Best friends discuss the complications of a world wipe & compete for shittiest deal.
Perhaps the strangest thing, Jess had found, about technically having two sets of memories of the last two years was that one was very clearly more real than the other. There was no doubt in her mind that the life she'd lived in the alternate world - the happy one, with the friends and the calm and the peace - had been real, it was just that every day she lived back here just made what had once seemed to be the only reality tha tmuch more fantastical. Of course she wasn't welcomed back into the team with open arms. Of course she didn't get rescued quickly. Of course she hadn't cut ties with everyone she'd come to know, in an effort to keep from resenting them. What was wrong with her that she thought any of those things were true or possible? If anything was constant in the craziness that was her life, her reacting in the worst possible way to the worst possible crap was.
That was what made this whole thing - this trying to reconnect with friends thing - so much harder. Every day, she forgot a little of what it was like to be close to them. It was just so much easier to hang on to the life she'd made for herself here; to not fight for friendships and relationships that could only ever be real in a fictional version of reality. Because the truth was, now that she was back here, she remembered just how pissed she was. Not just at the situation, either. At Carol. She was so very pissed at Carol.
She'd be the first to admit that that wasn't exactly fair, but her emotions had never been great at 'fair.'
She plunged her hands into her pocket as she waited for Carol in front of the restaurant, already patting herself on the back for this choice (because if she was going to be awkward and bitter, she was going to be awkward and bitter with awesome pizza, dammit). She just hoped that they didn't go all crazy violent pissed and accidentally destroy the place. She really loved it here.
Carol was struggling.
It wasn't entirely obvious, she never really let it be all that obvious, but she was. Days spent already cooped up in her apartment, remembering what it'd been like in Tony's mother's mansion -with friends and team mates and a lover right there alongside her, trying to fight through the constant urge to just scream at how screwed up this all was. She'd never been the type to run away from things, but right then she just wanted some way to get Wanda to undo it all, to make it the way it'd been, to lie to them some more.
She was late for meeting Jess. About five minutes behind when she'd left her apartment and then the traffic only made it worse. Which just reminded her over and over about how she was grounded, tied down, anchored to the planet that she really didn't want to be stuck on right there. She missed the sky more than she missed her fake life right then.
Wrapped up tight, mask of indifference to Jessica's decision to just run off herself already in place, Carol turned the corner onto the street and headed for the restaurant, catching sight of Jess instantly and trying to match up memories of having seen her just a short while ago, and memories of the stunted distance she'd put between them since her previous return. "Hey."
She hadn't been this awkward with Jess for years.
"Hi." Jess greeted with a tight smile as Carol walked up, not liking what she was seeing. She was somewhat a self-absorbed person by nature, but the sheer amount of time she'd spent around Carol meant that she had no trouble reading her friend's body language. This? This was tightly wound, wish-I-could-punch-something, Carol. Sure, things weren't great between them at the moment, and awkward-Carol was very much present, but tightly wound Carol was different. Something was amiss. Weirdly, whatever this was was likely present and active the last time they'd talked in this version of the world. It irked her a little to know that she hadn't caught on before.
She opened the door for her erstwhile best friend, silently letting her enter the warm restaurant before her. Her latent irritation was quickly mixing with something akin to guilt, and the niggling feeling that she wasn't going to like the answer to the question she'd undoubtedly ask.
Capizzi was small, with barely a dozen tables dotting the cramped space, and Jess would be lying if she said that that wasn't one of the reasons she'd chosen this place for lunch. Being so close to other diners inevitably made private conversation difficult, and she'd been banking on both of them not wanting to put in the effort.
Now, though, as the waitress led them to the one table in the place that was relatively isolated (seriously, did she moonlight as a telepathic therapist, or was Jess just paranoid?), she found she didn't mind as much as she thought she would.
She took her seat with a smile to the waitress, barely letting Carol get settled before she'd blurted, "Split a plate of spinach balls?" Food was a language that she spoke fluently, okay? Sue her.
Awkward and uncomfortable was not something that Carol tended to be around Jess; ridiculous and dorky, yes. But unless there was something festering, her awkwardness and discomfort were usually reserved for others. Jess was the one she'd known longest, the one who knew the most, but right then, it was like sitting with a different person, and really, Carol wasn't sure which memory set to use as a guide right then.
