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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.

Carol finished telling Tony her story with the incident of Dr. Keller and her promise. Tony paused a second and then said, "Well, then, looks like you're going to have to keep that promise. Want to stay at my place for awhile when you get back to town, Carol?"

She considered it. "I might come over for a short while, Tony, but not right now. I've got work to do. I've been doing a little bit for Tech Support, and I need to keep that going."

"You can make phone calls or e-mails just as easily from my place as from yours," he said. "And we'd love to have you."

"Well, thanks, Tony," she said. "I need to get healed up first, then I'm going to see the folks. Then I'll be back in Seattle, and maybe I can drop by then. I need some time to myself to figure out the next book. Plus my publisher is going to want me to hit the road for the promo thing after the first one gets published, which isn't that far away. So that's how it goes."

"I understand."

"Uh, Tony? How's the metal thing going?"

He sighed. "I don't know yet, Carol. Once I get past the hump, maybe I can analyze the problem factor and design something different.  But...we're in kind of the same boat right now."

"Yeah. Both walking wounded." She paused. "Funny how much alike we both turned out to be."

"I suppose." Tony paused again. "Just...take care, Carol. Remember, when you need someone to talk to, I'll try to be here."

"Thanks, Tony. But I have a feeling you'll be back in action before very long."

"Oh, I hope so." There was a note in his voice that let Carol know that Iron Man was too much a part of his life to be abandoned long for anything. God help her, she knew the feeling.

They rang off. Later on, her publisher talked to her, commisserated with her, and learned that she'd be back on track before much longer. He asked her to do a book about the Wolverine slashing incident, but she said she didn't want to. Not right then, anyway.

A day later, Scott Summers and Jean Grey paid a visit to her room.

Both looked immaculately dressed and discomfited. Jean was dressed in a green three-piece ensemble and was holding Scott's hand. Scott wore a black T-shirt without a logo and brown pants, plus his trademark shades. It was a diplomatic mission, and all three knew it, but both of the mutants were genuinely concerned with Carol.

"Afternoon, Scott." Carol Danvers smiled wanly, looking up from her copy of Newsweek.

"Hello, Carol," ventured Summers. "It's good to see you again, just wish it didn't have to be like this."

"Both of us are sorry for what happened, Carol," murmured Jean. "I know that sounds inadequate, but it's all we can say."

Carol set the magazine aside. "I know. Have you visited the others Logan slashed?"

"Um, some of them," said Scott.

"Yes, we've been by Black Cat's room, and some of the others," said Jean. "They're recovering."

"How about the civilians?" said Carol. "Are they holding up well?"

"Seem to be, from what we've heard," said Scott. "I, uh, didn't think it'd be a good idea to see them in our other suits. You know our official status."

"You couldn't visit them in your civvies?" Carol stared at him.

"Well, there is the problem of secret identities," Scott replied.

Jean looked uncomfortable. Carol shrugged. She hadn't been out of her room much since being stricken, either. "Well, what the hell," she said. "Have you figured out what happened to Logan?"

Scott shook his head. "He hasn't gotten back yet. I wanted to ask you about him."

"We need to know if he was under control, or just whacked out on berserker rage," added Jean.

Carol settled back against her pillow. "Something else was inside of him. Or somebody was mind-controlling him. I've been around Logan enough to know when he's not himself. And I've seen his berserker bits. This was different from that. He was slashing indiscriminately, but he held himself back from killing." She paused. "Sometimes, only a little."

"Well, that's a relief," said Scott. "But it's going to be a problem. Wolverine's committed assault now, and I don't know how you can prove mind control in a court of law."

Carol said, "He's committed assault and a lot more before this. He's killed people, Scott. It's just that, up to now, he killed bad guys."

Jean plopped herself into a chair. "I really don't know what to say to you, Carol. After all this time...I really don't know what to say."

Scott stepped nearer to her bedside. "Sometimes, the only thing that we can offer is sympathy. I'm sorry, Carol. None of us knew he would go off like that."

