Chapter 1: Return
During the fight it’s easy enough not to think about it, because it’s been years, after all, and while she can’t feel the weight of those years in her bones (her too young bones) she can feel that weight in her mind. The underlying, ever present worry for Katie, the desperate need to know where Alex is at every moment, they keep her alive and worried and focused on more things than the fact that she saw one of her oldest friends killed in front of her.
Having him near her in the fight makes it easier to forget the exact colour of his blood.
She’s confused, after the fight. They’ve won. That feels… wrong somehow. Like things have shifted. There’s something she needs to remember — something that’s more important than anything else, but it slips away as Steve helps her to her feet and she suddenly has a flash that makes her gasp.
He looks at her, puzzled. “Janet?”
There is a moment when she sees red, and the curve of a blade, and the haunting laugh of a man she should have killed. “You’re okay,” she says.
His lips quirk in a small smile. A sad one. She remembers what he told her not so long ago, about how he had been trapped, just like she had been, for even longer. She remembers that he’s mourning Sharon, and her heart aches even more. “You sound surprised.”
She reaches up and touches his face with something akin to wonder. Behind him, Alex is frowning at her. Idiot. She makes a note to be very nice to him as soon as she’s sorted out this… thing. With Steve.
Steve who, for some reason, she keeps thinking is dead.
“I feel like you’ve been gone a long time,” she says softly. “But that’s weird isn’t it? You’ve been right here. Like you should be.”
“I’m not going anywhere Janet,” he says, and there’s a lot of sadness behind that, and Janet is perceptive enough to know that he needs to talk about it, but he’s probably not going to. Second point on her growing mental list is to take him out for those hot chocolates he likes, at that cafe in Manhattan — the one he thinks is too expensive. She’ll get the extra marshmallows, and she’ll pile in some of the best quality chocolate, and then she will demand payment in him talking.
He’ll hate every minute of it. But it will be worth it.
She tilts her head. “No, you’re not.” She pokes him in the chest. “Make sure you remember that.”
His lips quirk up and he gives her a tiny mock-salute that warms her right to her toes. “Yes ma’am,” he says.
Jan wakes up, gasping for breath, reaching for something she can’t name. It’s not an uncommon experience, since she’s come back from Inner Space. The feel of actual sheets and a spring mattress under her back, rather than a thin pallet in one of Gouza’s abandoned warehouses is surreal and it takes a few moments for her to remember that she’s not there, not any more, she found her way out.
Her Avengers came and rescued her.
It doesn’t matter that it’s been months, some days she’s afraid she’ll wake up and it won’t be her apartment and it won’t be her things.
Flying is what keeps her together on nights like this. She pads out of her bed, slips on one of her more subdued costumes and shrinks down, hopping out the window and flying out over New York. Size changing without the dizziness and wrongness usually makes her laugh out loud in joy, but tonight her mood is more difficult to shake.
For some reason she finds herself flying towards Brooklyn. Avengers mansion is quiet and dark behind her and the sky is clear. She hasn’t talked to Alex yet. For some reason the look in his eyes frightens her, and she doesn’t know why, except that it calls to something she’s supposed to do, an appointment she’s forgotten, a schedule she’s supposed to keep.
He’s not sleeping either. Of course he’s not. She knows he comes up here when he wants to brood, Sharon used to go straight to the roof before they’d moved in together to find him “Brooding is his natural state,” she’d said.
A sharp thrust of grief had her dip in the air down towards the roof of Steve’s building — it was still shielded from the front, and not many people knew his exact address. Jan did, now, but only because he’d told her — that brief conversation she’d had at the party before he and Tony had gone off to form their new Avengers, before she’d been recruited for the Unity team, before Alex and she had…
She lands on the roof and grew to full size. Steve looks up, seeming unsurprised to see her. “Janet,” he says, giving her a sad smile. “I thought it was going to be Sam again. He’s been pestering me every time I come up here lately.”
“He’s worried about you,” Janet says. “Does he know…?”
“About what happened in Dimension Z? Yes. A little more detail than you, I’m sorry Jan. We just, haven’t had much time to speak lately. How’s Alex?”
She frowns. “Fine.”
Steve’s smile grows. “He likes you,” he says. She sits on the edge of the roof with him and shrugs.
“Of course he does,” she says.
“So why are you here on my roof, Janet van Dyne? In the middle of the night. I thought you would have things to do.”
“Like sleep?” she says grinning. “Sleep takes away valuable fun time, Steven Grant Rogers.” She bumps her shoulder against his, that strange ache starting up in her chest again. “I never really had a chance to tell you how much I missed you when you were gone,” she says.
“I was only away for a day, here.”
“No. Not then. Before. After the unpleasantness with…” she waves a hand. There really isn’t any way to encompass registration and the stupidity that followed with anything but a hand wave in her opinion. She winces, sometimes, thinking about how idiotic they’d all been.
Steve snorts. “There’s always something that gets in the way, isn’t there?”
She smiles up at him. “Well. I missed you, Steve,” she said. “And I never had a chance to see you when you first came back and…” she hesitates. There’s a thread here of something — some feeling that she needs to follow. For the first time since she’s known him she feels like she can really feel his sorrow, as though it’s something she knows intimately. As though they’ve been through the same things. Which is ridiculous, because much as she might love him, much as he might be her oldest friend, there is very little about Janet van Dyne’s life that bears any resemblance to that of Captain America. “I’m sorry for your loss,” she says softly.
He leans forward and takes her hand and the ache in her chest lessens at that. He’s real. He’s here. So why does she keep seeing him dead at her feet?
“Thank you, Jan,” he says. She tries for a light hearted smile, but it doesn’t really reach her eyes. Leans forward and kisses him on the cheek. Then she shrinks, hovering in front of him, trying to fix his face in her memory the way it is not the way her mind keeps telling her it should be.
“You’ve been through a lot, Steve. You should sleep.”
“Maybe now I will,” he says, smiling. “Fly safe, Jan.”