Stifling a small laugh, Carol nodded her head slowly, "Sure, even though you're gonna eat most of those." Shedding her leather jacket, automatically going to move her hair but stopping mid-move, remembering she'd sheared it to jaw length shortly after their true reality was restored, Carol arranged herself at the table trying to be casual, picking at the menu with a critical eye. It was pizza, she knew she was going to get a veggie pizza and a pepsi, but putting things off a little wasn't so bad to her.
"You like this place then?" Obviously, since she'd picked it.
Jess looked up at Carol and gave a smile that was only half-forced, suddenly flashing back and remembering the sheer amount of food she'd claimed to be getting to share with Carol, only to eat all or the majority of it herself. It was practically tradition by now. "Damn. I thought it'd been long enough that you'd have forgotten my history by now."
The awkwardness settled right back over them as Carol picked up her menu, and Jess found herself getting restless. Now that she had a feeling something was wrong, she wanted to know what it was. She was losing patience for this weird tiptoeing thing they were doing, even if she was contributing to it just as much as Carol was.
She'd been desperately trying to come up with something to distract her from blurting out her question, when Carol took care of that problem for her. She should have known better. If there was one thing she could wax poetic about, it was good pizza.
"It's the best. Everything is authentic and hearty and the pepperoni. Oh, my god. You have to try it." She tried to glance over the menu to get an idea of what Carol was eyeing, but she already had a pretty good idea. "No, stop looking at the vegetarian options, Danvers. Stop. You're trying the pepperoni. Do you hear me?"
"A kree-human hybrid never forgets." Carol gave a small half smile, because as it was, there was a risk of her completely forgetting everything there was to ever know about everyone she loved. Which only made coming back to reality harder. Carol didn't often run from her troubles, but this was one she'd happily run from.
"I'm trying to watch my cholesterol, Drew. Bad enough I'm going to get double the cheese and extra grease, I don't think my diet will approve the pepperoni too." Which, okay, that was a slight exaggeration, because her health was fine, provided no one looked too hard at her brain, she was peak physical health. The benefits of being part Kree it seemed.
The brain lesion less so.
"How about I just steal a slice from you and let me pretend I'm at least being healthy with my veggies."
"Oh, what bull. Even without your fancy alien DNA, you're one of the healthiest people I know. You can afford pepperoni." Jess was the last person to talk to when it came to restraint in regards to food choices. Food was too be enjoyed, and with jobs like theirs? They earned the right to eat whatever they liked. But she'd never been great at convincing Carol to just let herself indulge. She was just too stubborn and disciplined. "I'll allow you half of a slice. Nothing more."
Food choices decided, she sighed in annoyance as they sank into another uncomfortable silence. She really, really hated this. Carol was the one person that really understood her, and vice versa. That they'd drifted so far apart really just... sucked. Especially now that she had a very strong feeling that something was wrong.
Well. Besides everything.
"So." Jess said, tight, closed mouth smile crossing her face. "How are things?"
Jess could dispute all she liked, Carol knew that if she waxed poetic about how right Jessica had been, and how stupid she'd been to get a veggie, and how her life hadn't been complete up until right this moment, Carol could at least get two slices of pepperoni out of Jess, at least. She just had to be convincing enough. "My fancy DNA doesn't stop my hips from expanding," and she'd been comfort eating herself through a perceived break up with a guy that didn't even exist probably. At the very least he wasn't in any way available to Carol.
With the food ordered, drinks on their way, Carol really couldn't hedge on anything other than the 'catching up' they were supposed to be doing right then anyway. "Okay, I guess." She was back on medical leave, medical leave that she hadn't really come off of fully, since they were still figuring the extent of things out when the world had shifted and suddenly everything had been fine. "Running tests and whatever else medics like to do, I think they're just drawing blood to attempt to isolate the genes." She didn't, she knew they couldn't, they knew they couldn't. They were seeing how she'd react to treatment on her brain lesion, but she wasn't bringing that up.
"What about you, back off to space then? That'll be... fun?"
"Please," Jess said, dismissing Carol's comment with a wave of her hand. "Haven't you been following Beyonce? Hips are in now. Everyone loves hips." She wiggled a little in her seat, emphasizing her own shapely figure. That was one advantage to growing up in a terrorist camp - the brutal standards of beauty that had a tendency to burrow into the brains of the young and stick around hadn't really gotten a chance with her. She'd felt insecure for awhile there, sure, but it was amazing what having people that cared more about how quickly you could take down a man twice your weight than how big your hips are. "Live a little."
Jessica furrowed her brows, not exactly liking what she heard. "Again? Why? And since when do blood tests mean enough time to have lunch dates with friends?" Maybe it was just that she was suspicious to begin with, but she was beginning to think that whatever Carol was hiding had something to do with this specific topic.
