Jess climbed from the taxi first, spry like always, and it took everything Carol had in her—Kree, human, whatever she was now—not to resent her for the easy grace. She did, however, give herself permission to cast a dirty look at the hand that Jess offered to help her up.
“You know, asking for help won’t kill you,” Jess said.
Carol levered herself out onto the curb and sucked in a deep breath through her teeth. “No,” she said, biting the words off. “But it might kill you.”
Jess only grinned. “Oh, we’re going to be such fun roommates.” When she bounded up the stairs to her building with the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager, Carol gave in and hated her.
It took Carol a lot longer to get up the stairs, understandably. The doctors had spent the past four weeks pointing out that it was a miracle she was even alive, so the inner ear problems, the constant pain, and the pounding migraines where even the light under the door from the hallway felt like a sword through the eyeball, those were all things she was lucky to be alive to experience. It wasn’t a coincidence that Carol had experienced an uptick in daydreams of frying doctors with her fists in the past four weeks.
By the time she made it upstairs, her shirt was soaked through and she felt more wrung out than even dimension hopping had left her. She put a hand on the wall to guide her to Jess’s place.
Of course, Jess was perched on the wall next to the doorway, giving her the biggest grin she had ever seen. Carol’s bags were on the floor beneath her. The others had reacted with sympathy—and to be fair, so had Jess—and comforting words, but Jess, Jess had been so excited that her best friend was alive and coherent and still herself that it had been like four weeks of recuperating while trying to take care of a small puppy.
“Doing okay?” Jess asked.
“Since I don’t speak grunt, I’m going to take that as a yes. Welcome to chez Drew, Brooklyn’s finest dining and living establishment for the convalescence of angry blonde superheroines. I’ll be your maître d’, host, concierge, bellhop, and hotel manager. I gotta warn you, you might see a spider. Two, if Parker or Natasha drops by.”
“Jess,” Carol managed to say.
“Oh, c’mon, I practiced that speech all the way up the stairs.” Jess mock-pouted, but she reached over and opened the door for Carol.
The blonde had to take a deep breath. She gritted her teeth, wishing that every part of her body didn’t burn from just the exertion of climbing the freaking stairs. Reducing the Kree lobe in size had also reduced her Kree powers, though her doctor had been hopeful Carol’s abused body would find equilibrium, but Carol couldn’t share that optimism. Not when she felt like this.
“Hey,” Jess said, concern finally showing on her face. She reached out a hand, but Carol stepped back. “It’s all right. Wendy cleaned the place, so you’re not even going to find surprise socks in the refrigerator. And we both know this is just until you get back on your feet because your neighbor is an awful douchebag who—”
“What if I can’t fly again?” Carol asked before she could stop herself.
Steve would have given her a sympathetic look and maybe a platitude or two. Tony would have offered any of his suits, which Carol knew was a mark of respect. Clint would have made a comment about powers being overrated.
Jess, however, snorted. “That’s bull, Carol. You’ll fly. You’re always going to fly—even when you’re not supposed to.”
“And if you’re wrong?”
“Unlike you, I’m never wrong. Now, get inside. Somebody’s been anxious to see you.”
“Please don’t tell me there’s a bunch of superheroes in there waiting to shout ‘Welcome home!’ at me when I go through that door.”
Jess looked offended. “Would I do that to you?”
“Okay, fair point, but I didn’t, this time.” And before Carol could move—damn her healing body, damn it all to hell—Jess jumped down and scooped Carol up in her arms.
“I know this is a bride and groom thing, but we’re roommates now and that almost counts, so…Plus, you’re moving so slow. I’m bored. Dog Cops will be on soon.” Jess nudged open the door with her foot and carried Carol inside. It wasn’t any less humiliating when Jess did it than when Steve did, Carol determined. But she was too weak to fight her friend off as said woman carried her across the tiny apartment.
Jess set her on the couch. “There. Stay.”
“Like a dog? Nice,” Carol said, but the bickering took a backseat when something small and orange streaked across the apartment. It felt like getting hit with a Mack truck, which hadn’t happened to Carol in at least six months, as Chewie took a flying leap and landed on her chest. For a second, there was silence, and then Carol finally felt the dam building her chest break. She clung to Chewie like the cat was the ancient stuffed bear that had sat faithfully in the corner of her childhood bed for the first seven years of her life.
