FACESPACE STATUS: IT'S COMPLICATED/MULTIPLE LIFETIMES INVOLVED.
He thumbed through his phone and various Spotify playlists before finding one that seemed to fit the evening, and it was only a few moments before music began to filter through the outdoor speakers, loud enough for him to hear but not so loud that the neighbors would complain. Once that was all set, he swiped through various apps before finding Signal and shot Cara a quick text.
Want to keep me company? Getting the grill ready for dinner.
A beat. Another ‘whoosh’ of a sent message.
.. Dad shorts? 😍
Her small chuckle was audible from somewhere in the house before she appeared, hair in a knot at the top of her head and swimsuit expertly secured. Chasing a four-year-old around a pool, while entertaining, hadn’t been the most relaxing thing in the last forty-eight hours. She’d give it another go around dinner -- one more attempt before the weekend closed itself out.
Between the unasked questions and known facts between the parties at dim sum, she’d been fighting off Carol’s instincts all day -- making a moving meditation of mentally identifying, circling, and working with them instead of against. It was harder than it looked, and just as exhausting. Danvers wasn’t done trying to figure out who’d hurt her friends -- her newly-acquired family -- and she didn’t seem eager to let this one rest with a single win.
Once again, Carol was acknowledged and faded backward, evanescing into more of a muscle-memory than a narrator as Cara rounded toward Wyatt’s lounge chair. Her greeting was soft, and the way she bent over the chair from behind to touch her lips to his forehead was even more so.
Dad shorts are in the laundry.
He laughed as he punctuated the text with an exaggerated sad emoji before locking his phone and setting it down on a nearby side table. With salmon and vegetables marinating in the fridge, dinner tonight would be a breeze, and he had opted to take his own sweet time getting there. The way he saw it, there was no need to rush through a lazy Sunday when all that awaited him on the other side was a Monday morning that would be spent in traffic.
He closed his eyes momentarily, a dull pang hitting each of his temples and reminding him of Tony's presence. Stark had been inconveniently absent the week that Cara had been taken and since then, had only really started to make his presence known piece by piece. Unfortunately, one of those pieces was in the form of a poorly timed furry joke, and he'd felt guilty enough to attempt to demand more time at the forefront, as if that would somehow make up for his disappearing act or keep Wyatt and his loved ones safe.
He had started small; that morning workshop time had been mostly Tony's. Dim sum had been all Wyatt. The afternoon nap had been impossible to discern, and how Wyatt's head wasn't spinning at the back and forth volleying between the two remained a mystery.
He felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth upon contact. "Hi," he greeted. "Are you sure tomorrow isn't some kind of federal holiday we don't know about?"
“Both brains are unfortunately sure that it’s a no,” Cara replied, hitting her last vowel with the kind of crackle that’d signified her own frustration with the conclusion. Two more hummed, playful presses of lips later, she gave the grill a glance, pondering it before moving the few steps she’d needed to sit and dip her legs into the pool.
The chill sent welcome goosebumps up her arms, and rather than wait out her own adjustment, she gave in to a more daring impulse and slid all the way in after a few seconds. A small grunt and flurry of activity while she doused her head later, Cara leaned with her arms on the ground and her feet dangling behind her -- submitting to the weightlessness of the water.
He caught her glance towards one corner of the backyard and shook his head, offering Cara a lazy smile. "I cleaned it off. Shouldn't take long to cook so I figured we could take our time with it tonight."
Wyatt glanced at his phone again to check the time before setting it back down, this time for good. "Want company?" he asked as he climbed out of the lounge chair, letting out a small groan as he did so. "...Don't judge me."
She’d nodded as soon as he’d asked the question, but hummed out a laugh when she’d heard him decry the act of leaving the chair. Cara tipped her head back into the water again, swiping under her eyes to catch any errant mascara before glancing over at a fully-unfolded Wyatt; her partner in all this since the very beginning. There was something in her, in that moment, that seemed to find a truth that ran directly parallel to that statement.
That something was the same urging that’d brought her into the water in the first place, and Cara knew it was less of a thing.. And more of a person. Carol understood this feeling too, it’d seemed, when she glanced across the few feet between them to watch what she’d come to know as Tony’s new face. One of her best friends, even if it’d take a small degree of torture to get her to admit it.
“Water’s fine,” she offered as he neared the edge of the pool, floating backward just a little bit.
He pulled his t-shirt over his head and tossed it aside, letting it drape the chair that he had just left behind. Wyatt stepped out of his slides and abandoned them somewhere on the pool deck; Noodles wasn't likely to run off with one of them again, he hoped, and even if she did -- well, what did it matter? They were home.