Picking up her water, she shrugged. "Probably not, but I don't do it for fun." She had been a lot more serious when it came to her work, as of late. Ever since the invasion, every mission seemed critical, and she was determined to treat it as such. "It doesn't seem like a new conflict or a crisis, though, so it likely won't be terrible. That's something, at least."
"Beyonce, is she the one with the telephone hat?" Carol was mostly jesting, she was aware enough of Beyonce damnit. Problem was, outside of the Air Force now, Carol was startlingly aware of her appearance and just where she could afford a few pounds and where she couldn't. And right then she was leaning heavily on the comfort food and could not afford more.
"Left over stuff from the coma I guess." Carol waved a hand, trying to be dismissive about it. She could get a handle on it, lock it down. It wouldn't be an issue, not really. They already told her what she couldn't do if she wanted to keep it under control. "You know what doctors are like, they just want to do more tests." She felt terrible lying to Jess, but it'd be worse to tell her and then let her go off and worry about things she didn't need to worry about.
Carol would be fine.
"You don't seem to do much for fun anymore." Not that she was judging. "But at least it's something, I'm sure Brand has something in mind." Something that apparently needed Jess on another world, but fine, okay. She was good, and Brand was smart and Jess probably wanted the distractions as much as the next person.
"Stop asking stupid questions." While she had originally intended for that statement to come out jokingly, she was immediately aware that it absolutely did not. She couldn't much help it, really; Carol was deflecting, and that made her nervous. While it was painfully, awkwardly true that they were not nearly as close as they'd once been, she still considered Carol to be her best friend (that she really didn't have anyone else in the running was neither here nor there). If something was wrong, she wanted to know.
Jess furrowed her brows, not even pausing to look down as the waitress brought their spinach balls. Sadly, she had much more pressing matters to attend to. "Left over." She said blandly, rolling the words around, before coming to a very clear conclusion: "That doesn't make any sense. Or - no. It does it makes 'let me find an excuse for my absentee friend to leave me alone about whatever it is I'm hiding' kind of sense. Not good, logical sense."
She finally looked down, pausing long enough to move a spinach ball to her plate. It was mostly a way to temporarily distract herself so that she could find a less volatile way of approaching this with Carol. She wasn't always great at not-volatile. "No, not really. But it turns out that my life's just not very fun, Carol. But then, neither is yours. Oh, that reminds me: What the hell is going on?"
With a raised eyebrow, Carol just plucked up a spinach ball to stuff in her face, stalling for a little bit of time herself. She didn't doubt that Jessica knew exactly what she was doing, subtlety was never something Carol was all that good at in the long run, and Jess knew her too well, stilted or not.
It might not make sense in a medical sort of way, but it made sense considering the developments since the coma, the damage that her body healing itself had caused, the unforeseen side effects of basically rebooting her brain. Apparently another reboot was on the cards and this one wasn't going to be as kind to her as the first one. "Have you ever thought about being a detective, you'd be good." It wasn't an admittance, but it was close, and Carol wouldn't go further, because it just wasn't fair.
"Raw deals don't mean there's nothing else. It just means there's a lot of shit to clean up first." Not that it was really that easy, the way HYDRA had screwed Jess over again and again, and even Carol knew she didn't know the full extent of things, that she didn't know everything Jess had been through, or everything she carried with her.
"It's complicated, okay. But it's going to be fine, so there's nothing to worry about. It's just some medical stuff that seems to have cropped up because of the coma and how it... how I came out of it. Really, Jess. Everything is fine." Maybe if she said it enough it would be true.
"Shit on top of shit, in some cases." She mumbled around her mouthful of spinach and rice, hoping that her words sounded more matter-of-fact than they felt. She'd be the first to admit that she was still pretty bitter about her lot in life. In fact, as embarrassing as it was, she'd have to say that not dwelling on the garbage she'd been through was a daily battle. That she'd only locked herself in her apartment to spend the day wallowing and hating everyone one time this month was something that she was sadly proud of.
But Carol, her idiot self-sacrificing jerk face of a best friend, managed to be a sure-fire way to get her to focus on something other than herself. Even unintentionally, it seemed.
"You said 'everything is fine' almost immediately after saying that everything was going to be fine. I occasionally miss verbal and social cues, but anyone could tell you that things like that almost always mean nothing is fine." She ran a hand across her face, as if the action could clear out the accusatory air her words had taken on. "I know I've been distant. Things are weird now. And if I'm perfectly honest, I'm not over the Veranke incident. But I'm trying, okay? I am. And whatever this is, I'm not going to just let you deal with alone. And I know you, so I know that you likely will, otherwise.
