 

“- Yeah”

 

Karolina opens her arms towards Nico, who immediately takes the hint and practically melts over her.

 

“- Thank you for understanding” Nico says. “- And for not yelling at me”

 

“- No problem, you still think Julie is out to get us?”

 

“- No, I get it was just paranoia”

 

“- She was out of line, but, you’ll still have to make amends with her, you know?”

 

“- Yeah, I actually want her to call Strange, I’d love to see her face when he tells her there’s no love spell between us or anything.” Nico smirks.

 

Karolina kisses Nico’s temple, she hears a soft giggle and, oh god, how she loves making Nico giggle. “- I need to apologize to her, it’s gonna be awkward but I owe her that much.”

 

“- Karrie, can we stay like this until the others return?”

 

“- You’re such a cuddler” Karolina says knowing well she could never refuse, nor that she ever wanted to. “- You know, I got the feeling we’re forgetting something”

 

“- Beats me” Nico says snuggling closer.

 

-

 

“- C’mon, Vic, it was an accident” Nico pleads.

 

“- No” Victor says.

 

“- We didn’t mean it, pretty please?” Karolina gives him some puppy dog eyes for good measure.

 

“- No!” Victor repeats.

 

“- We’ll let you pick the next movie” Nico offers.

 

Victor falters for a second but don’t concede. “- Not enough”

 

“- It was like half an hour, Vic” Karolina says.

 

“- You forgot me! I was left in that dark room, forgotten and alone not knowing if I ever see another friendly face again”

 

“- Okay, how about this? You get TV privileges for three days” Karolina offers him.

 

While Victor beams at the prospect, Nico face fall.

 

“- Karolina, no! We’ll be watching three days straight of Chapulin Colorado!”

 

“- Too late, done! You’re forgiven, I love you both again” If Victor could, he would be wriggling in excitement.

 

The door opens and Molly, Gert, Old Lace and Chase enter the living room. A very sleepy Rufus is nested on the back of Old Lace, the dinosaur moves as steadily as she can to avoid waking him. They seem to have taken a like to each other.

 

“- Hey, guys!” Molly gives both Nico and Karolina a bone crushing hug and sits beside Victor. When all the greetings are done Karolina urges everyone to take a sit.

 

“- We need to talk” Karolina says.

 

Twenty minutes later they are all up to speed, there’s a sense of shock in the air.

 

“- Alright, what’s our plan?” Gert asks.

 

“- We don’t have one, yet” Nico says. “- We don’t even know if what happened today to Karolina is connected in some way” Nico feels silly, earlier in the day she saw everything so clearly, it was Julie’s fault, but slowly all her arguments crumbled down.

 

No one speaks for a long time, there is a suggestion no one is making, one that would mean dismantle all the progress they have made in the past years, they’re all afraid that if it’s even whispered their lives could be ruined all over again. They could run away.

“- We should go to the movies”

 

Everyone turns their head towards Victor.

 

“- What?”

 

“- Vic, we have a serious situation here” Chase admonishes him.

 

“- We actually don’t know squat” Victor interjects. “- A couple of weird things, and not even that weird all things considered, happened and now we’re spiraling into paranoia? C’mon! We now better. We should wait until my friend calls me back and we all could use some down time”

 

Again, silence, Nico and Karolina exchange looks briefly and nod to each other.

 

“- He has a point” Nico says.

 

Chase nods too “- I actually could use the rest.”

 

“- We Deserve it! And there’s a ton of movies I want to watch!” Molly says excitedly, since she’s a teenager now, she watches any PG 13 movie that comes her way.

 

“- You want to get out of the house?” Gert asks Victor. It’s a fair question since Victor is not exactly fond of getting out. Most of his days are spent in front of the TV or plugged into a computer.

 

“- Y-Yeah, I think we spend too much time holed up in here, and that’s coming from me”

 

Probably nobody buys it, they all know how much Victor likes being secluded at home, how he avoids more human contact that the strictly necessary, but they all also recognize when someone is making a sacrifice for their family.

 

“- Okay, Back to the Future is in the cinema nearby, what do you say?” Chase asks and everyone agrees.

 

“- Could we grab some take out on the way back? I kinda skipped lunch” Karolina says, earning a frown from Nico.

 

“- Karolina! Why didn’t tell something sooner? I could have made you something” Nico chides her.

 

 “- Sorry” Karolina gives a loving smile to her girlfriend.