He lowered himself into the water in one swift, oft-practiced motion and submerged himself underwater entirely for a few moments. He brushed his hair out of his face once he came up for air and slicked it back before catching Cara's eye and meeting her gaze with a small smile. There went the pang at his temples again, Tony making his presence known; a reminder that he was sharing his own body twenty-four/seven these days. "I'd say this was a pretty good weekend, all things considered."
“I’d say so, Baywatch,” Cara replied easily, dipping herself into the water up to her nose, and then back to standing height once again. Her own smile was warm, and there was something easy, familiar about the affectionate tease. Carol wasn’t fighting it or dared say it wasn’t true when it came to what she knew about the man (men?) across from her. That said, her warm smile turned to a grin, even as the dull ache radiated over her right eye.
“Good food, safe people,” she continued, turning to float on her back, head and eyes angled in Wyatt’s direction. She exhaled. “.. No chicken feet,” Cara added pointedly, wondering only for a beat if her verbalizing these things put them in immediate jeopardy. Nah, intuition piped up, clear as day despite the way the water over her ears garbled her immediate surroundings. We did good.
"Baywatch," he repeated with a chuckle. "That's a new one. Right up there with Fin Fang Foom Buster." Another pang, this one a little bit longer but not quite as sharp. He dipped beneath the surface of the water again as if that would help shake the feeling, but instead it persisted, the mad scientist trying to jostle his way to the forefront for one reason or another. There was only one time in their shared coexistence that Wyatt could recall a true struggle for power; a flight to JFK where he had been muttering to himself under his breath in an attempt to strike some kind of disappearing act of a deal over Thanksgiving weekend.
He surfaced again and let himself bob up and down in the water, almost curious enough to let the other man out and have free reign -- which was all that he needed to make his push for dominance. "I don't know what his fascination is with chicken feet is. It might be a delicacy but it's still a foot."
It took a moment for Cara (and Carol, for that matter) to process the shift between the two men; the actual ‘he’ and ‘his’ and who was at the wheel. While Cara ruminated, Carol’s logic won out - not for an imbalance of power, but purely for who’d reached absolute certainty first. It was a (metaphorically, at least) gloved, glowing hand that came down with command of the situation first.. The ‘situation’ being the majority of their shared consciousness.
“Started as a joke. Clearly it’s all snowballed out of control,” Carol replied, flicking some water over at Tony. “She would’ve done it if she had to, y’know,” she added -- shuddering a little as she dipped up to her shoulders. “.. And then I would’ve had nightmares for a long, long time.”
"Seems like he only wanted to do it for the kid. Or because of the kid. Which...actually, that alone might've been worth it," he smirked, letting out a laugh as he bobbed up and down in the water. Or 'bobbed', given that he could easily clear the pool's depth in Wyatt's body — his body.
She squeezed out her hair, twisting it into a rope over her shoulder before she placed her hands behind her.. Eyes casually resting on Tony as she sunk lower, up to her nose again before returning to a decent height. There was a good reason for it. Carol had taken it upon herself to perform a nonchalant and fancy trick to warm the pool a few more degrees that she’d never draw attention to, despite the casual glow-show beneath the water’s surface. This was a normal that they knew.
“Salmon’s different though,” Carol conceded once the water wasn’t making her skin prickle. “Salmon’s doable.”
He had been watching the light show with an amused look on his face, crinkles forming at his eyes and the corners of his lips turning up to form a small smile. He felt a warm sensation wash over him; Carol's little trick taking effect. "Salmon's doable," he repeated. "I'll keep that in mind." Tony leaned back into the water and swam a few feet away before letting himself float momentarily. "So," he started. "This is our new normal. Can't say I hate it. Can't say I love it, either." In response, she Carol out a breath, nodding once she’d given her lungs time to empty and her brain time to find the right words. Despite the beat of introspective silence, there weren’t any perfect metaphors, so she settled on a soft, thoughtful hum.
“I miss Lady Liberty,” she replied, glancing upward at the dimming sky; “.. Kamala and Miles,” she mused.. Concern threading its way through her tone. There was one person she was omitting, and she was omitting him intentionally.
James Rhodes had a brilliant smile, charisma for days, and was the sensible foil to Tony’s cool confidence.. And he wasn’t here. It was like he’d died all over again, she thought, but Carol had enough wits about her to play her feelings on the matter close to the chest. Tony, of all people, was the one person she didn’t need to list off that second-round-sob-story to -- he’d lost just as much as she.. If not more. That said and thought, her shoulders started to relax. They were still here. They had each other.. And she had no idea how intently she was looking at him for those few seconds. Gentle, but focused -- like Cara Davies -- before Carol broke her gaze to swim toward the pool’s wall again.