"So maybe just... tell me what it is and we'll get it taken care of and we can bitch at each other about old things afterwards." Jess finished, feeling oddly bereft. She was much better at bottling than sharing, and frankly? She wanted to punch the psychiatrists in the face that said that it was 'therapeutic' in the face. But if she wanted Carol to be frank, she had to be frank too. Hopefully it wouldn't be for nothing.
Maybe they'd both been distant, Carol wasn't used to this kind of weakness, hadn't been in a long time. She'd gotten comfortable being indestructible and powerful and it threw her off a little to be hit with something she couldn't punch.
She wouldn't ever blame Jess for being off since the Skrulls, wouldn't hold her bitterness or difficulty in getting over Veranke stealing Jessica's life and screwing it up even more. Playing with the rim of her glass, Carol figured out Jessica's reason for being so candid the following words out of her mouth.
If anyone would understand, it'd be Jess, wouldn't it? With everything that'd happened, she could trust that Jessica wouldn't coddle or pester. "Since my brain was technically absent all activity while I was in the coma, when my body healed itself there was a... problem. They didn't notice at first but there's a lesion, it's big enough to cause problems, but not too big that I can't function. Provided it doesn't get worse." It felt numb, discussing it. She'd felt numb when the doctors told her, couldn't process it all. "They can't operate and there's no treatment because I'll just absorb any radiation or chemotherapy they try to use to shrink it, so... It's a waiting game."
A waiting game was something Carol wasn't good at, she hated not knowing, hated being on the cusp of it all, unsure as to whether or not she'd make it out of something with her sense of self intact. "Presumably it won't get any worse provided I don't push it. I'm effectively grounded. Literally. The more I fly the...more likely it'll get worse and... I could end up brain dead again."
There, all out, cards on the table, and it didn't feel any better at all.
Jess was quiet for a long time, not seeing any need to say anything until she had something worth saying. And, really - what did one say in this situation? Was there protocol on how to speak to a friend who, as a reward for dedicating her life to saving the world, had received a potentially terminal diagnosis? One that would, at the very least, keep her from doing the one thing she loved.
Sighing, Jessica rested her head in both hands this time, effectively covering her entire face. "Motherfucker." It was the best she could come up with, but, if you asked her? Was a pretty damn good response. Everything about this sucked, and there was really no more succinct of a way to sum up her feelings.
"Okay so... does anybody else know about this? Besides SHIELD, obviously, since you're grounded. But assuming you saw a doc with headquarters, you probably didn't have any other choice, did you?" Jess huffed a short, humorless laugh, wondering exactly how to get them out of this awkward place. Likely impossible at this point. "What shitty news, Carol. You win."
It wasn't exactly the sort of competition that Carol was aiming to win; whose life sucked the most. Usually that was Jess' game, hands down, but this time yeah, Carol could see why she got the points in her court. At least Jess could still do her damn job, Carol not so much.
"SHIELD docs, the specialists at New York-Presbyterian have all been working on things." It wasn't where Carol had spent her time during her coma, but the doctors at St Luke's just weren't equipped to deal with something of this magnitude and so far Carol couldn't fault Dr Keller. The woman was nice enough about everything, even if she did like to reiterate the same thing numerous times. Can't fly, do not fly, flying is tantamount to suicide. The most she blasts the larger the tumour gets, the more she flies the more pressure on her brain, the sooner it'll burst, the sooner she loses everything.
"I guess there were some upsides to Wanda's break down." Carol shrugged one shoulder, trying not to feel too sorry for herself as the waitress arrived with their orders, giving a tight smile while she started to pick at the veggies on her pizza.
Jess nodded, expecting as much. Carol didn't much like to share her burden with others, and this particular news was quite heavy. It bothered her to know that, before this reality had been altered, Carol had likely been stewing about this alone. She deserved to have someone close by, to keep her upbeat and laughing and remind her not to drink, not an empty apartment and nothing but time to kill.
Ugh. That bitch. Jess knew without a doubt that she was staying, now. She knew better than to say as much without everything already being final, but the decision was made. Damn that Carol for always getting what she wanted.
She accepted the pizza placed in front of her with a smile, picking up a slice. She wasn't the type to lose her appetite with bad news, and the pizza was here, so it was only right that she eat it.