Carol closed her eyes. "Scott. Did they tell you I was drunk at the time?"


Jean's voice joined Scott's. "What do you mean, drunk, Carol? What is this?"

She snapped her eyes open again. "So the Avengers haven't told you yet? I'm an alcoholic, Jean. I was plastered when I was out with Logan. I insisted on going with him to face Powerhouse. Guess I wanted to prove I could still cut it. It's a miracle I didn't injure someone myself. Now I've got to go to Al-Anon and do blood and urine tests when I go back to Seattle."

Jean was immediately at Carol's bedside, hanging onto the metal railing. "But that's terrible, Carol. We never knew you had a, a drinking problem. I mean, sure, we saw you take a drink or two when you were at the mansion. But I didn't think you were alcoholic."

"I didn't think I was either, Jean," said Carol, looking at her sadly. "Maybe it was just building. When I lost my Binary powers, maybe it just...ah, hell. It gave me a place to go where I didn't hurt anymore. That's why I did it. Just crept up on me." She looked at both of them. "I'd still like to go back there. But I just don't dare."

Scott touched Carol's hand, trying to reassure her, but she pulled back. "Scott, please," she said.

"Sorry," said Scott, awkwardly. "Is there anything we can do, Carol? Jean might be able to put some blocks in your mind against overindulgence."

"Nuts to that," said Carol. "I've had people screwing around with my mind long enough. I don't want Jeannie, Xavier, or anyone else doing it again. Nope, Scott, I'm just going to get out of here, go back to Seattle, and be a good little writer and sober person. That's all. But thanks."

Jean said, "You didn't mention, uh, being Warbird. Are you giving that up?"

Carol stretched a bit, to give herself time to answer. "I really don't know, Jean. I'm considering it. I've had more trouble than I could have imagined since I started the hero bit. It never seems to end. I'm thinking of just putting the mask, boots, and bathing suit back in the trunk. It'd be nice to be a civilian again. It really would."

Scott said, "I know how you feel, in a way. We've all been banged around in this business. I lost my parents early on, I watched teammates die. We started out as heroes, with government approval. Now we're just kind of outlaws, and people seem to hate mutants more than ever. On top of that, once a month we've got to face some numbskulls who want to kill us."

Carol noted that he didn't speak of his marriage to Madeline Pryor, which he'd walked out on after Jean Grey turned up among the living again. She had been at that wedding, but not at Scott and Jean's nupitals. But she didn't bring it up. She just said, "But you keep doing it. You and Jean both."

Jean spoke up. "We have to, Carol. If we don't show the world that good mutants exist, where will we be?"

"Where are you now?"

Scott exhaled. "We don't ever seem to be able to walk away from it for long. I imagine we'll retire someday, but as long as we're still relatively young, I guess Jean and I will always be on the treadmill. It's what we do."

Jean touched Carol's shoulder, and Carol didn't shrink back. "But it may not be the right thing for you, Carol. You've been raped, mind-raped, had your powers stolen, got new ones, lost them, and now this. But it looks like you've got a life outside of the Warbird thing. Maybe being Carol Danvers is what you need to be."

"I'm considering it, Jean. I'm really considering it. What are you going to do about Wolverine?"

Scott said, "If and when he gets back, we'll find out what caused his assault. If he can't control it, then...he's out. If he does turn out to have been controlled by an outside force, we'll try and convince the heroic community of it. The X-Men have already been footing the hospital bills for you and the other victims, through a blind. It's risky, but we felt we had to do it. But I've got a proposition for you, Carol."

"Oh?" She waited.

"Why not move back into the mansion with us? At least for awhile. We could help you keep on the straight and narrow as far as the booze is concerned. You'd be among friends. You wouldn't even have to be Warbird, if you didn't want to. Just think about it."

"No, Scott," Carol replied. "I appreciate it, but--no. I've got a life in Seattle, now. I've got to face this thing on my own. Besides, I know what the X-Men's lives are like. You get attacked all the time. I'd have to pitch in as Warbird--and I want to make my own decision about being Warbird. I can only do that if a team isn't relying on me. Do you understand what I'm saying."

