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"A Prize for Three Empires"

A Prize for Three Empires

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28

This story is in progress.

More history, and it won't be done till it's done. But there's an X-Men scene here, so take heart, all you mutant fans.

So after the week she spent in Boston with her parents, getting back in touch with that which was Real, and after transferring the money in her savings account to travellers' checks (without touching the account the Avengers had set up to pay Ms. Marvel if and when she returned...that would tip her hand), Carol Danvers said goodbye to Joe and Marie and boarded a plane under an assumed name. She wanted to get as far away from the East Coast and New York and all its myriad superheroes as she possibly could.

She went to San Francisco.

There Carol rented an apartment on one of those very hilly streets, for which Aerobics must have certainly been invented, plugged in her computer, and got to work. She had enough money to live on, but she still had books she wanted to write. One of them, Airborne Agents, drew on her CIA and NASA experience and covered spying in the air and by satellite from World War II to the present. She even did a phone interview with Gary Powers, the shot-down U2 spy of the Fifties. She kept her name out of the public view and paid her rent in cash.

When it was published, she knew that she would inevitably get a call from the Avengers. Grimly, she readied herself for that encounter, and what she would say to them. She didn't intend to say it more than once.

But other people had other plans for her.

Three months after Carol's return to Earth, long before the completion and publication of her book, and some weeks after she had made a few brief functions as Ms. Marvel to break up some petty crimes, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants intruded into her life again, in the person of Rogue.

Destiny, the precognitive mutant, had sensed Carol's return, but warned Mystique against harming her. Mystique, thinking Rogue could not hear her, exclaimed that she would in no way allow Carol Danvers to harm her stepdaughter Rogue, as Destiny had earlier foreseen.

Rogue heard her.

She took matters into her own hands. She had been gifted (or cursed) with the ability to steal abilities, powers, even memories from anyone with whom she made flesh-to-flesh contact. A short contact meant that the powers only stayed with Rogue for a short time, then returned to the originator. A longer contact could make the transfer permanent.

Thus, she was more than a match for Ms. Marvel.

Rogue made her way to San Francisco, found Carol, and fought her. The heroine was taken by surprise, but gave a good account of herself. So good, that Rogue's contact with her was much longer than she'd planned. During the battle, Rogue not only stole Carol's Ms. Marvel powers, she permanently transferred them to herself. She also took Carol's memories in the process, apparently mindwiping her.

Carol Danvers was unconscious when Rogue threw her off the Golden Gate Bridge.

But San Francisco had been home to the odd super-hero since Daredevil and the Black Widow moved there some years earlier. Spider-Woman was on patrol and saw the incident. She was able to save Carol's life, though it entailed a mile swim through the chilly bay waters. Rogue was long gone by the time the two heroines made land.

The cops ran an i.d. check on Carol, who was now, mentally, an infant. They learned her identity and told Spider-Woman. Spider-Woman called Professor Charles Xavier at his Westchester, New York mansion. Xavier said he'd be over on the next flight, and was as good as his word.

With some help from Spider-Woman, Xavier used his mutant mental powers to probe deep within Carol's subconscious and dredge up what remained of her memories. He restored them to her conscious mind, bringing her back to adulthood. A few memories remained blocked for a long time. And Xavier was unable to make the connection, quite, between many of her memories and her emotions.

For a long time, until her mind healed itself, Carol looked upon her past as she would look upon a movie.

Perhaps that was a blessing.

But she still remembered what Immortus had done to her, and about the Avengers.

Xavier learned of her past as a superheroine, security chief, and CIA agent from his probe. He also learned that she had worked with Logan, now Wolverine, part of his X-Men team. Thus, he offered Carol the chance to return to New York with him to continue her rehabilitation and to have her act as a support operative for the team.

Carol looked mentally at what she had come through, and wondered if there was anyplace on Earth she could go where she would be free of super-heroes.

Apparently not, she decided.

She also thought that the X-Men, who functioned as a sort of extended family--possibly disfunctional?--might be easier to get along with than the Avengers. But it would put her back in the Avengers' old stomping grounds.


She had to confront them sometime. And she could finish her book as easily in New York as she could in San Francisco.

So she took a deep breath and told Xavier, "I'll do it."

She went back with him the very next day, after making contact with her parents on the phone and assuring them, as best she could, that she was getting better after her incident. They had been intending to come down there, but since she was coming back to the East Coast, she convinced them that would be counterproductive and that she'd see them soon.

My life, she thought to herself, putting down the phone. Even I can't really believe it.

Spider-Woman had already gone back to New York in the X-Men's Blackbird jet to further investigate the case and fell in with the Avengers. The latter were having a big battle with the Brotherhood, including Rogue, and Spider-Woman helped them triumph, though the villains escaped (except for the Blob, whom they tried and failed to spring from prison). From the heroes, she learned about Ms. Marvel, Marcus Immortus, and the way in which Carol had left the team.

