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12 years old

Monica kicks her legs a little as she waits in a chair outside of her teacher's room. Her mom is in there, talking to Mrs. Salem about how Monica is a problem child. Not that anyone has called her that to her face. But she knows when teachers ask parents to come in, it's because someone is being a problem child. That's what happened to Sammy Bernardi when her parents had to come talk to Mrs. Salem because Sammy was being mean to other girls in the class.

But Monica hasn't been mean to anyone. Well, no one who doesn't deserve it, anyway. She thinks she's been pretty good, actually. Ever since Auntie Carol came back, it's like the whole world has opened up. Sometimes she thinks about Auntie Carol coming to pick her up at school again, but this time flying down right in front in her uniform and telling everyone she's here for Monica Rambeau. They're not supposed to talk about that, though.

Monica gets it. She's not a little kid. She understands about secrets. Her mom has had to keep things secret, because she works on important projects, and if she talked about them, people could get hurt. Monica doesn't want anyone to hurt the Skrulls, especially not her friend Salaa, even though they only got to hang out for a few days while her dad healed up. So she’s been really good and hasn’t said a single word about what happened to any of her friends, although she has been talking more about Auntie Carol. But just in general. She figured it wouldn’t hurt to mention some of the old stories her mom told her about their adventures.

Her mom is in the classroom for not a long time before she comes back out. Monica shrinks a little, expecting to get lectured. But her mom just touches her arm to get her to stand up and come along. She glances over her shoulder to see Mrs. Salem in the doorway, looking after the two of them. She doesn’t look mad at all, just kind of…sympathetic. She smiles at Monica like she’s sorry about something, which is weird, because Monica is the one in trouble. She thinks.

Once they’re in the car, her mom doesn’t start the engine. She just sits there for a minute, her hands on the steering wheel. Monica is starting to get antsy, wanting to know when she can explain her side of the story. Her mom always listens to her before deciding on a punishment and maybe if Monica can explain-

“Baby, do you miss Auntie Carol?” her mom asks.

Monica blinks. “Yeah,” she says cautiously.

Her mom is silent for a while again. “You’ve been talking about her in school?”

Monica is still cautious. “…yeah.”

Her mom leans over in her seat, pulling Monica in by her shoulders for a hug, cheek resting on the top of her head. When she pulls back she smooths back some of Monica’s hair, which makes her want to fidget, but this feels like a pretty serious moment. Her mom takes a weird breath, all deep but like she’s trying to hide it.

“Mrs. Salem says you’ve been talking about Auntie Carol like she’s still alive,” her mom says.

Monica frowns. “Because she is alive.”

Another tuck of her curls behind her ears. “I know it’s hard, sometimes, keeping a secret like this. Lord knows I want to tell everyone the truth, that we know the most powerful woman in the universe. But we can’t, in order to stay safe. And part of that…” Her mom won’t look at her for a moment, but then she meets Monica eye-to-eye, like she does when she needs to know Monica is listening. “Part of that is acting like we used to. Like we think Auntie Carol is gone.”

Monica has noticed that her mom has never been able to say the d-word about Auntie Carol. She was always just “gone,” never actually dead. And now that they both know that Auntie Carol really is just gone and not dead, Monica can feel herself wanting to be stubborn. But there’s her mom, looking at her all strange, like she’s sad but proud, and the memory of Auntie Carol calling her tough and promising to help the Skrulls find a new home. Salaa had told her a little bit about how much it sucked to spend six years on a hidden ship, afraid the whole time that someone might find them and hurt them. No new clothes or games, the same faces over and over again. Even the view got old after a while, and she had all of space and the whole planet Earth to look at.

Monica fiddles with her hands in her lap, suddenly guilty. “I guess I thought as long as I only told old stories about Auntie Carol…”

“You still can,” her mom says. “But we just gotta be careful and act like Auntie Carol really did go down in that crash, okay? To help maintain her cover.”

Monica likes it when her mom puts it that way. It makes her feel like an agent, like Agent Fury. “I know. I can do it.”

Another hug, though this one is a little less clingy. “I’m proud of you,” she says.

“Can we get McDonald’s?” Monica asks, figuring she might as well see how far she can push this.

“Nice try,” says her mom.

14 years old

“What’s this?” Monica’s mom asks when she pulls out a sheet of paper at dinner.

“It’s a permission form,” Monica says. “I want to join Air Force JROTC.”

Whatever reaction Monica was expecting, she wasn’t prepared for her mom to blink and sit back in her chair. “Oh,” she says.