 

“- Enough said, we’ll smuggle some food into the cinema, let’s go!” Gert says.

 

Everyone grab their things and leave the Hostel excited to have some down time. It’s been tough to balance school, Avengers stuff, work and their personal lives.

The movie is great, the food too, and really easy to smuggle into the movie since everyone was paying attention to the huge dinosaur that accompanied them. When a little girl noticed there was a cat wearing a bowtie riding on the dinosaur’s back, the Runaways became a bit of a sensation. It dawns on Nico that, if the world someday pays them any mind it would be thanks to a very cool gift from Gert’s overprotective, kind of imaginative, murdering late parents and the remaining of the experiments of a Molly’s evil grandma.

 

The decide to call it a day after the movie and go straight home feeling relaxed and with their minds a little clearer. Nico feels silly for her earlier behavior, in retrospect she was stretching a bit much about Julie, and speaking of which, she owes the girl an apology. Julie’s words were inexcusable for sure, but Nico will be the bigger woman and offer an apology first, it’s really for Karolina’s sake… so maybe she isn’t the bigger woman after all.

 

“- You know, maybe we should take Old Lace out more often, people loved us” Molly says.

 

“- Yeah, they even wanted my autograph!” Chase says smugly.

 

“- I’m pretty sure that they tolerated your autograph for a pic with Lace” Gert says and scratches the dinosaur’s chin.

 

They are about to enter the hostel when Victor, being carried by Molly, stops them in their tracks.

 

“- Errr, guys, did we leave the door open?” Victor says.

 

Everyone looks at each other for a brief moment, of course they know they didn’t let the door open, it’s a blast door for crying out loud, and thanks to Chase’s continues effort it closes automatically once they all leave the house.

 

“- When blood is shed let the Staff of One emerge” Nico summons her Staff, she can feel how it slithers out of her chest, she hates calling for the damn thing.

 

Instinctively, they all know what this means. There’s a fight coming on. Karolina takes her bracelet off and walks beside Nico.

 

“- Stay behind me” Nico says and walks toward the open door of the hostel. The few steps of the walkway connecting the blast door to the inner building seems to have outstretched for a thousand miles. Nico can feel her heart pounding with fear and adrenaline. Her palms are sweaty. She’s so not ready for whatever comes next.

 

They finally clear the hallway reaching for the inner door, it’s also propped open. Nico pushes the door and enters the living room first holding the Staff of One in front of her. Right in the middle of the room is another Doombot. It’s about to attack.

Chapter Text

“- Stay behind me!”

 

Nico is sure they can take the Doombot. It shouldn’t be that hard, they are very powerful, at least she thinks so. Yet she’s terrified, what if they lose? What if someone gets seriously injured? What if someone dies? What if it’s not her?  So, she jumps in front of everyone, to cast a spell, sure, but also, if that thing fire at them, with some luck, she’ll be the only one to go.

 

“- Brute force!” Nico cast the spell whipping her staff towards the bot. The spell doesn’t’ have the effect she wanted, she meant something that could send the Doombot flying against the wall, instead she only manages to push it a couple feet.

 

It’s strange but the Doombot doesn’t immediately retaliate, it looks like is seizing another opportunity to attack, or rather, to finally attack since it hasn’t had the chance to do so.

 

Before Nico could think any further, she sees Karolina at her side firing a powerful blast. The Doombot was expecting it and deflects it to the ceiling. What the bot wasn’t expecting was Old Lace and Molly running full speed at it.

 

With a roar, Old Lace jumps, claws first, with the clear intent of maiming something. She’s so fast, but so is the Doombot, it dodges Old Lace who lands inches from smashing the TV in the living room. Nico thinks is silly to worry about property damage when their lives are at stake. The Doombot traps Old Lace with a net taking the dinosaur out of the fight, this is beginning to look bad, in a matter of seconds one of their brawlers is incapacitated.

 

Old Lace opened the opportunity for Molly to step in, if this was the Molly from months ago she would have gone for her signature move, a good kick in the shins. Her self defense classes seem to have had effect on her, she swipes at the robot legs effectively bringing it down, she gives it another kick for good measure.

 

From the corner of her eye Nico can see Chase leading Gert, with Victor on her arms, out of the room while Karolina flies to get Molly out of the Doombot’s reach. That’s it! That’s all the opening Nico needs, she can end the fight with a single spell. She needs to think fast; the robot is already standing up. Nico only has a second, maybe less. “- Expl-“

 

“- Stop! Everyone! Stop! He’s my friend!” Victor yells at the top of his figurative lungs.

