"Bam! Take that!" I shout, making my Captain America doll and my Red Skull doll fight each other. Captain America wins. He always does. I make him throw the Red Skull out of the plane and land it safely on the chair I'm sitting next to. Daddy looks up from his newspaper and smiles.
"Who won this time?"
"You, silly! You always win!" I laugh, hugging him. Daddy lifts me onto his lap. He sets the newspaper on my head like a hat. I laugh more. "Tell me about Mommy again," I say, snuggling up against him.
He starts, "Well, she was a very popular, very talented singer. She was best at disco. The Woman of Light, that's what they called her. Mommy did what she loved for the people she loved. She…she was…" Daddy sounds like he's going to cry. He always does when he talks about Mommy.
I pat his arm before getting up. I grab my dolls and go to my room. It's filled with toys. A lot of them are of superheroes, just like the posters. Daddy says it's a little much, but they're just so cool! Uncle Tony, Uncle Bruce, Aunt Janet, all of them. They like me too. Sometimes they act like they hate me, but Daddy says it's superhero business. Maybe when I'm older I'll be like Black Widow or Translate, or get hit by radiation like the Hulk or Doc Samson, or even be bit by a radioactive animal like Spider-Man or Sauron. There are so many ways! Probably the easiest is to inherit them from Mommy and Daddy. Mommy's would be cool. But even if they're lame like Ticklehair or the Living Sponge I'll be happy.
"Honey, it's time for bed," Daddy says, walking into my room.
"Okay." I put down the dolls I was playing with in the Fantastic Four drawer and climb into bed.
Daddy kisses my cheek. He whispers, "Good night. I love you."
"I love you too, Daddy." He leaves the room. Green light from the nightlight lets me see a picture next to my bed. It shows Mommy and Daddy holding me as a baby. Their smiles are so big they almost touch their eyes. I've never seen Daddy smile like that. It seems like ever since Mommy left Daddy changed. He acts normal in front of me, but sometimes at night I can hear him crying or talking to Mommy like she's with him. Saying that he misses her, how hard it is to raise me alone, stuff like that. And how he's always afraid I'm going to get hurt. I try to behave. It helps Daddy, especially when he's out being Captain America.
That's the reason I can't play sports. In gym they don't let me do a lot. I'm good at basketball, but Daddy doesn't let me. He says I was born too early with a hole in my heart. It never healed. When I run a lot I can't breathe, kind of like asthma. Mark has it, and he does nothing. Sometimes it's a pain in the butt, like field day. Sometimes it works out, like hockey. Yawn! I think I'll go to sleep now.
"Come on, up and at 'em! Drop down and give me 20!"
This is how Daddy wakes me up for school. He makes me train with push-ups and stuff. He had to do it when he was in the army. I finish the push-ups and get dressed. I only eat some cereal because I don't feel good. Daddy makes sure I have the invitations for my birthday party. Then he sends me to the bus stop. Teri is there too. Mr. Newlie, my second grade teacher, has a rule: you must invite everybody or nobody. I don't like that rule. Most of the kids in my class tease me. Only Lisa, Teri, and Miguel don't. They are my best friends. But the others won't if Daddy is there. Everyone loves Daddy. I still don't know why. "Lisa, I'm going to hand out the invitations today," I say.
She sits next to me on the bus. "Cool! When is it?"
"Sunday." We talk about my party until we get to school. I give my class the cards. Then we do science and reading. At lunch people ask about it. Some ask about Daddy. Everybody knows Daddy is Captain America. That makes me popular.
All week I prepare for the party. The theme is cartoons. Garfield, Hello Kitty, Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, whatever they like. Sunday instead of going to church we set everything up. At 3:00 sharp people arrive. Lisa is Tuxedo Sam. Miguel is Buck Rodgers. Teri is her daddy, Banshee. I'm Golden Girl from the Invaders. Whenever Daddy is gone I watch the Invaders TV show. It's awesome! They fought in the same war Daddy did. Golden Girl is my favorite.
My party is really fun. We play games, and eat cake, and open presents. We play some more. At 6:00 parents come. "Bye!" I say to each person. Teri leaves last. The X-Mansion is far away from here.
"Did you have fun today?" Daddy asks. He tucks me into bed a couple hours later.
"Yeah." My eyes close.
"That's good." He shuts the door since I'm already asleep.
The next morning Daddy makes me do jumping jacks. At breakfast he says we have no school. "Something about collateral damage," he says. Whatever that means.
Instead of school Daddy takes me to Avengers Tower. Kate Barton, Luna Maximoff, and Cassandra and Henry Pym Jr are playing in the front yard. I wave. "Hi!" I take off my motorcycle helmet. They run up to me. Well, everyone but Pym. He flies.
"Hi!" says Luna. "Hi, Uncle Steve!"
"Hello, Luna." Daddy goes inside. The grown-ups must be in there.
"Happy birthday!" Pym says. He's six.
"Yeah, happy birthday," Kate adds. She just turned 13.