Monica frowns. “I thought you’d be happy.”

“I’m not upset,” her mom says quickly. She pulls the permission slip closer to her, eyes scanning the text, then flicking back up to Monica. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

It feels like a test, but Monica can’t figure what for. She’d been so excited, starting high school and being able to finally start taking some real steps to follow in her mom and Auntie Carol’s footsteps. She’s started running, just a couple of miles a few times a week down the road to Mr. Earvin’s farm and back. And now her mom is acting like this is some kind of surprise. “Yeah, I’m sure,” Monica says.

She’s sure that her mom is going to object from the look on her face, but instead she finds a pen on the sideboard, comes back to the table, and signs off with a quick scratching motion. “Okay. Let me know what the fees are and I’ll write a check.”

Monica knows she should probably just take the win, but her mom has always encouraged her to ask questions if she doesn’t understand something, and this one is a head-scratcher. “Is it okay if I join JROTC?” she asks.

“As long as you’re joining because it’s something you truly believe in doing,” her mom says, and the words are fine, but the way she says it has Monica struggling to catch up to something just out of her reach.

“I want to be a pilot, like you and Auntie Carol,” she says. She remembers an old question, a plan to meet halfway in space. Earth doesn’t really have spaceships yet, not the kind that Monica is thinking of, but they do have a space shuttle program and she has to work with what she’s got. Her mom says that sometimes, when she’s in her workshop and something isn’t going quite right and she sighs and says Well let’s do what we can with what we have. And she always makes it work somehow, always, because her mom is a genius when it comes to making planes work.

Something complicated passes over her mom’s face just then, and she slips into a small smile. “There’s lots of ways to fly, baby.”

“Not the way you guys did,” Monica says stubbornly. “I want to make a difference.”

Her mom is quiet again, watching her in that way that makes Monica squirmy. Then she says, “Do you remember why Auntie Carol had to leave?”

Of course she does. She thinks about it all the time. Almost every night before bed; more often than she falls asleep wondering where Auntie Carol might be, when she’ll come back, hopefully with some cool alien ship for Monica to look at. “She had to help the Skrulls find a new home,” Monica says.

“She had to do that because of the war the Kree were fighting.”

“She wanted to stop a war, not win one,” Monica says, the lesson like a mantra after years of repeating every detail of those magical few days to herself.

“I want you to find your own way. So I’m not going to say no. But I just want you to think real hard about what your Auntie Carol actually fought for, when it came down to it. Okay? You don’t have to decide right away, and whatever you do, I will support you one hundred percent.”

That, at the very least, Monica knows is true with all her heart. “Thanks mom,” she says, getting up and flinging her arms around her mom’s neck.

Her mom squeezes her tight around the waist, and for a moment it feels like when she was a kid and she thought her mom could solve all the problems of a ship full of refugee aliens being hunted down by a merciless evil empire. Maybe she still could. If only Auntie Carol would come back, they could see.

16 years old

Some secrets get easier to carry with time. Not this one – not something that, if everyone knew it, it would flip the entire world on its head. For a while, it was nice to share a secret with her mom, just the two of them. And Agent Fury, but he hasn’t come back to see them for a while, busy doing whatever horrifying illegal clandestine shit he’s probably into as part of a covert government agency that no doubt destabilizes democratically elected politicians in favor of US-friendly regimes. She doesn’t share that thought with her mom, even though she would probably be fine with it. After all, she let Monica quit JROTC this year and didn’t really comment on her declaration that she would no longer contribute to “an imperialist colonizing force,” particularly not after the Gulf War.

The lack of reaction was a little bit disappointing. She’s not sure what she wanted instead, approval or disapproval, but she wanted something more than just her mom saying, “Okay. As long as it’s your choice. And you still need an extracurricular for your college admissions.”

Monica didn’t ask the question simmering in the pit of her stomach, if she thought Auntie Carol would be disappointed in her. She doesn’t want to think about Auntie Carol at all. She’s been gone five years now, and if she really gave a damn about Monica then she would have at least sent a letter. Message. Whatever they use out in space to communicate. Her mom had said right after Auntie Carol left that they probably couldn’t talk, because the Kree might be watching them and try to trace back any message and find the Skrull refugees. But it’s been years. There’s so much that Auntie Carol doesn’t know about her that she’s just been saving and saving inside of her and what for? For someone who doesn’t care enough to even let her family know she’s alive?