Chewie let her for an entire three seconds before she let out an annoyed hiss. She squirmed so violently that Carol let her go, but she only retreated until she was sitting on Carol’s hips—which hurt, but she was so happy to see her that she didn’t care—glaring balefully at her. Fastidiously, she started to lick clean the fur Carol had mussed.
“Yeah, right,” Jess said to the cat as she went back to the hall to fetch Carol’s bag. “Like you didn’t mope at the door the entire time she was gone. Both of you are really bad at emotions.”
“Thanks for taking care of her,” Carol said, and to her horror, her voice was thick. She was not going to cry. She was not going to cry.
“You’re not going to start leaking again, are you?” Jess asked, looking uncomfortable.
“No,” Carol said, shoving the heels of her hands against her cheeks. Chewie gave the movement a curious look, pausing in her grooming. Carol was too tired to do anything but hold in the tears and stare back. Carefully, Chewie pushed herself to her feet and stretched out her neck toward her.
She sniffed at Carol’s chin and mouth, at her shoulder, made a disgusted face—and promptly head-butted her gently in the chin. She allowed Carol only one scratch behind the ears before the disgusted look came back and she hopped to the ground, tail swishing in annoyance as she walked away.
“What’s up with her?” Jess asked.
“She’s a cat, how should I know?”
“Move over.” Jess wormed her way onto the couch and picked up the remote. “You can settle in later. Dog Cops is on. You kept up in the hospital, right? This isn’t going to spoil you?”
“It was either that or stare at the ceiling,” Carol said.
To her surprise, Jess dropped an arm around her shoulders—gently, so it didn’t hurt. “Aw, poor Danvers,” Jess said.
What was it about her that sarcasm made her feel better than sympathy? Carol was too exhausted to really sort out all of the thoughts that went into decoding that. Instead, she sagged back against the couch as the opening titles of Dog Cops rolled, leaning her head against her best friend’s shoulder and just taking comfort in that.
That night, she dreamed of Yon-Rogg and woke to find the sheets twisted around her legs and all of the pillows on the floor. Only the weight of Chewie purring against her ear told her she was safe, as she didn’t immediately recognize Jess’s guest bedroom when she could see things like the floor and the tops of any flat surface.
Chewie lifted her head and licked at the sweat on Carol’s hairline. “Yeah, you’d be sweaty, too, if you had nightmares about anything but the coffeemaker,” Carol told her, scratching her under the chin.
Again, Chewie allowed a moment of affection before she turned and presented her furry butt to her. Carol sighed. “Guess that means it’s time to get up.”
Jess wasn’t in the apartment when she finally found the energy to stumble out, but there was a note—Brand wanted a favor. There are coffee beans in the fridge. The things I do for you Americans and your disdain for tea—and a pastry box next to a stack of DVDs on the counter.
“Great,” Carol said. “Another day of not saving the world. This sucks.”
The top DVD was Breakfast Club. The post-it on it that simply read “SO THERE!” in giant letters. Carol rolled her eyes at her absent friend, though the note did make her smile. She let Chewie out onto the fire escape with a warning not to wander far, and sat outside with her coffee, trying to ignore the wistful feelings swirling in her chest as she watched the sky.
Her coffee was long cold when she looked down to find Chewie had returned. “Mrow,” she said definitively, and then she nudged the dead…something at her feet toward her.
“Gross,” Carol told her.
Chewie, obviously sensing that her grand offering was not appropriately appreciated, sniffed with all of the disdain of a lifelong Parisian in the face of tourists and went inside, leaving Carol to wrinkle her nose and kick the dead thing off of the fire escape.
Carol’s nightmares went on, interspersed with feelings of floating in the abyss, away from everything while she heard Jess’s voice and Clint’s voice and Steve’s voice and even Logan’s voice calling to her. Some mornings were worse than others, with Carol barely finding the energy to lift her head, let alone get out of bed. It became a point of pride. She might spend her life these days fat-assing around on the couch while the Avengers fought AIM and Hydra and skrulls, but she got herself out of bed.
When it wasn’t raining, she took her coffee on the fire escape. If Jess wasn’t off saving the world, she joined her, usually perched on the wall and making snarky comments that seemed to be created for the sole purpose of interrupting Carol’s morning reverie. Carol was reminded several times why she hadn’t ever wanted to room with Jess—having a roommate that regularly walked on the walls and never quietly was no picnic—but she couldn’t help but be grateful that her friend was willing to put her up while she got better.