Storm soon headed back to California and picked up Xavier and Carol, who was about to become a part of another team.

When she got to the big mansion in Salem Center which had been the X-Men's home for so many years, and Xavier's home for almost all his life, the one who opened the car door for her wore a brown and orange costume and was on the short side and looked somewhat familiar.

"Lookin' good, Danvers," he said. "Hand me your bags ‘n' tell me what you been doin' since you left the Company."

Her brain processed the memory of his voice and put it together with other clues, and she knew the deduction took her longer than it should have.

"Logan," she said to him. "You're Logan." Then she said, wonderingly, "We made love together."

Wolverine looked on her, a little sadly, it seemed. He shifted his eyes to Jessica, who was Spider-Woman, and to Xavier. Then he looked back at Carol, held out his hand to help her out, and said one thing.

"Glad you remembered."

The other X-Men, Jessica Drew, who was Spider-Woman, and a blonde girl whom she learned was Ilyana Rasputin were sitting around in the front room in civvies. Wolverine preceded them, carrying her three suitcases with ease, and stopped long enough to say, "Blondie here is an old friend of mine, Major Carol Danvers. Treat ‘er right, okay?"

A brown-haired young man was the first up, and he shook her hand as warmly as she'd had it shaken in a long time. "Hello, Carol," he said. "I'm Scott Summers. The Professor tells me you're going to be staying with us for a little while."

"Yes," she said, as firmly as she could. Then she looked around the large room at the others. A big Slavic type in a sweatshirt and jeans, who seemed like a good but shy farmboy. A beautiful black woman with white hair, in casual dress and golden sandals. A fourteen-year-old brown-haired girl, and her thirteen-year-old blonde friend. "Yes, I am. I'm going to be doing some therapy, and, oh, helping out as much as I possibly can..."

For all her world-weariness, Carol was shy at that moment. She was also afraid to commit any emotion to them just then. What if they were just like the Avengers? What if they'd do exactly the wrong thing when she needed them most to do the right? What if she couldn't break the ice here, or get her memories and feelings connected, or...

She heard a small sound like a very small blown-up paper bag being popped, and smelled a bit of sulphur.

Carol wondered, for a second, if someone had passed gas.

But at her side was a deeply-blue-furred demon in a red and yellow outfit, complete with a long tail. He had the friendliest grin she'd seen this side of a five-year-old kid. He also held a handful of fresh-picked daisies in his hand, which he extended to her.

"Guten tag, Miss Carol," said Nightcrawler. "You like posies? I hope you do. I also hope you're a good outfielder, ‘cause we've got a killer softball team."

Carol was glad she had just the reaction she did at that moment.

She broke up laughing and grabbed the daisies. "Thanks. Uh, when you do that popping thing, does it always smell like--"

"Like he just cut one!" hollered Kitty. "Yep!"

Thirty seconds worth of roaring laughter from all concerned later, Carol hugged the hell out of Kurt Wagner and was introed to the others, making small talk, shaking hands, and even collecting a couple of hugs.

Jessica Drew said to Scott, "Looks like you've got a new team member, Cyke."

"I don't know about that," he said, cautiously. "But I do think we've got a new friend."

Joe and Marie Danvers were down the next day. The group shut off the sections of the mansion which held all the off-limits stuff and admitted them. Kurt had used a thing called the Image Inducer to make himself look like a normal guy. Xavier, Scott, and Ororo met the Danverses at the front gate and escorted them in to see Carol.

She was wearing a blue dress and, when she saw them, smiled and took a few seconds to call up some memories of the times she'd had with them. It took some effort. They waited, giving her some time.

"Hello, Mom, Dad," she said at last.

They both embraced her and Xavier and company left them alone.

After some explanations were made, Carol told them she'd been attacked by an enemy agent on the bridge and had been thrown into the bay. The shock of the incident and of having to swim a mile through frigid waters had left her with partial amnesia and a bit of emotional difficulty. Professor Xavier was doing hypnotherapy with her and she was coming along just fine. She was also working with the group there.

"Like doing what?" asked Joe, as gently as possible.

"Can't say, Dad," said Carol. "You know how it is."

Marie, who didn't know everything that had happened but suspected super-villains had been involved, said, "You know, Joe. It must be--"

"It must be the Company. And this is a Company business, isn't it?"

Carol didn't say anything.

"Carol, listen to me," Joe said. "I want you out of here. I want you out of the Company. You've almost been killed several times. They damn near got you this last time and look at you. I mean, look at you."

Carol shook her head. "Why, Dad? Don't I look all right?"

"You look fine, dear," said Marie. "It's just..."