 

Everyone does stop, the Doombot included.

 

“- What? Friend? What?” Nico turns to Victor, still in Gert arms, so fast she almost sprains her neck.

 

“- He’s my friend! He’s the one I messaged to” Victor says.

 

“- Indeed” the Doombot says, weird that these things have a voice. “- I came to retrieve Victor, Doom’s best and only friend, from this inadequate dwelling.”

 

“- Victor, explain” Nico says. “- And you, don’t move!” She says pointing at the Doombot with her staff.

 

“- He’s not just any doombot, he’s Doombot, my friend, we were together in the Avengers AI, I asked for his help” Victor says.

 

The doombot, no, scratch that, Doombot walks towards Victor, and takes him from Gert’s hands, she doesn’t offer resistance for some reason.

 

“- And not a moment too soon, it seems.” Doombot continues. “- Your living conditions are a tribulation; do you have any belongings you wish to take with you? Where are your appendages?”

 

“- You’re not taking Victor anywhere tin can!” Chase plants himself in front of Doombot trying to grab Victor back.

 

“- Guys!” Victor says. “- As much as I love being fought over, this is not necessary, I like it here”

 

“- Ha! See? He’s not going anywhere” Chase says.

 

“- You need a body, Victor” Doombot replies, practically ignoring Chase.

 

“- I really don’t” Victor says.

 

“- And, besides” Chase interjects “- I build him a body already, and I’m improving it”

 

“- Bah! show me this body, young imbecile, I will ridicule it and strip it of any value”

 

 Doombot releases Old Lace, leaves Victor on a nearby chair and follows Chase still bickering about who knows what. That gives some time for the rest of them to start making sense about what just happened.

 

Nico is shaking with adrenaline and shock, she grabs the Staff of One as hard as she can in an effort to steady her hands. Of all the people in the room she’s the most visibly affected, not even Lace looks as beaten as her. Lovely.

 

Karolina hugs Nico lightly, making sure she’s alright. It amazes Nico how easy is for her girlfriend to read her. There are times when Nico is stressed out of her mind and Karolina would almost physically drag her for a walk or to the beach and spend a couple hours away from everything, or when Nico comes home after a grueling day at work, tired and hungry, and, more often than not, she finds Karolina came with a box of take out for her. Or like now, Nico is still trembling with fear, and now she’s angry and at a loss of words. Karolina’s simple gesture grounds her back.

 

After taking a very deep breath, Nico finally finds her voice and turns to Victor. “- So, your friend is a Doombot” She deadpans.

 

“- Not any Doombot, he’s Doombot, He’s sentient but he was modified to render him harmless, he talks big but it’s a big softie”

 

“- You didn’t think it was important for us to know you are friends with a Doombot?” Gert asks.

 

“- Yes! And I was gonna tell you, I just didn’t expect him to visit… Listen, guys, I’m sorry, alright? But he can help us, could we not yell at each other for now?”

 

“- Fine, I’ll yell at you later” Nico says.

 

Doombot and Chase returns, still bickering. “- Well, Victor” Doombot says, pointing at Chase “- This poor parody of a scientist seems to have stumbled upon something interesting, by mere accident I’m sure.”  For all the indults Chase looks particularly smug.

 

“- Listen, Doomy, I suppose you got my message” Victor says.

 

“- I did”

 

“- Then, could you help us, identifying where the doombot that attacked us came from?”

 

“- That would be rather simple, that Doombot was my own doing”

 

That’s a way to kill the mood. After the initial seconds of shocked filled silence followed a chorus of indignant voices.

 

“- What the fuck?!” “- You tried to kill us!” “- This is all your fault, Victor!”

 

“- Everyone shut it!” Victor yells and surprisingly the rest of the Runaways do shut up. “- Doomy, please, could you explain yourself”

 

“- Doom doesn’t explain himself! But I think you should be briefed. I sent an inferior model of Dommbot to retrieve you”

 

“- But, friend, we could get hurt” Victor is on the verge of tears knowing all this is his fault.

 

“- Nonsense! The instructions in that automaton were very specific, he was only using non lethal weapons to incapacitate any and all obstacles to his objective, none of the cretins that imprisoned you were in any danger” Doombot says.

