"Carol, what a surprise," said Tony Stark, easily.
"I'd been trying to call you the last few weeks, but
you never responded. Did you know I've just--"
The woman in the black skirt and blazer and mauve blouse
facing the man in the hi-tech wheelchair cut him off. "I
know," she said. "I saw a big photo spread in the
Post-Intelligencer on your new house." It could
give Bill Gates's place a run for its money, but her mind
wasn't on architecture at the moment.
"Did you follow me out here, Tony? Are you checking
up on me? For the Avengers, or just because you don't think
I'm capable of handling my own problems?"
The man and woman with Tony, whom she later learned were
Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts, were confused, but they let
their boss carry the ball for them. After all, Carol hadn't
physically attacked Stark. At least, not yet.
But Tony showed genuine surprise, and Carol didn't think
he was faking it. "What? No, Carol, that's not the case
at all. The ground was broken for my house before the Avengers
even got back together. I couldn't possibly have--"
"Good," said Carol, stooping down to get face-to-face
with Tony. "Then just stay out of my way, Stark. It's
a big town. We can avoid each other just fine."
"Carol," he said.
"Just stay out of my way!"
She powered up and lifted off the pavement in her street
clothes. She transformed into her Warbird self within seconds,
and was gone.
Happy and Pepper were, like their boss, looking up after
her. "Geez," said Happy. "What was that all
"Just an old friend, Happy," said Stark. "Nothing
to worry about."
Carol had made it back to her apartment, called up Tracy
Burke, and apologized for leaving her on the hook like that.
She refused to explain more than I-saw-an-old-acquaintance-and-had-to-work-things-out-with-him.
She promised to have an article in Tracy's e-mail box before
6 p.m. tomorrow, and, when Tracy asked her cautiously about
the drinking thing, Carol said that had nothing to do with
why she left. So Tracy had let Carol end the call.
Later on, while working on the piece, a bit on security at
aircraft development plants, Carol had the TV on to a local
station and her ears caught the words, "Iron Man."
She hoped like hell it wouldn't be coverage of a fight in
progress. She made herself turn and look.
Some idiot in War Machine's old armor, an outfit designed
by Stark himself and sporting twin Gatling guns on its shoulders,
was duking it out with the armored Avenger. She could tell
Tony really wasn't in any shape to be fighting the guy. He
had been in a wheelchair hours earlier, recovering from lumps
taken during a fight with the Espionage Elite and the Mandarin.
From the live feed she saw, Iron Man was taking repulsor blasts
and rounds from the twin guns on War Machine's shoulders.
He was trying to give it back, but he wasn't doing so well.
Carol cursed. Why did they both have to be in Seattle? Why
couldn't he have stayed in New York City with all the rest
of the super-freaks? Why couldn't she get off this merry-go-round
of heroes and villains?
Because there were more villains than heroes.
And because she couldn't let a friend get killed, while she
could do something about it.
"Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy," she said as
she powered up. Then she wrote a quick note to Tracey, with
an attachment of the article as it stood so far. She admitted,
I may be a little later on this than I thought. But
not too much later. Trust me.
- Carol D.
Then she opened the window, and Warbird flew into action.
She couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Tony was
down on the ground, pavement shattered under him, when she
got there, and War Machine was drawing a bead on him. She
grinned wolfishly and yelled at him.
"Hi, there," she said.
War Machine turned his head to look at her. Good.
"I don't like Iron Man very much, not these days,"
she admitted. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to let
you kill him."
They engaged in battle. She dodged his shots, roared in,
and smashed him as hard as she could with both fists in a
bombing run. It evidently got to him, because he grabbed Iron
Man as a hostage and threatened to kill him. Luckily, Tony
came back to his senses, blasted free of War Machine with
his repulsor rays, and gave Carol a chance to knock the creep
right into the sky.
She smiled again. When all was said and done, punching out
bad guys was a lot of fun.
The fight wasn't as great as it should have been. The two
of them didn't coordinate their efforts well together, and
War Machine was a tough foe to beat. At one point, Iron Man
even cut out, telling her to hold the fort. She was almost
convinced that he'd turned coward, because of his injuries.
Then she was too bust getting knocked through building material
by War Machine to notice.
She put up a hell of a fight, but War Machine had the drop
on her just as Iron Man returned. He had a thing he called
a Negator Pack. When it was attached to War Machine's chestplate,
it was supposed to shut down the villain's systems.
