Hello, friends, and welcome to the first chapter of the sequel to "Doomed." If you haven't read that story, I'll try to fill in the gaps, but I really recommend reading it in order to understand everything going on here. Please read and review, I'd really appreciate it!
Disclaimer: All characters owned by Marvel
"The measure of a man is what he does with power."
Carol Danvers walked through the ship's corridors, her boots clomping on the metal floors. Chewie, her cat (which was not, as it turned out, an actual cat) followed at her heels, a soft purring rumbling from its belly. She sat in the cockpit, the ever-expanding vista of space stretched out before her, and leaned back in the seat to admire the view. She loved the stars, especially how different they looked compared to their appearance from Earth. In her ship, it wasn't a black dome covered in thousands of tiny blinking lights; instead, they were everywhere, above, below, behind, to the sides, and in front. The massiveness of it, the absolute and complete freedom out there, was what drew her up every time she'd looked at the night sky.
Chewie jumped into her lap, bumping her hand with its head, and Carol petted it around the ears before firing up the engines and grabbing the yoke. Her eyes scanned the console, checking the instruments, but paused over an image clipped from a Coney Island photo booth. Peter was laughing, looking right at the camera, though his eyes were squeezed shut. In the picture Carol was nudging his neck with her nose, grinning into him, her arms wrapped around his shoulders and holding him tight.
Carol ran her fingers over it once, and it clicked a sound like a playing card in bicycle spokes with each tip that grazed its surface. She thought it was a little old school; she could pull out her phone and see any number of pictures of the two of them together, but having this—a physical photograph taped to her ship's console—reminded her not only of her Air Force days, but also of what made Earth shine brighter than all the stars surrounding her.
Happy ten months, Pete.
A small tear welled in her eye. She didn't miss people easily, but she missed Peter Parker. There were others, of course—she missed Jessica and Steve too—but every time she woke up on that ship without a heart beating beneath her ear, it took her that much longer to crawl out of bed.
The thought took her back to the last time she'd seen him.
"Do you have to go?" Peter asked.
They were standing in the hangar inside Avengers' Tower, next to the Milano. Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy were waiting in the ship, giving them a respectful few moments. "Have to?" Carol asked. "As in, will I die if I don't? I suppose not." She smiled at him. "But Quill says they need my help. Something's going on with the Brood, and you know better than anybody what they put me through."
Peter nodded. "I know, I know," he said. He sighed, and took her hands. "Just promise me you'll be careful, okay?"
She stared at him for a second, tilted her head. Something was off. "Peter," she said. "Look at me."
He glanced at the bottom of her chin.
"Peter Benjamin Parker," she said. "Look at me." He raised his head, and she saw the wrinkles in his forehead, the strain he was putting on his eyes so they would stay dry. "What's wrong?"
He sighed again and turned his head from her. "I just know how much you love outer space," he said. "If you wanted to spend some time out there, I don't want to tie you down to Earth. Or, y'know, keep you from other opportunities."
Carol's eyebrows knitted together. "What other opportunities?"
Peter's head flicked toward the spaceship. "Well, I mean, Star-Lord's got that whole 'ruggedly handsome' thing going on," he said.
"Quill?" Carol said, scoffing.
"And Drax is huge," Peter said.
"Too big, not enough flexibility," Carol replied, smirking.
Peter grinned, "And there's always Rocket Raccoon," he said.
"That's a possibility, he is funnier than you," Carol said.
Peter frowned a little over-dramatically, but pulled her close and hugged her. She played her fingers in a circle on the back of his neck, enjoying the feel of his hair. "You're not tying me down," she said. "You're my reason to come home."
Just over six months had passed since then, six months since she'd heard one of his stupid jokes, or taken his broke-ass out to dinner. Six months since she'd been woken up in the middle of the night by him crawling through the tower window, having heard some crime or another in progress down on the streets. Six months since she'd watched him sleep, her fingertips grazing the mass of scars on his back, a reminder of how much he gave, and was willing to give, because he cared for her.