 

“- It blew up when we defeated him! You almost killed us!” Chase says.

 

“- As I said, it was an inferior model and it could not fulfill Doom’s standards for quality” Doombot says. “- That is why, when you call for my aid, I decided to come personally”

 

It’s a lot to take in for Nico. Out of the blue she has the answer to so many questions that plagued her mind for months and made her crazy day and night, that drove to paranoia episodes and she ended up accusing Julie Power for it. You always hear how relief feels, like a heavy weight lifts of your shoulders, for Nico is more like she’s finally able to breath after being trapped under a rock for days.

 

“- Let me get this straight” Nico says pinching the bridge of her nose, she can feel a massive headache coming. “- You sent a doombot for Victor, then, when that plan failed, waited for an opportunity until today when Vic sent a message, all of it because you were worried about him”

 

Doombot throws a glance to Victor, the she says “- Fundamentally, incorrect, my plan didn’t fail, it just encounter unforeseen resistance, but other than that, yes, your assessment of the events is passable.”

 

“- Now that you see he’s in no danger at all, you would not represent a threat to us, right?” Nico asks holding her staff tighter, if she finds the robot’s answer unsatisfactory, unavoidably the fight will resume, no one is taking her family away from her.

 

“- Again, fundamentally, incorrect, I never posed a threat for you lot, my only objective was, and it will be, Victor’s wellbeing”

 

“- Doombot, compa” Victor says “- You can see I’m fine, you will not keep trying to snatch me, right?

Doombot responds almost immediately “- While our definitions of fine differ greatly, I concur you are not in danger, so yes, I will cease my attempts to pry you from… here. But that doesn’t mean I will give up upon your improvement. You need a body, I will think of some alternatives. I’ll take my leave truants, keep Victor safe.”

 

“- Wait” Nico says to Doombot “- By any chance, did you, or any of your Doombots, followed Karolina in a car earlier today?”

 

“- No, I do not have the need for such a primitive transportation nor to track any of your whereabouts.” Doombot leaves the Hostel after that.

 

“- So that’s it, right?” Karolina says “- Mistery solved”

 

“- You were still followed, Karrie” Nico says wearily.

 

“- It probably was just paparazzi who got a bit jumpy, it wouldn’t be the first time” Karolina responds.

 

Nico’s mind is a turmoil, one part of her is convinced this is something more and wants to tell Karolina so, another part isn’t as sure since she accused Julie Power, without solid evidence, of messing with them. It sounds bleak, but Nico has learned not to trust her own mind all the time; at the moment she’s kind of unhinged, emotionally exhausted, tired, worried… it’s not the best time to push forward.

 

“- Your most likely right” Nico says to Karolina “- You know your paparazzi”

 

Karolina walks to Nico, wrap her arms around her shoulders and places a kiss on her forehead, Nico practically melts at the affection. “- We’ll be fine” she says.

 

“- Guys, I’m so sorry for all this mess” Victor says from his place in the table.

 

“- It’s not your fault, Vic” Karolina says “- You couldn’t know what your friend was going to do”

 

Everyone tries their hardest to reassure Victor. Much for Nico’s dismay he doesn’t look all that convinced. The last thing she wants is for him to recluse any further. She’ll talk to him when the time is right. For now, it’s late, and she could use some sleep.

 

“- Do you wanna stay the night?”  Nico asks Karolina. It comes out more like a plea.

 

“- Sure” Karolina answers.

 

-

 

The next week is spent in cleaning the living room, fixing the doors, work, school, gym, The Runaways get as busy as it gets. It seems like the days got a lot shorter and the number of hours in them are not enough e anymore. One afternoon finds Nico again in the awkward position of being alone in the house. She was having dinner with Karolina, but her girlfriend had to bail because, with all the recent stuff, she fall behind on some reading reports and other school projects. Chase was at work, Molly and Gert went to their self defense class, which Nico would think is so good if not for the fact that Gert likes to brag a little too much about her knew found abilities to kill a man barehanded. Even Victor was out since Doombot came back and asked him if he will be available to take measurements for a new body. Victor accepted, though a bit begrudgingly.

 

Having the entirety of her social network away from home Nico focus on some chores that need to be done, she takes Old Lace and Rufus for a quick walk outside, just enough so they don’t get angsty, and gives both a bath. Old lace gives her no problem, the dinosaur seems to enjoy being soaked in fresh water and scrubbed thoroughly, it’s not the easiest task since Lace is almost seven feet tall and well over 300 pounds, but she’s very docile. Rufus on the other hand, is pure evil sometimes, Nico swears the psychic cat gives her a migraine on purpose every time she bathes him. Fortunately, Rufus is something like a hygiene freak and keeps himself clean as much as he can.