Sinking against the corner, a piqued brow lifted.
“.. Talk to me.”
He'd held her gaze, refusing to falter first as she listed off a few names belonging to people who weren't present. Their people. And when she looked away, his eyes followed her still and he joined her near the pool's corner a few moments later.
"Kamala and Miles," he echoed, shaking his head with a laugh. His list of people might have been slightly different, but it was the same in spirit. He let out a long sigh.
"It's better that they're not here," he started. "Less casualties, less risk. These things that we face here, these threats. They're almost just like home, but not. They're not quite ours. I don't want them to have to see this or to have another burden to bear."
It was becoming more and more difficult to pinpoint his weariness. Whether it was from all of the losses he had endured or whether it had anything to do with Wyatt's influence, the lines were blurred and he wouldn't have been able to give anyone a clear cut answer. "I put him in that ICU. That was me. That was too much. Too close."
It was Carol’s turn to sigh now; unfazed by his movement and taken more with what he’d said. She nodded with his statement, not shying away from Tony’s admission of recklessness.. But not addressing him punitively about it, either. He’d thought about this, of everyone, not just their own, and that fact didn’t get lost in the flare of protective energy that’d balled in her throat.
“You landed the both of you there,” she pointed out, pushing herself up in the water just slightly to give herself even footing; something closer to how things used to be. Carol couldn’t place why her body’d reached for something so subtle, but she’d pin it on Cara.. Just like she was pinning that surge of indignant nerves on her other half as well.
“I’m not about to let you hit the self-destruct button on the two of you though, you’re safe there.”
"I'm always fine," he answered perhaps a little too quickly. He shook his head and stared at pool wall opposite them. "The last thing I want to do is land him in some precarious situation where he ends up hurt, or worse. We can't lose more people." A beat of silence. "I can't lose more people."
"But there's no self-destruct button this time, because that means giving up, and we don't do that." He gave Carol a furtive glance; a moment where he was trying his damndest not to falter. Lessons had been handed out and learned, often the hard way, and he'd swallowed a tough pill a couple of weeks ago and he planned to avoid needing another dose of it, even if it meant playing by rules that weren't his. "And I did that to you, too. I shouldn't have."
Staying level, nonreactive, was probably the better of her two options, but the thought of that week -- not knowing where he was, if he was alright -- made her close her eyes (if only for a few, pained seconds). Cara's patience won out here, and she was all the more thankful for it.
He shouldn’t have left her, she wordlessly agreed, shouldn’t have left her alone to stand against an army of government officials and left Wyatt Wu to manage the fallout. Tony Stark was as integral to all of this as she was; as much of a beacon to others as Wonder Woman and Simon Baz and Jessica Drew and Peter Parker.. But even more so, a refuge for her. A constant.
Carol lifted her hand out of the water and put it on top of Tony’s, giving him a small nod. She understood, and after another pensive moment of silence, as if she were debating whether or not to start Civil War Three, and nodded again.
“I’m always fine,” she echoed, turning his words back on him and squeezing her fingertips over his knuckles.
"Always fine," he repeated again, this time in a low voice. He glanced at their hands, together, before leaning his head down to plant a firm kiss on the back of her hand. It was a gesture that might not have meant much but still managed to speak volumes. As much as he was a refuge for Carol, she had been one for him too, and he had abandoned his post without a word. Tony Stark was a man of many mistakes, some of which had been born out of panic, some out of fear, and others, like that one, a mixture of both.
He looked up at Carol once more. "I'm here. And I'm not going anywhere again."
“You’d better not,” Carol affirmed, lowering her tone to match the one given to her. “I can’t take care of all of them by myself. I mean, I can, but..” She nodded. “.. Not without you. No giving up.”
Small waves in the pool lapped into a nearby filter while the crickets’d started to chirp, and Carol shifted in the water to use the wall (plus a little of her own strength; water was too similar to zero-gravity) as leverage to give him a small kiss on the cheek.
It wasn’t the kind of face-burying, breathless hug that’d happened once or twice. This was something else; a display of affection that hadn’t quite hit its mark over the last few months. The sentiment had gone, percolating, under the guise of irritation and bull-headed battle decisions, accidental outbursts in emergency rooms, and even as far as defending a missing Stark to her best friend.
Carol breathed there for a moment, processing things, with her lips against Tony’s cheek; tilting her forehead against his temple before moving back to her position against the wall.
