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knights & swans

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“Fancy seeing you here.”

It takes Vers a moment to realise the knight in shining armour means her. She makes a little show of looking around, just to be a shit, then points at herself in a cheeky mimicry of who, me?

The woman nods and tucks a smirk against the rim of her smudged glass. She’s pretty in a dishevelled way: tendrils of hair frizzing out from a once-neat bun, one side of her collar sticking up awkwardly, make-up two days overripe. Vers can see herself falling for this sloppy vision in leather in another time and place, maybe.

“Have we met?” she asks, swishing the remaining mouthful of liquid around her bottle because she doesn’t want to have an excuse to leave yet.

“No, but I see you in my dreams every night,” the woman says promptly. Her body leans toward Vers like a plant growing toward the light. Or, more accurately, like the last dregs of something potent at the bottom of a glass.

“I’m serious, I have amnesia,” Vers blurts out. She’s still learning a lot of things about herself, and today the fact of the day is that apparently she’s shit at flirting.

“Lucky,” the woman says dismissively and toasts her before tilting her drink against her lips. Her collarbones remind Vers of swans, which is about as useful as all the other meaningless trivia floating around her brain about a life she can’t remember, which is to say: not at all.

“Is it?” Vers asks.

“Well, I’d better be off,” the woman sighs and pours herself on her feet, blatantly evading the question. “Duty calls and all.”

“Wait,” Vers says. “What’s your name?”

The woman shoots her a weird look and fiddles with the buckles on her bracers.

“Why do you want to know?”

Vers shrugs.

“I don’t remember anything about my life,” she tries to explain. “I want to at least remember this.”

This: a dingy bar in the middle of nowhere, the lukewarm dregs of an uninspiring drink, swans. Vers swallows her disappointment as the woman passes her without a word. She has a purposefully vague way of walking, like she’s piloting a ship in the process of crashing.

Abruptly, she stops and turns around: “You can call me Valkyrie. See you in your memories, I guess.”

Valkyrie tips her a three-fingered salute and staggers out into the unknown night. Vers notes she didn’t pay for her drink, so she transfers some extra credits before packing it up herself.

-

“Well, you know what they say. Second time’s the charm.”

“No one says that,” Vers finds herself arguing, even though she knows enough by now to make the default assumption that someone, somewhere probably says that.

The universe is vast and ineffable, is her point.

Valkyrie breathes a smoky trail of hot breath into the cool morning air and leans against the railing with about as much grace as a cat falling over and pretending it was by design. Traffic buzzes in the not-so-distant distance, the lights leaving neon impressions behind Vers’ eyelids, like looking through a window freckled with rain.

“Didn’t peg you as a Kree,” Valkyrie says, offhand. Her gaze rolls down to Vers’ dark uniform. It pinches around the chest, but Vers doesn’t know where to lodge her complaint. They’re at war: no one cares about the little pains of existing, especially not the Supreme Intelligence.

Vers has been having a lot of those little pains lately.

She looks at Valkyrie, the way she’s coiled against the railing with the dawn behind her: a twinge. Of what, she doesn’t know.

Or can’t remember. She’s slowly learning the difference.

“I’m not,” Vers admits. “They saved my life.”

“So now you fight for them?” Valkyrie asks.

“What else is there for me to do?” Vers counters. Valkyrie looks like she has a great many ideas, but Vers’ fuel gauge beeps, signalling the tank is full.

“Duty calls,” Valkyrie says knowingly.

“Well,” Vers says. “You know what they say. Third time’s the charm.”

Valkyrie’s lips twitch like a moth around a light.

“Is that a promise?”

Vers tips her a three-fingered salute and hauls herself back onto her ship.

-

“Did it hurt?” It’s an experiment. Vers was going to wait until Valkyrie asks when I fell from heaven?, but the words burst out of her like—she can’t remember the name. Sour candy, with a liquid filling. “When you fell out of the vending machine, because you’re a snack.”

“What the thunder is a vending machine?” Valkyrie deadpans. She’s wearing a nice patterned gold-and-blue headscarf today, but the fabric looks older than most of Vers’ memories, faded and yellowing, the creases well-worn.

Vers frowns. She was sure vending machines were pretty universal. Maybe Valkyrie comes from a really primitive, backwater planet—but no, her ship is state of the art, a gleaming, hulking mass engineered to perfection and streamlined to within an inch of its life.

An inch. How strange.