He nodded. "Yep," he said. "I really do. It's been fine working with you, Carol, and we both wish you the best with whatever you decide on.   Friends?" He stuck out his hand.

She shook it. "Friends," she said. "Let me know about Wolvie when he turns up again."

"Depend on it," said Scott.

Jean came near and hugged Carol. "Anybody that can come through what the Brood did to you can come through a booze problem," she said. "We're all pulling for you, Carol. Call on us if you need us."

"Thanks, Jean," said Carol. "Uh, you can tell Rogue I said hi."

Jean smiled. "I will. Think you've finally buried the hatchet with her?"

"It's not that simple. I don't know if I'd be comfortable with her on a long-term basis. But...we've worked together. So maybe we will in the future. If."

"Yes," said Scott. "If. You know where to reach us, Carol. Goodbye, and good luck."

"And good life, too," said Jean, squeezing Carol's hand. Then both of them left her room.

After a few moments, Carol pulled the tray with her laptop on it closer to the bed, turned it on, and began working on the book again. She reflected on the fact that the doctors were now letting her eat oatmeal and things of that consistency.

Maybe by next week she'd be back up to steak.

Marie Danvers made it back to Carol's bedside the next day. She was glad to see her daughter was fairly ambulatory, even though the doctors had told her to take it easy. "I expect to be out in a week," said Carol. "This hybrid phys of mine works wonders. But it'll be a couple of weeks more before I try really strenuous stuff. And saving the sun is completely out." She was glad to hear her mother laugh at that.

Marie said, "Sometimes I wish you could just tell Joe about all this. But I don't know. Maybe he's better off not knowing. And I know you're better off not seeing this Wolverine ever again."

"It'll depend on whether he was insane, or under outside control, Mom," said Carol. "The X-Men will let me know."

"Carol, to hell with the X-Men. I don't care about the X-Men. Any bunch of, of super-heroes who would let a killer like that in is not to be trusted. The man gutted you. He is an absolute menace. You cannot allow yourself to get near him again."

"Mom," said Carol, firmly. "I've seen Wolvie in battle conditions, and out of them...way out of them. As in, up close and personal. The man is not dangerous to his friends. Or at least, he wasn't before now."

"He cut you open. If there hadn't been medical people there, you'd be dead. For God's sake, Carol, what are you thinking? He put you in this hospital bed!"

"I could've put some people here myself, Mom, if not for the grace of God," said Carol, quietly. "I fell off the wagon."

"You what?" Marie's eyes widened.

Carol told her the story of the night at Hardcase's, her fall from sobriety, the incident with Powerhouse, and what the doctor had said to her. By the time she had finished, Marie was gently crying. Carol got out of bed and held her. She didn't attempt to say anything more at that point.

"You can't keep doing this," said Marie, through her tears. "You're killing me. You're really killing me."

"Maybe I've been killing myself, Mom," Carol answered. "Maybe this is just my wake-up call. I've been thinking about being Warbird, Mom. I've been thinking about just giving it up."

"Carol, there are plenty of heroes out there," Marie said. "But I've only got one daughter. I've already lost a son. Don't make me go through that again."

"I don't want to, Mom. I don't plan on getting killed." She smiled, grimly, and gestured to the wrappings about her abdomen. "But I didn't plan on this, either. I just don't know."

"Well, I do know! And I don't want to have to go to your funeral before you go to mine."

"Good Lord, Mama, what do you want me to do? I've been in this sort of stuff ever since I got out of high school. I was a fighter jock, a spy, a security officer, all of that before I got to be a super-heroine. I got caught by the friggin' KGB and almost got killed in Lubyanka Prison. I went on dangerous assignments with Logan, that same guy who almost gutted me, and there wasn't anybody this side of Nick Fury who was a better man to have on your side."

"He wasn't on your side this time."

"He wasn't himself, Mom. He was under control by somebody else, or crazy. I know Logan. He's a friend of mine...a really good friend."