Taking a bite, Jess shamelessly began talking, not waiting to finish chewing. "Speak for yourself. I was the undisputed winner of one award, and you come in in the clutch and snatch it away? Talk about cruel."
"You can have it back," Carol wasn't in the least bit bothered about stealing Jessica's thunder as the most screwed over person in the history of ever. "This is one thing I had no interest in beating you at." Although they made quite the pair, they'd probably get a few days feeling sorry for themselves with this.
Realistically, Carol had to get used to an entirely different outlook on life. She couldn't fly. Something she practically lived for, something she'd loved since she'd gained the ability. And now she could either stay grounded, or render herself brain wiped. Not the best of options.
"Looks like I'm going job hunting." But that was absolutely something to think about after pizza.
"Well, it's no fun if you just give it to me." Jess said, having a hard time keeping the levity in her voice. She was always up for a good tension-breaking inappropriate joke, but this was Carol. It was harder to keep things light when all she wanted was all of the details so she could get every science friend of hers to stop what they were doing and help Carol. She'd joke when her best friend wasn't in mortal danger.
Reaching over the table and slapping a piece of her awesome pizza onto Carol's plate, she bit her tongue to keep herself from extending an offer herself. After all, now that she'd decided to leave SWORD, she only had to other real options. Jess knew she wasn't quite ready to deal with SHIELD's bullshit again, so she was pretty sure she'd have to make use of the only other life skill she had and start up an investigation firm. But she couldn't tell Carol yet, because her friend wouldn't let her do it. The job offer needed to wait.
"Aren't you on leave right now? I doubt they'd actually fire you until you exhausted all of your options; so why don't you just take this opportunity to teach yourself a new skill? Like how to chill, for instance."
"I don't like holding onto things," Carol shrugged, although it was a bit of a lie. If she were more stationary in her job she'd have been a hoarder for definitely, she never really liked throwing anything away. But this was definitely one thing she'd rather wasn't hers.
Carol didn't even bother to appear like she wasn't more than grateful for a piece of pepperoni pizza. Her veggies were delicious, but even she would have to admit she was mostly just doing it to be contrary now, she always did it with Jess, just so that Jess would roll her eyes in that long suffering manner and Carol could attempt to try and get Jess to eat some vegetables.
"We both know I don't do sitting around doing nothing, definitely not when I could be doing something. So, jobs." She might still be technically on SHIELDs pay roll, but that didn't mean they'd find use for her, and Carol hated feeling useless. "Wonder if the Air Force needs a pilot." Since it was as close as she'd get to flying ever again.
It was total bullshit - for someone that so hated confined spaces, she really did have a lot of stuff - but Jess wasn't about to call her on it. She knew what Carol was doing, and at this point, she'd let her do it. There was only so many light-hearted digs that she was willing to make at her friend's shiny new aneurysm. Hell, she was still in the 'Let me go punch things to make me feel better' stage.
Rolling her eyes at how quickly Carol tucked into the piece of pizza Jess had given her, Jess finished her third (fourth?) slice, waiting until her mouth was empty to scoff. "Yes, because I'm sure that will go over well. 'Why yes, I am an Avenger,'" she started, middling to terrible American accent on in full-force, 'What? Why am I not Avenging? Oh, it's no big deal - I just have this aneurysm that's sensitive to altitude, so super flying is out. I promise, though, if I feel my brain exploding, I'll let you know before I crash your really expensive plane into a building!'" Maybe this was insensitive, but Jess hoped that Carol got by now that this was just how she communicated. "Can I be on the other line for that call? I'll be really quiet until the end, I promise."
Rolling her eyes at the frankly terrible imitation of an American accent -which Jess undoubtedly knew because she could do a good one when she wanted. "It's not altitude that does it, it's my flying, the power." Carol could climb the Empire State building, she could rejoin NASA, she could climb Mount Everest, none of that would affect her brain the way flying just three feet off the ground would.
The lesion was only a threat if she went flying -possibly if she affected too many G-forces, so probably not a good idea to look into the NASA thing, but she could totally get in an airplane, or steal one of Tony's suits. Maybe that was the way to go.
"Really, I'll be okay, I'm not gonna suddenly collapse because I've gone too many floors up in SHIELD HQ." Because that would drive her to the brink of madness. Picking at more of her pizza, Carol just sighed. This was exactly why she'd been keeping things to herself. Because everyone would turn mother-hen on her and ... she just wasn't prepared to deal with that on top of everything else. "I promise, things will be fine."
And if she said it enough, maybe it would be true.