Others dropped by when they could. Jessica Jones left Danielle with Carol while she ran errands, actually, which terrified Carol because who the hell thought Captain Marvel was even a good babysitter, much less a capable one? She spent the entire time making faces at Danielle, hoping that the girl wouldn’t cry (she didn’t, but there was a particularly hairy moment after a block tower collapsed that Chewie averted by plopping herself in the toddler’s lap and mewling pitifully, the turkey). Clint came over because he sensed he had a captive audience and somebody to finally watch the entire Roger Moore era Bond collection with. Natasha showed up to teach Carol how to properly throw a knife, as that was something that had been bothering her about Carol for years, according to her. Wendy and Bruce came by to talk science, usually together.
So Carol wasn’t really all that alone, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t lonely.
And meanwhile, Chewie’s gifts continued. The first couple were small, mice and a baby bird that made Carol go “Ugh, seriously?” But she couldn’t help but notice that the offerings were getting steadily bigger until, finally, she heard Jess’s shout of dismay from the living room while she was reading an article on quasars.
Carol rolled her eyes and shut her laptop, recognizing the tone. Chewie and Jess Did Not Get Along. From what she had seen anyway. Jess had told her that Chewie had been perfectly cuddly while Carol was in the hospital. But now that there were three of them in the tiny apartment, cuddling was in seriously short supply.
She entered the living room to find Jess stretched out along the wall just above the couch, head propped on her hand. She was grimacing at Chewie, who stood next to the fire escape. No, Carol thought, she was glaring at the bird that was fluttering feebly at Chewie’s feet. “Your hell beast is at it again,” she said, pointing an accusing finger at Carol.
“She’s a cat. I don’t exactly control her, Jess,” Carol said, though she wanted to pinch the bridge of her nose. This was just what she did not need. Chewie wasn’t the kind of cat to do this. Why had she suddenly become a homicidal maniac? Did she need to hire a pet psychiatrist? Crap on a stick, how much was that even going to cost? She had to find a new place, she didn’t have any money, so it was not a good time for her cat to suffer a psychotic break.
Chewie let out a “Mrow!” She nudged the bird with her nose—it squawked in pure terror—and then looked pointedly from the bird to Carol. Then she did it again.
The women froze.
“Uh, Carol,” Jess said. “I think your cat wants you to kill the bird.”
“Ew. Ew, ew, ew. Chewie, why?”
“Maybe she’s concerned you’re not eating enough.”
“I finished your lunch and then ate the rest of the carton of the fried rice,” Carol pointed out. “I am eating more than enough.”
“Fine, fine, but will you just kill the bird already?”
Carol wrinkled her nose. From the deadpan You have got to be kidding me look Chewie gave her, it seemed her cat agreed with her friend. “I don’t want to step on it,” she said.
Jess let out a long-suffering sigh. “Fine,” she said, and shot a tiny blast of venom at the floor, leaving a pile of incinerated bird behind. Chewie jumped and yowled, growing twice her size in an instant.
Carol stared at the scorch mark on the floor. “You are never getting your security deposit back.”
“I’m on the Avengers. I wasn’t ever getting my security deposit back.”
On the floor, Chewie, still puffed out like an orange marshmallow, crept closer to the pile of ash. She sniffed cautiously, sneezed, and sniffed again. Then she looked around, spotted Jess on the wall, and climbed onto the couch. Both Jess and Carol watched in complete surprise as she settled into the space between Jess and the couch, purring loudly in approval.
“Carol, what just happened?” Jess asked, giving her a wide-eyed look.
“I think Chewie likes you more than me right now is what just happened,” Carol said. “I guess I’ll go get a dust-pan, if you even own one of those.”
“Ha, very funny.”
She cleaned up the mess, but she couldn’t quite shake the feeling that she had just majorly disappointed her cat. Get in line, she thought, and went back to the bedroom to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.
When she came out the next morning, it was to find Steve Rogers making Jess’s sofa look absurdly tiny as he sat on top of it and gingerly petted her cat. Upon seeing Carol, Chewie sniffed once and headed for the fire escape. “Butt-face,” Carol called after her. She might have felt embarrassed to be in front of the great Captain America wearing nothing but ripped sweats and an off-the-shoulder exercise top, but he was also Steve and they’d been friends for too long for that. “Hey, Steve, what brings you by?”