Marie wiped her eyes. "A really good friend. He gets you into a pool hall, you get drunk, and then he almost guts you. That's a really, really good friend, Carol. I should take him to my next bridge club meeting. Maybe somebody'll bring Jack the Ripper, too."

Carol sighed. "I want to go back to bed, Mom. Is it okay with you?"

"Sure, sure." Marie took a handkerchief from her purse and cleaned her eyes and nose with it. "Everything's okay. I'm just the little woman who has to act like a statue anytime one of my kids gets hurt. Or killed. Carol, please. Stop doing this. I beg of you."

Carol swung her legs back into bed, and then tented her fingers. "Mom, tell you what. I'm going back to Seattle after I get well. I've got some work to do and I want to get back in touch with Tracy and some others up there in the office. After that, I have about a month or so before the book tour. I want to spend some of that time with you out at the lake where we used to go. No superheroes, no bad guys. Just you and me. I can use the time to get ahead on my next book, and we can just, you know, talk. If you want to. If Dad doesn't mind."

"Mind?" Marie sniffled. "The way your luck runs, you'll be dead before you can get there."

"Not if I don't do super-hero stuff, Mom. And I won't."

Marie looked up, with a note of hope in her eyes.

Carol said, "I've been thinking the Warbird thing over. I'll need more time to decide, I know. I like the powers I've got, like using them. But using them the way I have seems to have gotten me into a lot of grief. I'm either doing things wrong, or I'm wrong to be doing them at all. I don't have the Binary powers anymore, and there's a lot of heroes who could take up the slack if Warbird quit."

"If you...quit?" said Marie.

Carol nodded. "It's a possibility. I haven't made up my mind yet. But I'm going to take some time off and make it up. If it's just me and you down there, we can talk freely. If Dad was there...dammit, I hate keeping it from him. But I know he wouldn't understand."

Marie said nothing.

"So what do you say, Mom? I could go there on my own, but if you're there, at least I'll have someone I can talk to." Carol waited.

Finally, Marie said, "I'll talk to your father about it. I think he'll be okay with it. You know, he doesn't like the idea that we've been keeping something from him all this time. But he still loves you. Maybe someday you should tell him."

Carol shook her head. "It's been hard enough on you with you knowing. I just don't want to tell Dad. Not yet."

"All right, Carol. And you want to know something else?"

"Tell me," said Carol.

Marie grasped Carol's hand. "Even if you do decide to keep being Warbird, God help us, we'll always love you. Joe and I both. But I do hope you give it up."

"We'll see, Mom," said Carol. "We'll just see."

A short time later, Carol was released from the hospital and went back to Seattle. The first place she went after getting unpacked was Tracey Burke's office, where she collected a big hug and a lot of conversation and a couple of new assignments. She decided that she'd wait a day before making an appointment for Warbird to take a urine test.

When she got back to her apartment again there was a call waiting for her on her phone. It was from Wolverine.

He said he was in town because of what had happened and he had to see her, in a place of her choosing. He said that "another party" was in control of what happened the last time. He left a number for her to call.

Carol wasn't prepared for the fear she experienced when she heard his voice. This was, after all, a man with whom she had made love many times, vigorously. A man who had saved her from a Russian prison. A man with whom she had entrusted her life on multiple occasions.

A man who had almost gutted her, the last time they met.

She fought to keep her terror down, and, when she made the mental pun of a "gut reaction," almost had to laugh.

In actuality, she would have been pleased never to see him again.

But he owed her. He owed her an explanation, and he owed her a lot for having put her in a place where she succumbed to the urge to booze again. She knew intellectually it was her fault for having gone there, it was her fault for having picked up the beer, it was her fault for not having told him of her problem.

Nonetheless, she still felt he owed her. And she was curious.

She was also damned well determined not to develop a phobia.

Carol hardened herself, picked up the receiver again, and called the number he had given her.

"Logan," said the voice on the other end.

"It's me, Logan," said Carol.

"Carol. I was hoping it was you. I--"

"You almost killed me, you sonofabitch."