 

Nico never thought she would end up cat and dinositing but she wouldn’t change it for the world. She likes her life is a tad weird.

 

After she takes a bath herself she flops on the couch in the living room, hell bent on watching whatever on Netflix for a blessed couple of hours of mind numbing entertainment. She barely has pushed the On button of the TV when her phone chimes with the distinctive tone of the Avengers app.

 

“- Fuck!” She exclaims loudly before pulling out her phone and seeing what the this is about.

 

“- Shit fuck”

 

Captain Carol Danvers is requesting a meeting as soon as possible. Why now? Of all the days she could choose, she had to pick today? Since their conversation the day things went south with Julie, Captain Marvel and Nico hadn’t spoken face to face, in fact, there has been zero messages or calls from her.

 

Slowly, painfully, Nico extricates herself from the couch and walks to the Control Corner, she’s so not properly dressed for a meeting; wearing a couple of loose black shorts and almost equally loose black shirt, barefooted and clean faced; but she couldn’t bring herself to care, if Captain Marvel complaints about her attire, well, fuck her.

 

Nico turns the Control Center on and waits the couple of seconds it takes to connect her call.

 

“- Hi, Nico” Captain Danvers say on the other side of the screen.

 

For a moment, Nico is taken aback by Captain Marvel’s looks. Her long blond hair is cut and she’s sporting an undercut on the right side of her head, much like Nico, she´s not wearing any make up whatsoever and she’s covering herself with an oversized jersey from some college Nico doesn’t recognize, the neck is so loose that lets a shoulder bare, a black bra strap showing; it’s easy to forget that Captain Marvel is still kind of young, she’s only in her thirties and by all accounts she can be considered very beautiful.  It also surprises Nico the place from where Carol is calling her, she’s not in her New York apartment and obviously she’s not on the Avengers headquarters or in some other of their facilities, she’s sitting on a wooden porch of some old house, and Nico can see the darkening skyline over the ocean less than a mile at her back.

 

The whole scene disarms Nico, she had half a mind to be a bit of an ass, acting all offended, maybe even playing a little victim telling how exhausted she was. But seeing Carol Danvers like this, looking maybe even vulnerable, well, Nico has a heart, damn it.

 

“- Hello, Captain” Nico says.

 

“- Are you okay? I don’t want to overstep but you look… tired”

 

“- Just a rough couple of days” Nico answers scratching the back of her head, she could say something very similar about Captain Danvers.

 

“- Oh, I’m sorry for bothering you, maybe I should better just write you” Carol says.

 

Nico feels retroactively like shit, the mere thought of being rude to Captain Marvel now leaves a foul taste in her mouth, after seeing the concern in Carol’s eyes. “- It’s ok” Nico reassures her.

 

Carol takes a steaming mug from somewhere at her side and nurse it between her hands, adding to the vulnerable vibe she’s been projecting “- Well, you were clearly getting some rest, so I’ll make this quick. I received a message from headquarters, your evaluations have been satisfactory, and you guys are officially getting added to the initiative roster, you will be called next time a crisis response team is needed, and don’t worry, I personally requested for to not be called for combat situations.”

 

A chill crawl up Nico’s spine, the understandable apprehension of breaking a comfortable routine. She knew this day will come eventually, she did convince her family to sign up for semi-heroic crap. She supposes it’s only fair, they have received a bunch of stuff that, without the Avengers, couldn’t possibly get; continuous education, health and veterinary services and insurance, legal assistance. This is what public service looks like. Time to buckle up.

 

“- Alright, perfect, we’ll be ready” Nico says “- Er—There’s something I think you should know, if you don’t know it already”

 

“- Yes? What is it, Nico” The Captain replies clearly interested.

 

“- It’s about the Doombot attack…”

 

“- Oh shit! I’m so sorry, Nico, I know I said I’ll look into it, things have been crazy and- -” Captain Marvel says while looking genuinely remorse.

 

This is definitely something out of character for the Captain Marvel Nico knows, she did forget about this? Something big must be happening to her. “- It’s okay, Captain, we actually figured it out, is all good now” Nico responds.