He cleared his throat and stood up. “I came by to see how you were.”
“Getting better,” she said, as it no longer felt like getting hit by a train every time she stood up. “But still on the disabled list, Cap.”
Steve rolled his lips, like he always did when he was about to say something Carol didn’t like. She sighed and went to fetch a cup of coffee.
“And your Kree powers? How are they?”
Carol stared into her coffee mug. “Oh, they’re…”
“Are you here checking on a friend or on one of your soldiers, Captain?”
“I’m here checking on Carol Danvers, Captain. And everything she is.”
“Oh, Carol Danvers is fine,” Carol said, turning around to glare at him. “Her cat hates her, she can’t move faster than a light jog without feeling like she got punched by a sentinel, and her roommate occasionally drinks too much caffeine and does the Good Morning routine from Singin’ in the Rain on the ceiling, and doctors took out a part of her brain which may affect her intelligence for the rest of her life, but I assure you, Steve, Carol Danvers is fine.”
Steve’s lips thinned again. At least he’d had the decency to come out of uniform, though Carol knew this was the official visit, the piper coming to be paid. “Have you talked to anybody about that?”
“I don’t need to talk to anybody,” Carol said.
“It’s not a weakness to—”
“You want me to talk to a shrink? Fine. When you go see one, I’ll do the same thing.”
“I wasn’t the one we found floating in space,” Steve said, and the level tone made Carol want to throw something at his head. Her grip on the coffee mug tightened. “I’m not trying to piss you off. But it’s my job to make sure you’re okay, and even if it wasn’t, I am your friend. So yes, this visit is official, but I’m also concerned.”
“Well, I’m fine.”
“And your powers?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Don’t want to talk about it, or you don’t know? Have you even tried?”
Carol took a sip of coffee and flinched as it burned, way too hot. She was never letting Jess near the coffeemaker again. She set the cup to the side. “Rogers.”
“If you don’t try—”
“Rogers, I can handle myself.”
Steve broke off as a shriek from the window made both of them look over as one. Chewie and a pigeon were locked in a deadly battle, the cat’s screeches joining the frantic cooing. “Not again,” Carol said. She rushed across the apartment and snatched up her cat, who hissed furiously at her.
The pigeon flew off.
“What was that?” Steve asked, looking alarmed.
“Cat Bundy here has been leaving me presents,” Carol said, closing the window to the fire escape resolutely. She dropped Chewie on the couch, where she immediately bent over to lick her nether region clean like the classy creature she was. “Last couple of ones have been alive. It’s gross, and I don’t get it because she’s never acted like this before.”
“She’s worried about you.” When Carol gave Steve a Yeah, right look, the super-soldier shrugged. “Bucky had a cat in the orphanage, growing up. One of those orange and black ones with the long fur?”
“A tortoiseshell?” Carol asked.
“Yeah, I think so. Anyway, when we were fourteen, Bucky got into a fight.” Steve paused and Carol got the feeling that there was a lot to the story that he wasn’t saying. “Got beat up pretty bad. Wrenched shoulder, black eye, the works. And Lady—that was the cat—she got mad at him.”
“I know that feeling.”
“She started leaving him mice and other dead critters in his bed, until suddenly those critters were a lot less dead. Bucky and me, we figured she was looking out for him in her own way, making sure he was a good, I don’t know, a good hunter or something.”
Carol rubbed her temples. “Steve, are you trying to tell me that my cat is upset that I got hurt fighting Yon-Rogg and is trying to teach me to kill small animals so it doesn’t happen again?”
“See?” Steve grinned, a real smile, and headed for the door. “She loves you.”
“Cats are weird.”
“So are cat owners. Look, Carol, you’re never going to know until you try with your powers.”
“And if they don’t come back?” Carol said. “My Avengers card won’t be waiting forever.”
“It will be as long as I’m there,” Steve said firmly, and Carol felt yet another disgusting rush of tears behind her eyes. She blinked furiously. “Just focus on getting better. There’s always going to be a world to save, but it’s not nearly as great doing that without Captain Marvel around.”
