Title: Circle of Flight
Fandom: Avengers (Comics)
Characters/Pairing: Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel), Thor Odinson, others - gen
Summary: After an incident with a giant robot, Carol's cosmic abilities return. This is how she deals.
Carol Danvers worked best as solo operator.
Ever since she was a kid, it had been that way. She could work in a team of course (being in the Avengers had taught her that) but she thrived on her own – it was something that the Air Force tended to look for in pilots – when navigation and communication had failed, all you had left was a 150 ton steel bird, and the open sky.
Now, of course, she didn't need a plane to fly, and there was something so much more isolating about having nothing between you and the vastness of the universe. It was somehow empowering and belittling, all at the same time. Better to remain a distant inspiration, than a tease that lies just beyond the reach of your fingertips.
After a fight with a giant robot went awry, Carol found herself confined to a hospital bed with a broken leg.
The thing about being a superhero was that something like this was simultaneously both completely normal, and out of the ordinary. Completely normal, because they seemed to be fighting a different kind of crazy, messed up supervillian every Thursday, and out of the ordinary because after you were bulletproof for so long, you started to get used to not ending up in hospital unless things got really bad.
Really bad, in this instance, came about because the giant robot had a power inhibitor.
Her powers were an irrevocable part of her. An omnipresent heat that coursed through her veins, only noticeable in its absence. Without that energy surging through her, her body was an ice-cube. The fire inside of her had been extinguished. When your powers were gone, you knew without a doubt. It felt like losing a limb, phantom pain haunting her with its memory. Even if she hadn't felt it, the whole "falling out of the sky from four stories up," would have been a good indicator. Carol had been fit enough before getting her powers, but not quite fit enough to survive that high a fall unscathed.
She felt her bones break as she hit the concrete, jolts of pain shooting through her entire body. The leg, and a few ribs at the very least. Maybe some spinal damage. Thoughts came in blurs and fragments. All in all, not good. There was so much pain, she thought she was dying. Death had claimed her once, but as with a lot of superhero deaths, it hadn't stuck.
'Carol!' She was vaguely aware of someone calling her name, though she couldn't quite work out who it was.
'I'm fine,' she called back, with gritted teeth. A lie, of course. She'd broken her leg when her plane had been shot down over Afghanistan. Even though that incident had been followed by imprisonment and torture, this, somehow, felt worse.
Death in combat had always seemed an inevitability, but for it to happen so slowly, while everyone else kept fighting around her…
The one good – well, less horrible – thing about fighting enemies with power inhibitors is that they didn't work the same way on everyone. There were people like her and Spider-Man, whose abilities were the result of a horrible accident, and then there were the people like Black Widow and Hawkeye, who had no superpowers at all, and yet they somehow managed to hold their own in a fight. About half of Thor's powers came from Mjolnir, and the other half were a result of the fact that he was a veritable God. Tony, of course, had his suit. Of all things, Steve had been taken down by a bad bout of Asthma. Losing his super-solider enhancements also meant losing his disease immunities – it was the silent killer that no-one ever seemed to remember when dealing with loss of superpowers.
Everyone else was back to being baseline human, which, in some cases, wasn't all that bad. They still had the skills and the knowledge that they always had, and a hell of a lot more motivation to use it. The fact of the matter was that most supervillains never really seemed to think their grand machine ideas through properly.
All of this, Carol learned three days later when she was coherent enough to participate in a conversation with Steve. Like always, he ribbed her mercilessly, and like always, she gave as good as she got. The rest of the team were, for the most part, fine, but then none of them had been a hundred feet in the air when they suddenly lost the ability to fly.
'How're you feeling?' Steve was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, looking very much the all-American hero that history purported him to be. His voice was soft, and a little scratchy. Carol tried to flex her toes, and was rewarded with a stab of pain in her leg. Not the stab of pain that came from a broken leg, but the stab of pain that came from a half-healed broken leg. Not bad for a couple of days of unconsciousness.
'When can I get out of here?' was Carol's answer. Steve grinned.
'I admire your commitment to the job, but you're probably going to have to stay here a few more days.'
'Commitment to the job?' She feigned incredulity at his statement. 'I just want a bubble bath.' A pause. 'And maybe to make sure Jessica hasn't murdered Chewie.'
'Do you think that's likely?'
'Well last time I went off the grid, she peed all over Jessica's laundry.'
Steve laughed. 'Well, given that she's been here more often than not, I think she'll forgive any feline indiscretion.'
It was normal for any member of the team to be out of contact for days at a time. Just one of those things that went hand in hand with being the work that they did. Still, it was good practice to let someone know who you were fighting, or what kind of situation you might be getting yourself into, just in case things did go pear-shaped.