 

“- You did?”

 

“- Yeah, turns out a friend of Victor thought he was in danger and sent the robot to rescue him”

 

“- Wait, it was Doombot, right? I mean, The Doombot, the Avenger AI one”

 

“- Yeah”

 

“- That makes so much sense. Well, that pretty much closes it. Dou you need anything about it?”

 

“- No, Captain, the thing is…” Here comes, Nico thinks it’s better to let her sponsor how she accused an active member of the Avengers for a conspiracy, shit, this is gonna be bad. “- I accused Julie Power for the attack on us and got into a fight with her, nothing physical I mean…”

 

“- Okay” Captain Marvel says.

 

“- That’s it? You’re not gonna scold me or something?”

 

“- No, why?” Captain Marvel even smiles at the thought. “- We heard all about it in HQ, Julie and you said some mean things to each other, big deal” She waves a hand dismissively “- You’re both adults, you’ll figure it out. Do you know how many times things have come to blows between Stark and me, or Jennifer and me?” She throws a smile to Nico for good measure.

 

The door opening makes Nico’s and Captain Marvel’s head turn.

 

“- Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt” A chastised looking Chase is halfway into the room, a hand still on the door knob and half mind to get out of there immediately.

 

Captain Marvel smiles warmly and waves chase to come closer to the screen “- It’s alright, Mr. Stein, I was just briefing Nico, I assume you read the message I sent too?”

 

“- Yeah, I came as soon as I could, sir, ma’am” Chase says pulling out his phone with the Avengers app open.

 

“- Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad, I’ll let Nico fill you in, and is just Carol, Mr. Stein” She reassures Chase, giving him a disarming smile. “- Well, I’m off then, do you have any questions, Nico?”

 

Actually, Nico has a lot of questions, is Captain Marvel okay? Does she need anything? Can Nico help her? Does she want to talk? They may have their disagreements, but Nico respects her, and whatever is happening in Carol Danvers’s life doesn’t look too good, but maybe she’s reading the situation wrong and maybe they’re not as close as Nico would think and maybe she’s just projecting; whatever the case, Nico just shakes her head “- No, Captain, it’s all good, have a good evening”

 

There it is again, that look Captain Marvel sometimes gives her, the one that softens all her features and makes her look, human. Nico doesn’t quite know what triggers it most of the time, but it gives her pause, she’s sure she should’ve showed more concern for her.

 

“- Thank you, Nico, you too, and to you Mr. Stein”

 

“- Yes, thank you, sir, ma’am, Carol, but err- it’s just Chase, ma’am, Carol, sir” Chase says one second away to give Captain Danvers a military salute.

 

Captain Danvers laughs heartily “- Alright, then good evening to you too, Chase” She says and gets up from her seat to logging off.

 

“- Ooof” Chase exclaims.

 

“- What?” Nico turns her head to him trying to read his expression.

 

Chase face is tomato red and is avoiding Nico’s gaze.

 

“- What, Chase?” She tries again.

 

“- Nothing, it’s just…” Nico keeps looking at him, urging Chase to continue. “- C’mon, Nico… she’s… you know…”

 

Nico crosses her arms and stands in front of Chase.

 

Chase gives up “- She’s, like, super hot, okay? I don’t mean to objectify her or anything, but you have to admit, she’s … wow”

 

“- Gross, Chase!” Nico says and slaps his arm not so playfully “- Have some respect! she’s my mo-menthor!”

 

“- Ow, okay, sorry, it was just an observation” Chase says rubbing at his arm.

 

“- You’re such a guy sometimes” Nico tells him.

 

“- Sorry, I meant nothing by it” Chase says “- She means a lot to you, I see”

 

Nico shrugs “- She put her faith on us, you should be grateful too”

 

“-  I am, trust me” By the look Nico gives him, she’s not satisfied “- Okay, as an apology, how about I cook you something”

 

“- Grilled cheese?” Nico asks

 

“- You got it”

 

They make their way to the kitchen where Chase begins to collect all he needs for his, now famous, grilled cheese sandwich “- So, what did Captain Marvel wanted?”

 

The thought makes Nico smile, is such a weird idea to think about it let alone say it, it’s something that years ago, when their normal, mundane lives were shattered, and they were forced to band together, they joked around a make shift table while eating cheap microwave dinner in whatever safehouse they could find. Now it’s a reality. “- We’re on the Avengers roster, The Runaways are going into action”