Down-Home Charm Photo Album Songbank Fan-Fiction History Books Fan Art Miscellania Links
Fan-Fiction >
Serious stories >
"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.

"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 about?"

"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.

It was.

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 the sky.

Warbird swooped down and caught him. She could sense his injury. War Machine flew off, and she didn't even try to stop him.

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," barked Jane.

"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 it?"

"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 write on?"

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."

"Oh, no."

"Hank Pym, you know, Giant-Man?"

"I knew him as Yellowjacket," said Carol. "What about him?"

"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," she said.

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 right thing."

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 for everything."

"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 smiling.

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, Logan speakin'."

"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 okay."

"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 kiosk.

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 beer.

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 fifth.

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," he said.

Carol disengaged from him, lifted the stein to her mouth, and chugged the remainder. She held out the empty glass to him.

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 I got."

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 trustworthiness.

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.

Bad mistake.

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 world.

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 all right?"

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 15.


Down-Home Charm / Fan-Fiction / Fan Artwork / History Books / Photo Album / Songbank / Miscellania / Links / Updates

Legalese: Rogue, the X-Men, and the distinctive likenesses thereof are Trademarks of Marvel Characters, Inc. and are used without permission. This is an unofficial fansite, and is not sponsored, licensed or approved by Marvel Comics.
Privacy Policy and Submission Guidelines