What Carol really had to worry about, was when everyone was off the grid, in which case one of her neighbors had a key to the apartment, and made sure that everything stayed in order. It wasn't a perfect system, but it worked well enough.
Maybe it was the fact that her powers didn't feel right. Maybe it was the fact that she had to use crutches. When she finally did get released from hospital, Carol was angry.
This was the side of her that mostly seemed to emerge in times of stress or injury. Not the same kind of anger she felt on a day to day basis. This was an angry, but sardonic kind of cynicism that ran deeper than she was willing to admit to anyone else. Five years ago, this kind of mood would have sent her looking to the bottom of the bottle.
Today, she felt the urge, tickling at the bottom of her stomach, but she pushed through. The thought of calling Tony crossed her mind briefly, but she decided that it wasn't quite strong enough just yet. If she called him every time she had a craving, then he was going to stop taking her calls.
There was something of a science to it.
Carol knew a little bit about science. Not in the same way that Bruce Banner or Tony Stark did. Carol knew about practical science. She knew how hard she had to throw a car to get a giant robot's attention. She knew exactly the right kind of push she needed to push an F1-11 into a barrel roll. She knew how to rewire a plug without accidentally killing herself. What she couldn't tell you was the composition of atoms, or the chemical reaction to get Hydrogen Sulphide, or the average size of a neutron star (She'd flown through a neutron star once – a long time ago, when she was a hell of a lot more powerful than she was today).
As Binary, she had seen the universe. As Binary, she had flown further, harder, faster, than ever before. Every punch felt like it had the power of an entire universe behind it. That, of course, was a misnomer. White holes expelled an enormous amount of energy, but they were still the tiniest fragment of the known universe, and that was without even taking into account all the multiple universes that seemed to pop up.
It was a sobering feeling, to hobble around on crutches after having seen the birth of galaxies. Even hovering was more awkwardness than Carol was comfortable with. Though she was no more grounded than she would have been on a normal, non-superheroic day, the stars still seemed that much further away.
If she was human, it would have been far, far worse. Six weeks without flying was more than she could handle. Four days was hard enough. Normally it was quicker, but the power inhibitor had messed up something.
Sunday morning, she woke up and her leg was fully healed.
Even though it was the middle of Fall, she was sweating profusely. Having a higher than normal body temperature was something that she'd become used to over the years, but this was not the same.
She knew what this feeling was.
She had felt it when she was Binary.
She had felt it when trying to absorb the Phoenix.
She had felt it in the last few seconds before she died.
An overwhelming surge of power. More power, certainly, than any human should ever be granted.
As far as she was aware, the link she'd had to the white hole had never truly been broken. It had faded to the point where she could no longer access the powers, but the potential was still there. Every now and then, she could punch a little harder, fly a little faster, but except in the depths of spaces, the connection had remained an invisible, intangible line.
Now, she could feel it, as though it were inside of her. It was blurry, and a little bit messy, because she hadn't used it in so long, but it was there. The power to recharge a dying galaxy, the power to punch a hole in the sky.
To be the stars we were always meant to be.
The planet all of a sudden seemed too small, too fragile. Something that could easily be crushed in a ball of infinite power.
Binary was not her – Binary was something greater. Beyond human. Beyond superhuman.
There was nothing more holistic than the universe, and those were the terms in which Binary thought.
With great power comes great responsibility, was a phrase that Spider-Man always seemed to bring up. Carol wasn't entirely sure why, but it seemed to reflect her situation pretty well.
Be humble for you are made of Earth. Be noble for you are made of stars. That was something she'd read somewhere else. She couldn't even remember where.
She tried to clamp down on those feelings. To keep herself grounded. As an Avenger, being grounded usually meant "find someone to physically yank you to the ground." Fortunately, there were some people that were exceptionally good at that kind of thing.
If Stark Tower were a little further away, she might have tested her limits. As it stood, though, she could barely get her speed up before she'd arrived. Admittedly, rather dramatically.
Clint, Logan and Peter were watching Dog Cops on the enormous television that Tony had installed in Stark Tower. They probably didn't appreciate her crashing in through the window.
It had been an accident, but still – the fact that it happened didn't do her emotional state any favors.
'What the hell?'
Clint knocked over his bowl of popcorn as he jumped up, immediately reaching for the bow that had been resting on the coffee table. Why he kept his bow on the coffee table while watching Dog Cops was beyond her, but she supposed that it was probably in case some crazy woman crashed through the window and into a pot plant.
'Did someone attack you?' Logan asked, shifting into fight mode. He hadn't popped his claws yet, but his fists were clenched in preparation.
'No, I just…'
Stay grounded. Stay focused.