But it didn't work, and War Machine knocked Iron Man across
Warbird swooped down and caught him. She could sense his
injury. War Machine flew off, and she didn't even try to stop
It started raining shortly after that. Carol kept telling
Tony to hang on, asking him questions, and figuring that when
he groaned, that was a good enough answer.
She knew where Stark's place was, and knew that there was
enough medical equipment there to sustain his life. Hopefully,
they could get a doctor there, too. A doctor who would already
know he was Iron Man.
There was. Her name was Jane Foster, and she had just finished
patching up Tony Stark after his last brouhaha. Happy Hogan
and Pepper Potts were also on hand. Carol put Iron Man on
a guerney for them. Happy, who had worn the armor himself
before, knew the procedure for safely getting it off him.
He took the helmet off first.
Tony Stark looked beaten and grey and barely alive.
"Get the rest of it off him and get him in fast,"
"Will do," said Happy.
Afterward, Warbird found herself alone with Pepper for a
moment. "He'd better make it," breathed Carol.
"I thought you were so hacked off with him when you
saw us on the street," said Pepper. "Guess that
doesn't matter so much when something like this happens, does
"No. It doesn't." Carol paused. "You've seen
me without my mask."
Pepper nodded. "I don't give out secret identities."
"I want to give you something. Where's something to
Pepper steered her to a desk and a notepad. Carol snatched
a pen nearby and scrawled a number on it. "Here,"
she said, tearing off the sheet and handing it to her. "Give
this to Tony when he wakes up. You can read it, too. It's
my personal phone number, plus my voice mail. If he needs
me, that's where he can reach me."
The redhead smiled. "I'm glad you feel this way about
him, now. I've been through ups and downs with him, hated
him once, then hated Iron Man once, but those things didn't
last. I guess he's just about the greatest guy I've ever known.
Even though I love Happy more, of course."
Warbird just said, "Call me when you learn more about
his condition." Then she left, streaking through the
rainy sky when she got outside.
The next afternoon, Carol got a call from Pepper. "I
think Tony could use a surprise visit from you," she
said. "He's just gotten some really bad news."
Tensely, Carol said, "Like what? Is he, well--dying?"
Pepper said, "Not quite. Turns out the armor is retarding
his body's ability to heal itself. He can't wear it now, not
for a long time. He may never be able to be Iron Man again."
"Hank Pym, you know, Giant-Man?"
"I knew him as Yellowjacket," said Carol. "What
"Well, Hank did the review of his case and he flat out
told him that he had to give up being Iron Man. The boss is
trying to bear up, but I can tell when he's internalizing
a lot of hurt. We're helping him, but there's some things
only super-heroes can talk about to each other, I guess."
"When and where do you want me to meet him?"
"He'll be at the house tonight. Probably down by the
lake. We'll try and leave you two alone together when you
come. You are coming, right?"
"Wouldn't miss it, Pepper," said Carol. "Wouldn't
miss it for a Kree invasion."
So, while Tony Stark sat in his hovering wheelchair looking
out over the lake on his property that night, with a face
festooned with bruises and Band-Aids, Warbird swooped down
from the sky again, and landed before him. She noted that,
while he still looked like hell, he looked a bit less like
it than he had yesterday when she left him. "Hi, Tony,"
He was pleased to see her, even though he didn't smile.
After she explained about entrusting her secret identity
to Pepper, Tony admitted his condition: "I can't be trusted
to stay away from the armor, it seems. They're packing me
off to the Basel Stress Clinic for recuperation. A top-notch
clinic, recommended by half the A.M.A. I'll stay there until
I'm well. No consulting, no Avenging, no work, no nothing.
I leave tomorrow."
Tony stared off across the moonlit lake. Warbird powered
down to her Carol identity and stood before him in blazer,
blouse, and slacks. Then she stepped before him, knelt down
on one knee to be on his level, and, after considering things,
began to speak again.
"Tony," she said. "About my drinking. About
what happened. I tried to hate you for what you did. I wanted
to. But I couldn't. And not just because you were doing the
He looked at her, and, almost imperceptibly, nodded.
"It's like--like today," Carol continued. "Seeing
you fighting, beyond your limits, but never quitting. It's
hard to label you petty or vindictive after that. I know you
were trying to help me. And I apologize for lashing out. And
what's more, I know you can beat this. You're strong enough
to do anything."
He smirked. "A regular Iron Man, that's me. But how
are you doing?"
She rose up, straightened her shoulders. "Managing.