"You shouldn't have to do it on your own," he managed to muster. "So, no giving up." His mouth was pressed into a thin line.
Affection between the two of them wasn't anything new, though it was usually Carol doling it out rather than the other way around. Tony showed his affection in other ways: small gestures, dinners, jokes that, when they were executed correctly with his trademark boyish grin, still earned him a punch (if not more) that was never actually delivered.
A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth and he had only just begun to lean into the gesture when Carol pulled away. He looked over at her once again, his whole body turning to face her as he felt a sudden sense of calm. Any residual guilt that he had been feeling was suddenly gone. Tony leaned in carefully and cautiously with one hand resting on the pool's concrete edge and the other moving to Carol's hip. His mouth met hers in a small but tender kiss before he pulled away, half-expecting her to clock him in the jaw for making yet another impulse decision.
Fifty percent was fifty percent, and sentimentality in this new normal was winning out. Coupled with a haze of shock, Carol bit down on her bottom lip when he’d lifted his head, feeling his nose bump against the crown of her head. These sensations weren’t new to this life; this person with whom she shared mental and physical space. Carol usually found herself blinking out of existence, away from consciousness when things felt too voyeuristic or too private, but this.. This course of action had come with little to no resistance.
It was as alarming as it was relieving.
Wires had crossed. Things had changed. So many things were different while so many had stayed the same, and when she glanced back up at Tony, it was just sly enough. Carol didn’t clock him in the jaw, no, but one hand reached up to hold him by the jaw, confident and collected, despite the delicate tone of the situation. Mirth flickered through his eyes as Carol moved her hand, but the look settled and Tony stood with a subtle smile drawn across his face. He got a knowing squint in reponse to that look. It was one they both knew, no matter what faces they wore, and it was more than enough.
The next time Carol lifted her head to reply to the touch of his mouth to hers, she did it with a tilted smile of her own. In that moment, a levee seemed to crack and give between Cara Davies and Carol Danvers -- both women being granted a unified ‘yes’ when it came to kissing the man before them with intent.
He let his hands wander, both of them now gently resting on her hips, and he let himself enjoy the kiss for a few moments before regretfully pulling away. He was still anticipating a slap or some kind of scolding, even if it was delayed; some kind of pushback seemed right here given Carol and Tony's history, both at home and here. But none of that happened and he leaned in again once more.
"And you're okay with this happening?" he asked against her lips. Tony didn't bother waiting for an answer before tilting his head and kissing her once more, this time pulling her closer to him as he did so. For once, the voice in his head said nothing. This felt right.
Was she okay with this happening? Was he?
In the immediate, the collective answer, it seemed -- as could’ve been inferred by the way she’d arched into his shifting hands rather than away -- was a resounding yes; and when they eventually broke for air (reminded of the new bodies, the new lives they’d been forced to adapt to), Carol felt her brow thoughtfully furrow. Some things never changed, no matter what face she wore.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to kiss someone,” said carefully, knowing full-well the impact of what she could’ve carelessly said. It was just as pertinent as the things she hadn’t said all together. Their dynamic was a complicated one, and it had reached a new degree of delicate; he knew it as well as she.. But there was something about toeing that precarious line, stepping forward and forward again, that felt genuine. The newness of it all, in tandem with this new existence, seemed fitting.
Carol made an intentional pause while she drew her focus away from the way his heartbeat felt against her skin, or his breath felt on her cheek.It was an admirable attempt at centering herself before Davies’ draw to Wu, and Danvers' own emotional maelstrom had started to run themselves ragged in her head. The zig-zagging -- when she gave it too much thought -- was dangerous.
“.. Are you?”
"Since when do I do anything I'm not okay with?" A pause, a smirk, and then a quiet laugh. "Nevermind, don't answer that." Whether it was Wyatt's influence or the fact that he had been given yet another chance to live a good life, Tony had no intention of letting any opportunities go to waste in this lifetime. His past was littered with instances where he felt like he carried the weight on his shoulders; even with a capable team it was a heavy burden to bear. But now, in a world where the threats from home were the exception and not the norm, he could breathe a little. Take a vacation every now and then. Try to have a life of his own.
That life, he had come to realize, looked an awful lot like the one that was sitting before him. He had a good job — albeit one that could be mind-numbing at times — but it was rewarding more often than not and he knew that Wyatt was doing some good in the world in his own way. And as much as he couldn't understand why Wyatt chose to use his skills on something that seemed so beneath him, he knew that there was something to be said for choosing the road that he had despite the resources and opportunities available to him.
He looked at Carol once again. The distance between them was still at a minimum and for once, he had nothing for her but a warm smile. "I'm okay with this."