"It's just that some enemy agent tried to kill you and it screwed with your brain," snapped Joe. "Now, listen to me, Carol. I don't know who that bald-headed guy out there is, but if he's Company, you could be in big trouble. They could be using, I don't know, drugs on you like in that MK-ULTRA thing."

"Dad, dad, this is not The Manchurian Candidate, and Mr. Xavier isn't with the Company," Carol said, trying to smile. "I haven't been with the Company in a long time. It's just that...well...some enemy agents have long memories."

"And what about your memory?" said Joe, holding her. "What about the memories they took from you, dammit?"

"I'm getting them back, Dad," she said. "If it hadn't been for Professor Xavier, I'd practically be in a fetal state."

"A fetal state?" gasped Marie. "Carol, Carol, my God, what happened to you?"

"Something that might have really been bad, if Professor Xavier hadn't happened to me a little later," said Carol. "I can't stop therapy right now. I'm not leaving, Mom. And I hope you understand, Dad."

"Understand?" Joe was fighting back anger. "For chri--what's to understand? One of those guys out there talks like a Russian. Another one sounded like a refugee from Hogan's Heroes. And I don't know where that black woman's from, but I sure bet it ain't Harlem! If this isn't the CIA, then what is it?"

"Joe, please," said Marie.

"Is this Synanon? Is this a cult, for God's sake?"

Carol said, patiently, "This is New York. A lot of immigrants come here. And if you really want to get ethnic, there's a Jewish-American princess, too, and a Canuck, and a few damn Yankees like me. And like the Professor. No, it isn't a cult. Professor Xavier is helping me. I like it here. So whether you like it or not, Dad...I'm staying. And that is it."

She fixed him with a solid stare.

After awhile he said, "Well, you're damn well as stubborn as you always were. He must be getting some of your memories back."

Carol had gone out to dinner with her folks after that. They spent the night in the mansion, then caught a flight back home. For awhile, Joe considered hiring a deprogrammer to break her out of there. But, as time passed, he realized that she seemed to be getting better. So he crossed his fingers and decided to let fate ride. He suspected that Marie knew a hell of a lot more about Carol than he did, and that he was going to have to find out about it sometime soon.

And Marie just wondered how many times Carol could dance with Death before dying.

The Avengers found out about Carol's presence at the X-Mansion soon enough, and put through a call asking to talk to her and then see her. Ororo told them that Carol wasn't well enough to take calls yet, but thanked them, and told them when she felt like having visitors, she'd let them know.

After Ororo told her about the call, she talked with Xavier about it in her next therapy session. "You can't avoid them for long, you know," he said. "Part of recovering is facing the factor that hurt you before, and dealing with it."

Carol, in slacks and a shirt, sighed. "I know, Charles. I'm not afraid of them. I'm afraid of what I'm going to say to them. I'd like to tear into them like a house afire for what was done to me. But at the same time, I know--or I think I know--that they weren't trying to hurt me. They were just being damned ignorant."

"And?" said Charles.

"And I still like most of them, in a way," she said. "God, even though it's hard to connect all the feelings with the's kind of like trying to play connect-the-dots while you're holding a pencil in boxing gloves...I think there aren't too many bad vibes before...that."

"So you're conflicted," said Charles. "Part of you still wants them for friends, but part of you wants to settle this thing with them. And?"

Carol laced her fingers together and dropped her hands in her lap. "And. You want me to say that I've got to face them to do that."

After a pause, Xavier said, "Jessica has to go back within the week, Carol."

She said, "Call them and tell them they can come over. Tomorrow."

They said they could make it in three days, and Ororo told them that would be all right.

So, in four days, the Avengers Quinjet touched down on the grounds of the mansion, with the X-Men, Jessica, and Carol sitting around the pool.

Carol stood there in a one-piece violet bathing suit and watched the craft land, and, if her hand trembled, she held it against her thigh so that no one could tell one way or the other.

Ororo, gorgeous in a scanty white bikini and wearing a flower in her hair, was beside her. "We will stay if you wish, Carol," she said, quietly.

"Thanks, Ororo," said Carol. "But--no."

Jessica, in a black bathing suit with a purple lightning slash, padded up to her barefoot and grasped her hand. "Are you sure you'll be all right?"

Carol grasped Jessica's hand firmly in friendship, but she did not look at her. "I'm not sure of anything, Jess. Except that this is something I feel I have to do."

Jessica told her she understood, and that if she needed a friend, to call and she would hear and come to her. Then, squeezing Carol's hand one last time, she let go and retreated with the others into the mansion.

The door of the Quinjet popped open and the stairway dropped down. Emerging from it were seven familiar figures. Iron Man, Captain America, Wonder Man, Hawkeye, the Beast, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and Thor.

"Hey, guys," called the Beast to the X-Men, who were almost all through the door by that time. "What's the matter? No kind words for the old alum here?"