'Is the whole "being on fire" thing part of this new Captain Marvel look, because I gotta say—'
'You having a powers thing?' Was Logan's next question. He sounded almost amused, and she didn't blame him. For a long while, it had been "Rogue stole Carol's powers, Carol has new powers, Carol's lost her powers again." Anyone would find it tiring.
'Something like that.'
That, she didn't answer – partially because she wasn't entirely sure. The power was almost spilling from her fingertips. She knew if she stayed still any longer, things would end badly.
The sonic boom would have been heard from miles away. Every foot she flew, she flew faster. By the time she broke atmosphere, numbers didn't seem to matter anymore.
She didn't explode, which was what she'd first expected. She didn't lost control and become consumed by it either, which had also been fairly high up on the list of expectations. She did, however, lose control of her speed a little; when she landed on the Martian surface, she did so with a small crater and a kick of red dust.
Even on a normal day, the cold of space didn't bother her. The flight had burnt off a little of her excess energy, but there was still more power than she was used to. After so many years of getting used to a power set, it was always disconcerting when it changed dramatically.
When someone finally came – it might have been minutes later, but it could have just as easily been years – she was almost surprised.
'Thor.' Though she moved her lips of her own volition, the words that came out felt like they belonged to someone else. Even in the thin atmosphere, the sound was not diminished
'Captain Marvel.' The God spoke with some small amount of cautiousness. She didn't really blame him. Even when she wasn't harnessing the power of the universe, she considered herself to be more than a little reckless. You didn't become a Top Gun by being meek. It was just another one of the reasons why leadership hadn't really suited her.
But Thor had been there when she tried to absorb the Phoenix. He had seen the result of her failure.
The fact that she had failed was not, in itself, surprising. It was like flying. You couldn't try to go from 0 to Mach 9 in half a second without doing a bit of damage. To get to Phoenix, you have to take the Binary detour.
'Your cosmic powers have returned,' he said, matter-of-factly. For a God, he could be very matter-of-fact when he wanted to be. Thor was in his thousands, at least – no-one had ever quite been able to get a straight answer out of him. Wolverine had been around since the Civil War, and Cap...well, that didn't quite count, seeing as how he'd been frozen for most of his life.
'We'll see,' was Carol's reply. The whole "cosmic powers returning" thing had happened often enough for her to not get too complacent about the situation. At best, it might take a week before they fizzle out. At worst, a few minutes. She was vaguely aware of the fact that being on Mars when she lost her powers would probably be a bad thing. It would be just her luck to die from asphyxiation.
'Why did you leave?' he asked. 'The Phoenix Force cannot harm you anymore.'
'The last time I manifested these powers, I almost destroyed Hong Kong.' She didn't mention the fact that she'd actually died as well. Somehow that seemed almost insignificant.
Take a deep breath, Carol. You remember how to control the white hole.
The word "control" was a misnomer, of course. You didn't control the white hole, you worked with it, hoping that it didn't accidentally tear you apart.
Still, she managed to make the flames recede, and if she weren't standing on the surface of Mars, without any breathing apparatus, no-one watching would have thought anything wrong.
'I didn't explode,' she said, not quite able to hold back the tone of surprise.
'For that, I am most grateful.' Thor was smiling. 'I would not have relished explaining such an event to the others.' His voice took on a modicum of concern. 'How are you feeling?'
Carol clenched her fists. The energy that had built up in there was threatening to discharge, but she had control. 'I need to fly,' she told him. 'Can you keep up?'
It was probably a stupid question. He was the God of Thunder – even with her cosmic powers, she doubted that she'd be able to take him in a fight. Maybe with time…It was something she would prefer never to find out.
Freedom didn't mean that you could always keep running. Freedom was having the strength to come back.
On the ground he was fast, but in the air, in space, he was lightning. Carol didn't quite know the limits of Binary's speed, but if it was anything like Thor's, then the entirety of the universe was at her fingertips.
Journeying into space had been a lifelong dream, but she recognized that dream's symbolic nature. An endless vacuum of impossible things, far away from anything she'd ever known or loved. An adventure, but also an escape. A chance to prove her worth, but also a chance to find new pastures.
While she'd forged ahead, so much of her had been left behind that afternoon in the San Francisco Bay. It wasn't a question of who she wasn't. It was a question of who she could be.
Binary had run. Warbird had fought. Ms. Marvel had persevered.
Captain Marvel was going to shine.
Stars rushed by in a blur of light. Planets, quasars, black holes. "We have to go bigger," Steve and Tony had said. Well this was certainly bigger. This was universal. Bigger threats needed better heroes. For some reason, though, she didn't think that he'd meant standing in the glow of a supernova, getting a tan.