Carol reached into a makeshift glove compartment on the side of the console and pulled out a stack of letters. There were few, one from Jess, another from Logan, one signed by the Avengers wishing her luck on her mission with the Guardians. But the bottom one was well-read, the folds wrinkled several times over. Peter's chicken scratch covered the paper, but Carol could practically read the letter from memory, now.
"Hello, Lady," it said. Carol grinned at that. The first words he'd ever said to her. The only person she let call her that. "I know you haven't been gone that long, but I wanted to make sure I wrote you, since Cap and the others said they had been getting letters to you. I think Jess and Logan are ready for you to come back just so they won't have to listen to my jokes as much. Hulk's threatened to smash me more than once if I don't shut up, so I think it's in everyone's best interest if you get home sooner rather than later."
She smiled, and scanned further down the page.
"I'm not trying to pressure you or anything, though," it continued. "I know what you're doing up there is important. Obviously if the galaxy gets blown up, I won't have a Manhattan to mope around in without you here."
Carol turned the paper over.
"You know what's funny? I've spent a lot of time looking up at the stars lately, and I could swear that they're brighter. See, here's the thing: I'm a smart guy. I know the science. Hydrogen and helium coming together in fusion, generating life-sustaining light and heat and radiation. The only way they could be brighter is if they were going supernova. But that's how they seem. And then I figured it out."
Carol wiped a tear from the side of her face.
"They're brighter because you're out there, among them. I look at the stars, and they're shining because that's where you are. And it makes me smile to think that I could just look up at random, and that I could be seeing you, billions upon billions of miles away from me."
Carol folded the letter back up, and stuck it back in the compartment before finishing the last lines herself.
"I miss you. I hope I see you soon. Peter."
Suddenly determined, Carol punched some buttons on the yoke. "Quill!" she said. "Can you hear me?"
The stubbly and exhausted face of Peter Quill came into view as he switched their call from audio to video. "What's up, Carol?" he asked.
"Do you need me for anything?" she asked.
Star-Lord shook his head. "Not at the moment, I don't think. Gamora!" Quill turned his head and shouted into the back of his ship. "Do we need Carol for anything?"
A disembodied female voice came from the screen. "We haven't needed her for weeks, you ass," Gamora said. "You've just been keeping her around because you don't want her to go home and not come back."
Quill jumped out of the seat and walked to the hatch. "That is completely untrue!" he shouted back, kneeling down to the hole.
"Oh, please," Rocket said, stepping into view of the camera. "You've been trying to snatch the lady away from her man since the day she joined up. Something about 'the wrong Peter.'"
"I'm being falsely accused!" Quill said, jumping back into his chair.
"I am Groot," said the nearly eight-foot tall tree-man.
"Don't you start in on me too, man," Quill said. He turned back to the screen to see Carol with her arms crossed over her chest, and her eyes burning yellow. "Anyway, in answer to your question, no, I don't think we'll be needing your help for a while."
Carol started flipping switches. "Good," she said. "Then I'm heading home."
Quill tried to speak, but Carol cut the connection before he had the opportunity. She fired the engines to full and pulled up the nav-computer, setting the coordinates for Earth. A smile crossed her lips as she stepped away from the console. She walked to her bunk and laid down, eager to get a good nap in before setting her feet on terra firma again.
Surprisingly, Carol almost made it out of the hangar before being pounced upon by her best friend, Jessica Drew. They hugged for a long moment before Jessica let her go. "I'm so glad you're home," she said, pulling back from her friend. "This isn't just a visit, right? You're back for good?"
"Yeah," Carol said. "Star-Lord can get someone else to help him fix his messes from now on."
"Awesome!" Jessica said, walking with Carol out of the hangar, heading toward Carol's quarters. On the way, they passed Logan, who exchanged a hug and "glad to see you's" with Carol before continuing down the hall. "So what's the plan now?" Jessica asked as they entered Carol's room.
Carol walked over to her closet and pulled out a striking black halter-top dress and a pair of black pumps. "Now," she said, smiling, "I'm going to see my Spider-Man."
The color drained from Jessica's face, and she had to sit down on the edge of the bed.
"Jess?" Carol asked, gripping her friend's shoulders. "What's the matter? What's wrong?"