"I know. It wasn't me in control. I want to explain, Carol. But it's got to be face to face."

She sighed. "Are you in control now? Will you be in control when we meet?"

"Absolutely," he said. "That situation is resolved. Please, Carol, let me make it up to you."

"You can't," she said. "I'm not going to carve a hole in your belly. But. I will let you explain. And you had better be damned convincing."

"Okay. I'll try."

She gave him the name of one of her favorite eateries. "I'll be there at 7:30. You buy us both dinner. No booze for either of us. Understand?"

"Yes, hon, I understand."

"Don't ‘hon' me. Not yet. Not until I'm convinced. Goodbye."

She hung up on him. For a long moment, she considered calling back and telling him the whole thing was off.

Then she went into the bathroom and started to get ready.

She showed up at precisely 7:35 and saw Logan seated at one of the tables. He was easy to pick out, even in a black suit and a white tie. Before the maitre-d could come up to her, she sauntered over to Logan's table. He was drinking Perrier. He looked up.

"You've got exactly one minute, Logan," she said, standing there in her blue jumpsuit. "This better be good."

He cleared his throat. "Carol, I'm sorry about what happened. It wasn't me that hurt you, darlin'. But a real explanation is gonna run me way over the time limit."

She searched his eyes, found the old Logan there. Was there a chance he'd go crazy again, try to maim her and a dozen other people in a rage?

Before she could think more, he stood up and put his arms around her, and pecked her on the cheek. "It's good to see you again. Especially after what went down."

"So tell me about it," she heard herself saying.

"You want to order first?"

She shrugged. Logan motioned a waiter over. She ordered steak. "I wasn't able to eat anything like this for a couple of weeks, you know," she told Logan.

"Yeah," he said, ruefully. "I know."

The waiter, figuring they were lovers patching up a quarrel, withdrew discreetly. Logan said, "All right. It starts with this alien called Aria. She was from a prison planet. She took control of my body, all to get me to help free thousands of people that were bein' held against their will by the Collector. You know about the Collector?"

"The Avengers told me about him," she said. "You helped a murderess free a planet full of space-cons?"

"It wasn't like that," he said. "And I didn't free very many of ‘em. Galactus saw to that."


"Yeah. Galactus," said Logan. With that, he launched into the story of the Zennian woman who had possessed him, the struggle to free the prisoners of the Collector's world, with the help of Torgo the robot-being and the Starjammers, and how a few had been saved, while the many perished with their world when Galactus ate its energy.

At the end, Carol said, "That's some story."

"I guess it is," he said. "But it's all true."

"And this...Aria...can't take over your body anymore?"

"No," said Wolverine. "She's dead. Charley's helped put up some blocks in my mind to make it very hard for someone to do that to me again. Maybe impossible. I hope. doesn't change what I did to you or the others, Carol. I'm sorry."

"I believe you, Logan. You've never lied to me before...and I know how crazy things get in the cosmic sphere." She paused. "But I'm still afraid of you."

"I'm afraid of me too, sometimes. But I'll never lay a hand on you again. Ever."

She put her hand on his.

He attempted a smile.

"Can ya forgive me, Carol?"

"If it wasn't you...then there's nothing to forgive. But I can't get as close to you as I once was, Logan. We're still friends, though."

He nodded. "All right. I'll accept that. Carol,'s your problem?"

She said, "I'm working on it. Haven't taken a drink since then. I'm going to take a short bit off soon and work through a few things."

"Then you'll be back as Warbird?"

"We'll just have to see, Logan," she said. "We'll just have to see."


Continued in Chapter 17.

A note:
Thanks for sticking with me through all this rehash and expansion of Carol Danvers's past, folks. The only way I could make her checkered history make sense to me, and to my readers, I felt, was by retelling her entire history up to the point that my story proper would start. I thought I could get it done in four parts.
Now, 16 chapters later, we're all grounded enough in Carol's story that I can progress from here. The next episode will begin an original story. Be watching for it. I hope you'll enjoy it. Till later...


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