It took a long time to get Monica to go to bed.
Carol had forgotten what it was like to deal with an over-excited child, and though Monica had grown since the last time she'd seen her, the refusal to go to sleep had proved to be a challenge she couldn't handle. Tired but stubborn, as though Carol would disappear again if she turned her back. It had been six years the last time.
Fury, of all people, had carried the kid off to bed with a promise that if he stayed, then so would Carol because they had to leave together. Cats and kids. The strangest soft spots for a guy like that. Though maybe he was just being practical. She couldn't decide, had already made up her mind to ask later.
Maria's porch was familiar. The dark overhang, the hammock at one end, the creaky swing at the other. The way the night sounded, the smells in the air. She'd spent dozens of nights out here in the past, looking up at the stars and dreaming of flying among them. It was all piecing itself together now, as though all she'd needed was to return to this place, to the people here.
She'd forgotten so many things. But not this. Not the porch, not the way the stars looked from this distance. Whatever else the Kree had tried to dig out of her consciousness and replace with false memories, enough fragments had remained that even with everything not settled, this felt like...
Maria was backlit by the porch light, holding a bottle of beer in each hand. Still feeling that mixture of incredulous relief and anger that the woman who'd referred to herself as 'Vers' when she'd first arrived had been the reason she'd spent more than one night out here herself. No body to bury, no one answering her questions, the project Dr. Lawson - (Mar-Vell. She couldn't get used to that either) - shuttered and forgotten. She should have known, really. Carol had always been stubborn. Too stubborn even to die.
"I'm fine. I think. Maybe?" A quiet moment, then - "I'll be fine soon enough. Everything's jumbled, but...did the kid finally go to sleep?"
"Finally, yeah. Your friend crashed on the couch. I had to tell him to take his coat and his boots off.
Carol took the second beer when it was offered, and they sat quietly and drank as it got later. After the third or fourth pull, Maria asked, "What do they look like from the other side? The stars."
"Brighter. Colder. It was exciting being up there, getting to fly. But even up there, it was never like I belonged. They were always trying to rope me in, get me to 'behave'. Probably why I didn't want to question the memory gaps, because it felt...I dunno, familiar."
Another silence. Somewhere out in the darkness, a dog barked. Maria was looking at Carol in profile, the way she'd begun to peel the label off of the sweating beer bottle. Little strips of paper formed a pile in the spot next to her. The cut of her jaw changed as the quiet lingered.
"You're angry at me."
Maria blew out a breath, almost a laugh but not quite. "I don't know how I feel, Carol. I waited. Both of us did. When your plane went down and Lawson or whoever she really was died, we waited while they dug through the crash site and only found half of your dog tags and nothing else. Then the government stepped in and no one would tell us anything, and we didn't know what happened but we thought you were dead. It's a lot to take in, babe."
"I know. Everything I thought I understood wasn't real. Like I've got two lives, one before the crash and one after it. The second one is only different because you weren't in it, that that was something else they stole from me."
The blonde had started to turtle whole she spoke, shoulders hunching even as she continued to strip the label from the bottle's glass surface. She'd stopped hoping for 'easy' a long time ago, so why should this be different? The friendship had started out as mutual self-protection, two women trying to break into a field where they weren't always welcome, but the sense of home she'd developed was what made it matter that Maria could be resentful. Not just hurt, but angry.
"You're really going back out there, aren't you? To fight."
There was a short, tense pause before Carol nodded. "I have to, Maria. I was part of the lie, even if I was fooled into it. What I believed was wrong, and I have to try to make things right."
"So damn stubborn."
The other woman said it fondly despite everything, and Carol gave her one of her rare smiles. "It's my fatal flaw, I guess."
They sat there like that, drinking their beers as the night cooled off. The little scraps of paper next to Carol fluttered in the slight breeze, and she pushed them behind one of the wooden pillars so they wouldn't blow away. She'd been gone for so long, forgotten so much. But not this.
"Kiss me before you go."
Maria was staring straight ahead when she said it, out into the yard. The moon had come out to join the stars, silvering the grass. She could feel Carol sitting next to her. Stubborn, proud Carol, who got up every time she got knocked down and kept fighting, who was going to launch herself back into space and stand against the ones who'd used her as a pawn. She'd died a little herself when she thought she'd never see her again.
Was it fair? Would it be fair? Because Carol hadn't been gone so long that she didn't know what it meant. That the child who slept inside the house was part hers, if not by birth then by choice. She set her empty beer bottle aside, behind the pillar that helped support the house.
"What's coming is dangerous. I don't know what will happen."
"I should have said it six years ago, but I thought you'd be back a lot sooner."
Didn't a warrior deserve a kiss before battle? A kiss for luck, a kiss for protection, and maybe if Maria had said it six years ago things would be different. Or maybe not. Life was filled with 'maybe', but maybe didn't matter in the larger scheme of things. Carol put her hand on Maria's forearm, then her shoulder. Started to reel her in.
'I hold you in my arms, there's a band playin'.....'
There was no band, but the meeting of mouths had enough music in it for an entire symphony. Carol's fingers tightened down on Maria's shoulder as the other woman slipped a hand beneath the worn leather jacket she'd put on over the unfamiliar uniform. Like they'd both been saving up. When the contact broke, beer-tinged breath wafted across the blonde's mouth and chin.
"Come back to me this time. Come back to us."
"I will. I promise."
Carol brushed a piece of hair behind Maria's ear. Kissed her again. Softer, slower. Locked it down in her heart that she'd be back. To see what came next.