"How old are you now?" Luna asks. Her ninth birthday is in a month.
I hold up seven fingers.
"You're as old as me now!" Cassie says happily.
"At least I'm not the oldest," I say, laughing. Kate sticks her tongue out at me. "Sorry." They go back to their tag game. I'm it when Uncle Pietro and Aunt Wanda come out. Uncle Pietro holds Luna's hand while Aunt Wanda picks me up. Billy and Tommy follow. They say hello, then we go inside. The lounge room is dark. Suddenly the lights turn on. The Avengers jump out from their hiding places. "Surprise!" they shout. Balloons in black, blue, and green are everywhere. My friends run inside. Kate holds a box with a bow on it.
"Happy birthday, Nikki!" everybody shouts.
There's a cupcake with a candle on it. My favorite: red velvet. Aunt Janet hands me the box. In it, there is a long black dress and a Dazzler action figure. They knew I wanted one of Dazzler more than anything else. Daddy refused to get me it, but there's no stopping the Avengers. Nothing means more to me. Anything having to do with Mommy isn't allowed. I think it should be. Someone needs to remember her. Anyway, I eat the cupcake and talk with the adults. I play games so I don't get bored. During our water gun fight Kate beats me. Me and Daddy leave soon after. Instead of playing, I lay down on the couch. Daddy is worried about me, but he leaves anyway.
"I'll be back as soon as I can," he says. Pulling his mask on, Daddy kisses my cheek. Then he goes out the back door.
"Don't go," I whisper. I really don't feel good. Like my heart is beating too hard, becoming harder to breathe. An attack. All day I lay on the couch; when Daddy comes home I'm half asleep. The next few days I barely make it through school. On Thursday afternoon I go to Hawkeye and Mockingbird's house. Kate is still at school. I tell Uncle Clint and Aunt Bobbi about my pain. Aunt Bobbi makes me lay down. Uncle Clint calls Daddy. Before he gets off the phone I start breathing hard. "Aunt…Bobbi…" I say, passing out.
While I'm out I can still hear what's going on. Aunt Bobbi screams. Uncle Clint hangs up on Daddy and calls the Avenger's doctor. Aunt Bobbi comforts me while Uncle Clint stays with Kate. The doctor comes later. She takes me to the medical bay. Even Daddy isn't allowed in. No one is. Dr. Brenla gives me medicine so I'm crazy. I can't even remember my name. I am all by myself.
Something touches my arm: Daddy's hair. He is asleep in a chair. His hair tickles me. My arms and legs hurt, my chest too. What did they do? What did I do? Probably something bad. Whatever it is, I didn't mean to! I was just with Uncle Clint and Aunt Bobbi! Straps hold my wrists and ankles down. Needles come out of my arm. What did I do?
Daddy wakes up. "Thank God, you're awake. How do you feel? What hurts?" He strokes my hair. It's pulled back in a ponytail.
"I'm sorry I made you leave, Daddy," I whisper.
"You don't have to apologize."
Dr. Brenla walks in. She takes some blood. Then she says, "Good morning. How do you feel?"
"It hurts," I say, crying.
"Everything will be okay. Tomorrow if all goes well you can go home. For now get some rest." She leaves with the blood.
Daddy tries to get me to stop crying. He looks tired. Eventually I cry myself out. The next day I'm allowed to go home. All I do is rest. When I get ready for bed, I look in the mirror and scream. "What happened to my hair?" I ask. It changed. Before it was black. Now blue streaks the color of the sky run through it.
"You look nice," he says.
I laugh. Now my hair looks cool. I finish up and go to bed.
A couple days later my powers show. In school I knock over a triple-beam balance (whatever that is). Normally it would fall, but I grab it in time. Only Daddy has that good reflexes. Weird. Later a kid drops a laptop. I make a plane carry it to his desk. During the bus ride home I can't stop thinking, This is sooo cool! I have superpowers! I can be a superhero! Wait till Daddy hears! When I get home the doors are locked. I use the extra key to open the front door. Then I drop off my bag and go back outside. First I climb a tree easily, and then throw cans and hit them. Most of the time I fail, though eventually my powers get a little better. Daddy isn't home by dinner, so I make a sandwich and watch TV. At bedtime he still isn't home, so I just read a little. My practice made me tired.
After school, Daddy still isn't back. I leave my backpack in my room. Then I run to Avengers Mansion. I can do gym now! I think. Yea! Not many people are there. The kids are watching a movie. I think it's Toy Story. They say the Avengers are on an important mission. That explains a lot. Daddy is almost always home when I get home. "Kate," I ask, "Can you train me? In fighting?"
"Look." I lift up the TV without it wobbling too much.
Kate looks at me funny. "You know I'm not the best person to ask. Does your dad know?"
"Come on! Daddy won't let me do anything. Your mommies and daddies will tell mine. Please?"
"Fine. Luna, come with me. Cassie, you're in charge. Move it, Nikki." She leads us to the shooting range. My training starts now.