Jessica looked up at her friend, then shook her head. "Nothing, sorry," she said. "I've just been tired lately, feeling a little sick."
Carol let go of Jessica's shoulders, but didn't back away. "Are you sure?" she asked.
Jessica nodded. "Yeah," she said, standing. She stepped through the door, but popped her head back in just before closing it after herself. "Just… I wouldn't get dressed to the nines to head over there, okay?"
The door clicked shut as Jessica left, and Carol shook her head. Something was wrong, but she couldn't quite place it. She decided against Jessica's advice, though, and slipped the black dress over her head, pulled the heels on her feet, and flew out the window.
When Peter wasn't staying at Avengers' Tower, he had an apartment in a shoddy neighborhood in the city. It was fairly well located, in terms of getting out and stopping crime, and Peter kept it decently clean, but otherwise the place was kind of a hole. The only reason he and Carol had ever stayed there at all was when they wanted total privacy. After confirming that Peter wasn't in the tower by flying past the darkened windows of his quarters, Carol flew to his apartment, pleased to find the lights on and his silhouette moving behind the curtains.
She shot up the staircase, reaching his third-floor apartment in seconds. She took a moment to compose herself, set her short blonde hair properly, get the right angle with her legs. Then she knocked on the door.
It opened with a creak, and there he was, his brown hair slicked back slightly, dressed in a shirt, vest and tie. He blinked at her several times, like he didn't recognize her, before his mouth opened to speak. "Carol," he said.
No, no, no, that wasn't his voice. It was, but that wasn't him. That wasn't his inflection, that wasn't his tone. He wasn't happy to see her, he wasn't passing out or jumping for joy or throwing his arms around her and kissing her madly. He was just staring at her, cold, calculating, like she was an "x" he was trying to solve for.
And then a voice came from inside the apartment. "Slick, you better not have ordered take-out when you have me to cook…"
A pretty, albeit short, woman, turned the corner and stood next to him. "Who's this?" she asked.
Peter looked down at the woman, and his mouth gave the smallest of smiles, and his eyebrows turned up a bit, but even that didn't feel right. When he looked back at Carol, all of that was gone. Just the stern, mathematical look from before remained. "An unexpected friend, paying me a visit," he said. He gestured toward Carol. "Anna Maria, this is Carol Danvers. She worked under Jonah for a time." His hand moved down, to the woman. "Carol, this is my girlfriend, Anna Maria Marconi."
"Anna Maria, would you mind giving Carol and I a few minutes?" he asked. The woman shrugged her shoulders and stepped back into the apartment, and Peter closed the door. "I apologize," he said as soon as it was shut. "I should have realized there was a possibility my missive would not reach you before you returned to Earth."
Carol wanted to speak, but she didn't know where to begin. She wasn't even sure she was being addressed by the same man she'd left six months prior.
"Shortly after you left, I decided to finish my Ph. D.," he continued. "I met Anna Maria in one of my classes, and, well…" he shrugged. "I wrote to you, to inform you of the alteration in our relationship, but I suppose it was too late."
Carol's body finally responded, and she slapped him across the face. At least, she tried to, but he moved before she connected. His Spider-Sense must have warned him. What was surprising, though, was how he grabbed her wrist as it passed, and looked at her with venom hiding behind his eyes. "I understand that this may be difficult for you," he said. "But I'm with Anna Maria now, and that's not going to change."
Peter let go of her wrist, and it dropped to her side. Then he extended his right hand. "I hope we can get past this, and continue to work together as Avengers and comrades," he said.
Carol took his hand mechanically, bobbed them together up and down once, and the first words she managed to speak escaped her mouth. "Of course," she said. "I understand." She started to wonder if this had been her fault. If she'd left him alone for too long, if she had never left at all maybe this wouldn't have happened.
Then Peter tried to turn back into the apartment, and his fingers stuck.
Carol looked down at their hands, then back up at him. He had to pull with his other arm in order to separate his fingers from her palm. "I apologize," he said. "Sometimes it just happens."
As he walked back into the apartment, Carol's eyes burned white. Because there was one thing she knew for certain.
That was not her Peter Parker.