I have a problem, I know that. But I can lick it. I'm pretty
strong, too. And hey, when you're back in town, I'll buy you
dinner. By then, I'll have a major headstart on you in finding
all the best restaurants."
She powered up, and her Warbird costume replaced the Carol
clothing. Then she bent down, hands on knees, and pecked him
on the cheek. "Be good, y'hear?"
"I will, Carol," he said. "And--thanks. Thanks
"Don't mention it," said Carol. "Hey, the
world can't go forever without an Iron Man."
Then she lifted off, her feet leaving the earth, and silently
flew into the night sky again. She looked back and waved once.
She was not so far off that she couldn't see him tiredly
The next week, after filing several articles with Tech
Support, Carol's agent called and told her that a New
York publisher wanted the Kree/spy book. That is, if she'd
hop a plane and do some face-to-face with them about promotion
and such. She called up Tracey and crowed about the good news,
then told her mom and dad, and said she'd swing by if she
could afterward. Finally, she called the airlines, made a
reservation, and started packing a grip.
The meeting went well and schedules for a tour were drawn
up, and a fat advance was made out. Visions of royalties danced
in her head. Tom Clancy, here I come, she thought. She shook
hands with the company's v.p. and the other guys in the office
where the meeting took place and the secretary when she left
and even the janitor on her way out, for good measure.
It was 4 p.m. and she couldn't wait to tell someone in town
about her good fortune. The problem was, who?
She paused at a phone kiosk, her phone credit card slick
in her hand. The Avengers? No. There was still too much pain
there, right now.
Nick Fury? She doubted the head of SHIELD could make time
out for a night on the town.
By process of elimination, that left the X-Men. So she dialed
up their private number. Logan answered the phone. "Xavier's,
"Hello, Johnny Canuck!"
"Carol! Whatcha been doin' with yourself, Modesty Blaise?
Heard you moved. Where you callin' from?"
"I'm in town, Logan. Takin' care of business. Big, big
business, but civilian-type. Wanna see me tonight?"
Logan said, "Sure. But tonight's my pool-playin' night.
You still as good as you were?"
"Uh, yeah, sure," Carol said. "I was thinkin'
maybe of dinner and such, but if you want to do pool, that's
"Doin' some TCB myself through dinnertime, Carol, sorry,"
said Logan. "What say you meet me down at Hardcase's?
About 7 or so? That's where I do my playin'."
"Um," she said. "All right, okay. Tell me
where it's at."
He told her. It was a tough neighborhood, from the location.
But, what the hell, she was still Warbird. And she knew how
to take care of herself from way before she became a super-heroine.
"I'll be there," she said. She hung up.
Carol hesitated. Sure, she'd done her share of poolrooms
when she was with the USAF. She'd had her fill of beer steins
and cigarette smoke and jerks who thought they could hustle
a woman on the pool table or off it.
But Logan was a friend. A friend from way back. A friend
who had saved her life more than once. An old lover, too.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of pool, I shall
not be afraid," she murmured, and stepped away from the
She wondered why those words sounded so stupid to her, when
she said them.
So there she was in Hardcase's, dressed in a short skirt,
a T-shirt that left her abs bare, and a jacket which she discarded.
Logan was late. She paid for a table, racked the balls, and
played a couple of games by herself. When a guy came by with
a look of grab-ass in his eyes, she turned and told him not
to even think about it. Something in her mien caused him to
hang back, then to go elsewhere.
Carol didn't have to do that too many times that night. But
Logan was still absent. She wondered how long he'd be. Finally,
she went to the manager and asked to use the phone and called
him. He said that he'd be there, but it'd take him a while
to get through traffic. She understood. On a visit to an inner-city
poolroom, you didn't normally take a hovercraft.
She sighed. There was nothing much to do except wait. And
play another solo game. And eat, if she thought she could
stomach what this place called food, probably just nachos
and hot dogs.
There were three guys at the bar, and each had a stein of
beer in his hand. She looked at them a long, long moment.
It was awfully hard for even a place like this to screw up
A voice inside her told her to get out, don't even go there,
don't even think about it, don't justify what the Avengers
thought of her, don't let Mom and Daddy down.
Another voice said that it was just beer, that she could
keep it within her limit, that she knew how to drink like
a lady, she wasn't a kid anymore, for cripes' sake, and beer
would be the only thing that could make this place bearable
while she was waiting for Logan the Late.