Scott looked back once, and all he said was, "Later, Hank." Then he stepped through the door and closed it.

The mutants and Spider-Woman stood inside and waited.

The seven heroes had expected a warmer reception than this.

They stood before the beautiful blonde woman in the bathing suit and took note of her tired stare and wondered what the hell had happened to her in Limbo, and what had happened to her in the battle with Rogue, and what they should say to her, and who would say it first.

So Hank McCoy, the Beast, said, "Hi, Carol. How are you doing?"

She looked at him and took a deep breath.

"Better than expected, Hank," she said. "I'll never regain all my memories, but Professor Xavier has helped me remember who I am, who and what I was. I remember my family--I've met with my parents, now. I remember the Avengers--and how I came to leave them. Bits and pieces, mostly. I've a ways to go yet.

"But I'm forgetting my manners. Please sit down. Would anyone like some iced tea? I'm afraid Wolverine took all the beer with him."

The Avengers seemed a bit more at ease, then. After all, Ororo had told them that Carol was having trouble connecting with her emotional memories.

"You're lookin' real good, Carol," said Hawkeye, who had given her the up-and-down with his eyes. "What happened to Marcus? After you left with him, we didn't expect to see you two lovebirds again."

She turned her back to them, pouring some tea from the pitcher. "I'm sure you didn't, Hawkeye. Marcus is dead."

"What?" asked Captain America.

Iron Man offered, "We're very sorry, Carol. You two made a wonderful couple. We hoped you'd be happy together." He paused. "Is there anything we can do to help ease your pain?"

Her hand trembled. Then she lost control of it, and the plastic glasses full of ice and the big cooler jug with the iced tea in it all went off the metal tabletop and onto the concrete surrounding the pool and spilled brown liquid all over it.

She cried out, "Didn't you do enough to cause it?"

Oh, hell, thought the Beast. He and Thor were closest to her, and they went to her side. "Carol, what's wrong?" asked Hank, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

"I'm sorry, Hank," Carol gasped, one hand covering her face.

Thor laid a surprisingly gentle hand on her bare shoulder, his palm callused from the use of his hammer. "Be not ashamed of thy womanly tears,Carol," he said. "Thou hast lost the one thou didst love."

"NO!" she shouted, and whirled and slapped the god of thunder on his cheek. He gaped, uncomprehending.

She turned to face them, and didn't even try to stop the tears from running down her face.

"I didn't love Marcus. I never loved Marcus. Don't any of you realize what happened, months ago? What Marcus did to me?"

Wonder Man shifted on his booted feet. "Guys, maybe our visit was a mistake," he said, uneasily.

Hawkeye cut in, raising his palm. "Hold it. I was there, lady. You told us you cared for Marcus. You left with him of your own free will."

How could these beings, some of them literally having the powers of gods, be so infernally dumb?

"I left because I had no choice," she said.

And she told the Avengers what had really happened to her, leaving out only the elder Immortus's part in bringing her back to Earth.

About that incident, she was having less and less problems connecting it to what she felt.

"I never wanted to see you--any of you--again," said Carol. "I hated you. Because when I needed you most, you betrayed me."

She told them of what she had felt when they made their jokes. She told them of what she had felt, or hadn't felt, when they didn't question a thing that Marcus had told them, just letting her go with a smile and a wave.

"That was your mistake," she said. "For which I paid the price. My mistake was trusting you."

She chose her next words as precisely as she could, and then spoke them.

"After a trauma like mine, it's easy to wallow in bitterness and self-pity. But both grief and guilt have to be faced, dealt with, exorcised. There's more--there has to be more--to being heroes than simply defeating villains. You have a role, a purpose, far greater than yourselves. You have to set examples, lead the way. You represent what we should be, what we dream of becoming, not what we are."

She glanced up at the mansion, saw Jessica and Xavier watching from an upper window, and knew the Spider-Woman's hearing could pick up every word she said, clearly.

"If you do that, even a little, then perhaps what I went through will have a positive meaning. It's your choice."

She stooped to pick up the tea pitcher and glasses. The Beast squatted on his haunches.

"Carol," he said, "what about you? What will you do?"

"Pick up the pieces of my life," she said, setting the items back on the tabletop. "Start again. Survive. I'm good at that."

She was glad that Wanda was the one who spoke next.

"Carol, I would give anything for this never to have happened," said the Scarlet Witch. "I--we are so sorry."

She favored the mutant woman with a smile.

"I know, Wanda. Don't worry, I'll be all right."

A few minutes later, the Avengers were gone.

Hank didn't even try to talk to his old teammates.

Carol went back inside the mansion and got a big hug from Ororo.

Neither one of them said anything, or broke the hug, for a good many minutes.


Continued in Chapter 4.


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