That was about as much energy as the sun could produce in a lifetime. With it, she could tear a hole in the universe. Unconsciously, she felt her body pulling tendrils of light towards her. All she could feel was the power.
It surged through you. It was all you could think about. It drowned out the humanity inside of you. And when it was gone, you started to think about just how horrible a person you were when you had it. Carol had regained and her lost her cosmic superpowers often enough to understand that rollercoaster.
It seemed strange, then, that a veritable god was someone who could relate to her troubles. He probably wasn't the only one (superheroes seemed to lose their powers about as often as they died), but he was the one that had followed her to Mars. Logically speaking, it was probably because neither Spider-Man, Wolverine nor Hawkeye could breathe in a vacuum and had grabbed the first person who could, but it was an almost comforting feeling.
The powers wouldn't last forever (they never did). Now, though, she was starting to understand that they didn't have to.
Neither of them had spoken for minutes (or was it hours) when Thor finally broke the silence.
'Is it the same?' he asked.
'As absorbing the Phoenix.'
She was right, then. He had been thinking about the last time they'd been in space together. She shook her head. 'No. That was…' There was no way that could adequately describe how it had felt. Hundreds of thousands of words in the English language, and none of them were right.
They should have sent a poet.
'You saw what happened to Cyclops. Binary…Binary can reappropriate the energy of the universe, but the Phoenix…it was like it had control over all of creation. I was like the smallest atom compared to that vastness. It wasn't me. I wasn't strong enough.'
'Had you been any stronger, things might have ended differently,' Thor said, but there was no criticism in his words. She knew what he was getting at. Had the Phoenix taken possession over Binary, instead of rejecting her, then neither of them would still be alive. Either that, or she would have been stuck on the wrong side of a portal to the other side of the universe with an angry cosmic entity.
The next galaxy over, they found a planet that bore life; a number of creatures that they had never seen before, and would in all likelihood never see again. Beasts that would be born, live, and die on a solitary planet in a tiny solar system on the opposite end of the universe. They were beautiful, almost majestic creatures, who might never find themselves engaging in interplanetary conflict, who might never take part in political debate, who might never evolve past any traits past the desire to munch on plantlife all day.
A sobering thought. No puns intended.
Her body suddenly jerked itself back to reality, and she realized that she had absolutely no idea where she was. She didn't recognize the star, which, on the whole, wasn't exactly surprising. There were three hundred sextillion of them in the universe, and she'd had one too many head injuries to remember that many waypoints.
She did know the vague direction from which they'd come, and if that failed, then their combined efforts might have been able to open a wormhole in space.
Thor seemed to be much more practiced at navigating, though, and set a cracking pace back to Earth. Her field of vision shrunk, the stars before her blurring to blue. If she looked backwards, the ones behind her would be red. A little bit faster, and she couldn't see the stars at all. Just her, her powers, and the God of Thunder flying through the vacuum of space.
And then there it was: The planet Earth.
Just a pale, blue dot.
In their absence, it had kept on spinning.
In their absence, monsters had attacked New York.
The action seemed to be centered around Stark Tower. Just another day in the life of the Avengers.
'It's about time you got here,' said Tony, as he blasted one of the tiny critters off of the rooftop. In true Tony style, he didn't ask where they'd been, or what they were doing – he was smart enough to figure it out by himself. 'You're not gonna have a nervous breakdown in the middle of combat, are you, Danvers?' He was testing her boundaries – wanting to see if she was going to snap. Not today.
Today, she was going to give as good as she got.
'I wasn't planning on following your example, Stark.'
The warmth that kicked as flames overtook her body was the best damn feeling in the world. Tony cocked his head sideways, and Carol could tell that underneath the armor, he was smiling.
'Good. Then let's blast these suckers, Captain Marvel.'
She took a swan dive off the roof, arcing down towards the main action. It was a much smoother descent than her last trip off a multi-story building had been.
On the ground, the creatures scattered. Half a dozen stragglers were too slow, and had burned to a crisp in her radiance. Smarter creatures might have run in fear, but these were too stupid to realize how much danger they were in.
She punched the ground so hard, the concrete cracked. Sometimes, the old tricks worked just as well as the new.
'Carol!' Jessica Drew was twenty feet away, giving the critters a taste of her venom. 'What the hell happened to you?'
'I wasn't gone that long, was I?'
'Your cat ate my underwear,' she said, with an accusing glare. Or at least it might have been an accusing glare – it was hard to tell beneath the mask.
Unable to help herself, Carol burst into laughter. If nothing else, the thought of Clint Barton trying to dig through Chewie's litter tray looking for a g-string was enough to keep her grounded for the next century.
Something jumped on her from behind, and she threw it into orbit.
Today was a good day.