She tipped the scales. Still holding the cue, Carol stepped
hesitantly in the direction of the bar. The steps got a little
bit easier as she kept taking them. The men turned in her
direction, sizing up her lovely, half-revealed body.
At least the bartender had a little courtesy. "Yes,
miss? What'll it be?"
She swallowed, very hard.
The bartender said, "Miss? What can I get you?"
Carol opened her mouth. "A beer. Gimme a beer, please."
By the time Logan finally got there, she was working on her
And it felt damned good.
She threw her arms around him, kissed him, and was somewhat
surprised that he hung back, a little. Hell, didn't he remember
they'd done this before? "Missed you," she said.
"Missed you, too," said Logan. "Sorry I kept
you so long. What's the good news?"
"I'm gonna be a biiiiig-name writer, Logan," Carol
said, trying not to slosh her beer against his back. "Gonna
be a face on Good Morning, America, an' Today, an' all that
crap. Ain't that marvy?"
"That's great, darlin'," he said. "Tell me
all about it while I'm slaughterin' you in our first game."
"Grab two beers first," she said. "One for
you, one for me. You gotta catch up."
"You haven't finished the one you've got yet,"
Carol disengaged from him, lifted the stein to her mouth,
and chugged the remainder. She held out the empty glass to
He gave her a quizzical look and took it.
After the first game and two more beers, Logan said, "Uh,
you sure you don't want to slow down a bit, Carol? All kiddin'
aside, hon, I just beat you pretty bad."
"Forget about it," she said. "This isn't the
first time I quit the Avengers." He was glad she was
speaking low enough for the conversation to be audible to
only the two of them. "Y'know?" she continued. "You
wanna know why? You wanna know what the big deal was with
the Avengers? I made a few lousy mistakes."
Wolverine nursed his brew and waited.
"They knew I had turned into Binary and was hangin'
out with the Starjammers for a time. I had powers--y'know--big
time. But when I found out I'd lost the powers I had as Binary,
I kept it a secret from the rest of the team. And I'll admit
it. That was wrong. But it didn't warrant the kind of treatment
Logan said, "Maybe not. But you betrayed their trust,
darlin'. If there's one thing I've learned over the years,
especially during the time I've spent with the X-Men, it's
that you can't ever do that."
She didn't seem to be listening. All she was interested in
doing was finishing the rest of her beer. The Canadian mutant
decided, silently, that he'd better make sure she didn't have
another one. One more game, and then he'd take her home. Or
maybe he should take her back to Xavier's, to spend the night
where he could keep an eye on her.
But on top of that, he knew that the Avengers business was
hurting her badly. And he had a feeling she hadn't told him
all the truth about her dismissal.
That hurt him, too.
About that time the TV hung from the pole near the ceiling
did a news bulletin. That always seemed to happen when you
were a superhero, and you had a night off.
This time, it was about a female mutant named Powerhouse,
who was a renegade and who was tearing up stuff outside the
UN building. Wolverine judged he had to help subdue her. Public
sentiment was strong enough against mutants as it was, and
Xavier was right when he said good mutants always had to show
up to fight the bad ones, as a demonstration of their own
He wanted to call Carol a cab. Even though she was wobbly
as a Congressman's morals, she wouldn't hear of it. She insisted
on turning into Warbird and flying him into battle.
Warbird dropped Logan off and let him strike Powerhouse a
few times, then started unleashing energy blasts at their
foe. Or at least, where she thought their foe was. The blasts
went wide of the target every time, and endangered civilians.
Instead of one problem to deal with, Wolverine had two.
Powerhouse got within range of Carol when she swooped down
and knocked her flat.
Wolverine grudgingly admitted that, under the circumstances,
that wasn't such a bad deal.
He finally got inside Powerhouse's guard, landed a roundhouse
left, and put the bimbo out for the count. An ambulance came
up. Warbird was recovering from the short knockout she'd suffered.
She even acted a little more sober. Hell, a lot more sober.
Logan stooped to help another guy who looked like a casualty.
He touched him.
Second bad mistake.
The guy had been possessed by a Zennan, a female spirit-entity
from outer space, a criminal who had just escaped a prison
Now the Zennan took over Wolverine's body, and wanted to
have some fun.
Warbird was approaching him. "Wolverine, what's going
on? Where's Powerhouse? Did we win? Uh, Wolvie? Is everything
He gave her a terrible smile.
Then he lashed out with both sets of claws and ripped a hole
across her belly.
Continued in Chapter
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