“I’m just messing with you,” Valkyrie grins, then lovingly slaps the flank of her ship. “Like my new ride?”

“Looks like it was made for racing,” Vers says.

“Mm,” Valkyrie hums. “So it was. Fancy a go?”

Vers perks up.

“How about a race?”

“Loser buys the drinks?” Valkyrie suggests, a grin nibbling away at her mouth.

Vers laughs, feeling free for the first time since she can remember. Also wistful—another small pang somewhere deep in her synapses. Probably misfired, is all.

“Make it drinks and snacks and you’re on.”

-

“Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” Valkyrie slurs, popping her mouth around her poisonously pink cocktail cherry.

“It’s a gun. I need your help,” Vers says briskly, stepping close. Valkyrie smells like sweet liquor and sour sweat, and there are tracks through the white paint on her cheeks that look suspiciously like they were made by long-gone tears.

Her smile tastes bitter. Vers can’t figure out if this is meaningful or if that pesky phantom nostalgia is acting up again.

“Do you?” Valkyrie drawls.

“I’m on a training mission,” Vers says. “They shot my ship down. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to ask for help, but they also didn’t say I wasn’t supposed to ask for help, so… help me?”

“That’s not fair,” Valkyrie says. “You’re not fair.”

“Is that a yes or a no?”

Valkyrie heaves a petulant sigh and swipes at the sweaty hair plastered to her forehead.

“Fine. Drinks are shit, anyway.”

She rises unsteadily, gripping the bar for support.

“Can you still fly?” Vers asks, hovering a hand by Valkyrie’s arm in case she falls.

“Of course I can still fly,” Valkyrie spits and bats her hand away.

Vers’ useless brain regurgitates something about don’t drink and drive, but Vers doesn’t have a functioning ship anymore and Valkyrie looks like she’d rather autodestruct hers with both of them in it than let Vers pilot.

Vers hates being a passenger.

“What’s the mission?” Valkyrie asks, sobering up suddenly. Maybe it’s the cool wind outside the bar, or the prospect of flying. All the booze in the universe doesn’t compare to the rush of flying. Vers would prefer even spiralling to her certain death without a parachute to the buzz of alcohol in her veins. Maybe Valkyrie, for all her posturing, does too.

“I just need a lift,” Vers says, “I can handle the rest.”

Valkyrie opens and closes her mouth before shrugging. Vers squints, then it clicks.

“Wanna help?”

“Thought you’d never ask,” Valkyrie smirks.

-

“Fancy meeting you here,” Carol says.

“Nice jacket,” Valkyrie greets her, blue cape streaming behind her. She’s a shining knight again, armoured but softer, more put-together. Sober. Carol looks around the people who’ve come to ogle them and marvels at the cosmic serendipity of crossing paths under these circumstances, with two ships’ worth of refugees in tow.

“I like the cape,” Carol grins, flicking up the lapels of her trusty old leather jacket.

“It’s not the most practical,” Valkyrie admits. “But it reminds me of things I’d rather forget, so I should probably wear it.”

“Forgetting didn’t work out so well for you?” Carol asks.

“Eh,” Valkyrie makes, waving her hand. “Hey, you redesigned your uniform. Kree no longer?”

“No,” Carol says. “I’m reconnecting with my human past.”

“And how’s that going?”

“Good,” Carol says, heart twanging as she thinks of Maria and Monica and the memories she left behind. “There’s good music, for one.”

“So I’m told,” Valkyrie says and shoots an amused look over her shoulder at her travelling companions.

“I guess we were both wrong,” Carol muses.

“How’s that?”

“About the second and third time. Turns out fifth time is the charm.”

Valkyrie smiles wistfully.

“Sorry hon, I only hook up with strangers.”

“And I only hook up with my wife,” Carol shoots back cheerfully. “Doesn’t mean we can’t help each other out with this refugee situation.”

“Are you asking me for help?” Valkyrie says, preening a little.

“For old times’ sake?” Carol says. “I think we should team up, don’t you?”

“Are they flirting?” someone whispers in the background. Little do they know that Carol is still terrible at flirting, even now she’s got her memories back. Maybe worse, in fact.

Besides, she really does have that wife to get back to. Some day.

“Well, alright,” Valkyrie says. “You still owe me your name, though.”

“It’s Carol,” Carol says. “Carol Danvers. I just remembered.”

“Good for you,” Valkyrie says. “Come on, I’ll give you the tour. We have vending machines.”