After he left, Carol sat on the couch and sniffled, and Chewie lowered herself to climbing into her lap and purring.
Though Chewie protested, Carol was a little tired of the parade of the dead defenseless creatures, so she kept her inside for a couple of days after Steve’s visit. She sulked and appealed to Jess, who only laughed at her misfortune and tied a red and yellow ribbon in her hair.
“You’ve made an enemy for life,” Carol warned her when she came back from her run to find Chewie suffering the indignity of her fate.
“Worth it,” Jess said. “I already put a picture up on Instagram. Natasha liked it.”
“Yes, well, she’s a sadist.” Carol picked up Chewie and nuzzled her, and the cat batted at her face with a paw.
“How was your run?” Jess’s voice was almost casual, but Carol could hear the undercurrent of real curiosity in it. “Any hot, single men wink at you this time?”
“Two. My fault for having this much hair.” Carol shoved at it. “I’m going to take a shower.”
“Good. You stink.”
When she came out, Jessica was gone, and only the pile of clothes in the middle of the room and the open window told her it was an Avengers call. Carol sighed and picked up the laundry, dumping it in the hamper. Sure, the apartment was cluttered, but she was actually starting to like having Jess around. It kept her from being too serious, and Jess’s habit of stashing chocolate around meant that if Carol was creative, she could usually find something delicious to eat.
It wasn’t all bad.
Exhausted from her run, she dropped onto the couch and fell asleep with Chewie purring on her chest. Her dreams, as they invariably did, turned to dreams of floating, alone, cold in space, hearing the cries of her friends as they tried to reach her. They pled with her, attempting to make her see reason, to leave the frozen comfort of space behind and return to them, but she couldn’t, they were too far and she was too weak, and so very, very tired.
Something scaly touched the inside of her wrist. In a shot, Carol was awake and off the couch. She saw the snake and reacted without thinking. The energy blast sliced the snake in half, sending one half flying toward the wall and the other out the window. Chewie yowled and dove under the couch. Carol, heart pounding, chest heaving, stared down at the floor in horror.
“Holy crap, Danvers. You’re flying!” Jess’s oath cut through her shock. Carol swiveled to see her friend perched on top of the refrigerator, a takeout container of Thai food forgotten in her hand and her mask shoved up her forehead. Even more shockingly, Carol didn’t have to look up to see Spider-Woman.
She was hovering a good three feet off the ground, one knee cocked with the other leg straight, and she was flying.
“What the…” she said, looking around in bafflement.
“Hell, if I’d known that all it took to get you to use your powers again was throwing a live snake at you, I’d have tossed a cobra in your bed a month ago.” Jess wiped her hand over her mouth and hopped off the fridge.
“Gee, thanks. What the hell happened?”
“My new best friend left you a gift. You Captain Marveled it out of existence. What do you think happened?” Jess tugged on her ankle and Carol reluctantly lowered herself to the floor—where Jess attempted to strangle her with a hug. “Thank god, thank god. You’re back. I was getting really tired of mopey Carol, I’m not gonna lie. She’s a total buzzkill.”
“Quit trying to choke me, you psycho,” Carol said, but she hugged her friend back. She could fly. She could fly. And even better, she’d done it without thinking. The instincts, the everything, it was all still there. Her knees were definitely not very steady as she drew back. “Was I really moping that much?”
“Hey, it’s what we do. I mope, you try to kick my ass. You mope, I watch your cat scare you with snakes.” Jess’s grin could light an entire city block. “Where is that psychotic fuzzball? We owe her a salmon dinner.”
“At the very least.” Carol finally gave in to the urge and collapsed onto the couch. “I can fly, Jess.”
“Damn straight, you can fly,” Jess said.
It took a solid half hour between the two of them to lure Chewie out from under the couch, and Jess had her right hand sliced to ribbons, but eventually the star of the hour sat on top of the counter, feasting on the finest (well, the least freezer-burned) salmon Jess’s freezer had to offer while Carol cleaned up the pieces of the dead snake.
The cat gave the garbage bag a disgusted look. “This is your fault, you brilliant monster,” Carol said, giving her a kiss on top of the head. “But I think we can agree it’s time for you to stop leaving me presents.”
“Mrow,” Chewie said, smugly, as if she’d known all along that all it took to solve Carol’s problems was a half-dead snake.