So no, Monica is not going to join the Air Force. She is not going to be a pilot, and she for damn sure is not going to wear Auntie Carol’s old shirts anymore. Never mind that they’re starting to wear through and go a little thin in spots and need careful handling these days, she just wants them out of sight, out of mind. So she folds them up and shoves them in a box and shoves the box in the very back of her closet and doesn’t even say the words “Air Force” or “flying” for the rest of high school and if her heart aches on the days when the skies are so clear you could see someone coming for miles and miles, then she swallows that down as deep as it will go.

19 years old

“Oooooh, I’m so proud of you,” her mom says, probably for the three hundredth time since Monica found out she was accepted to Georgia Tech. Now her mom has managed to sneak in another one for the count as she’s dropping Monica off for freshman orientation, this one capped off with a big hug that rocks Monica side to side. It’s harder, now, for her mom to kiss her on the top of her head since she officially has a full inch on her, but she makes it happen anyway, muscling Monica down so she can receive her blessing.

And maybe she allows it because she’s never been so far from her mom for so long, and now they’re going to be a full time zone apart and she’s not coming back home until Thanksgiving. She’s so far from her mom, and her grandma and pawpaw too, and all of her friends from high school. Irene applied to Georgia Tech too but decided on UT Austin and Monica doesn’t know anyone here.

“It might seem scary at first,” her mom says, like she knew exactly what Monica was panicking about. “But that’s what orientation is for. Everyone is scared at orientation, but all you have to do is listen. Okay? If there’s a problem, then there’s a solution.”

Monica nearly mouths the words along with her mom. “Okay,” she says, starting to feel a little less worried and little more excited.

Her mom leaves after buying her lunch off campus, slipping her same cash meant as a present from her grandparents, then heading for the airport. She doesn’t miss how her mom sits all stiff in the driver’s side of the car, hands gripping the steering wheel at ten and two. Her mom has her friends and her work but at the end of the day she’s all alone in the house. She’s never seriously dated anyone that Monica knows of since – since Monica was a kid. Just brushed it off whenever Monica asked, usually followed by a wistful glance at the sky. But in the end her mom had told her to make the best choice for herself, and that had been Georgia Tech and the giant scholarship they offered.

The very same scholarship the school threatens to take away after her first semester after failing two classes lands her on academic probation. She hopes, maybe, possibly, that she can defer telling her mom until after winter break and she’s back at school, but her mom’s face at the airport lets her know that it’s going to be a harsh cold season.

Her mom is silent in the car all during the drive back home. Monica has another faint hope that maybe grandma and pawpaw will be there, because grandma usually defends her when her mom yells at her. But no luck there either, and Monica is left to lug in her overstuffed duffel by herself, the faded “C. DANVERS” on its name patch like a ghostly rebuke as she hoists it over her shoulder.

Inside, her mom is busy in the kitchen, pouring out a tall glass of sweet tea and plating up spaghetti bolognese from a low-simmering pot on the stove. Monica leaves her duffel at the foot of the stairs and slinks over to the little table for two by the window, instead of the dining room table. The big table doesn’t get a ton of use, unless her grandparents are over. Most of the time it’s just her and her mom, eating their meals for two in the kitchen. At the moment, there’s only a setting for one, and her mom thunks down the plate and the glass before pulling out the opposite chair for herself.

Monica takes her seat, shoulders hunched, fiddling with her silverware, wishing she could jump back in time a measly three months and tell her past self to spend a little less time with the girls she met at orientation and little more time in the library. Anything to avoid the way her mom is looking at her now.

“I am extremely disappointed in you,” says her mom, and Monica just wants to curl up and sink into the earth. She hangs her head over her plate.

Her mom’s voice is even but firm, like it always is when she’s laying down the law and won’t be taking any questions. “This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to eat, and then you’re going to explain to me what, exactly, happened that I got a letter from the dean’s office informing me that my daughter’s scholarship was in jeopardy, and would I please check up on her to make sure she’s okay.”

“Yes ma’am,” Monica says miserably, and forks up her food, dismayed to find that it’s just as delicious as always. It’s hard to enjoy her mom’s cooking when it feels like every bite should be turning to ash in her mouth. Halfway through it’s all too much and she lets her fork drop. “I don’t know what happened,” she says.

Her mom sits there, patient but immovable. “I did not raise you to not take ownership of your mistakes,” she says.

Monica sniffs. She wants so badly to look up, to square her shoulders and accept things like an adult. But she can’t. Her mother has always been so proud of her and now she’s let everyone down. “I just…lost focus,” Monica says.

“Why?” her mom responds, drawing her out, not mean but not soft either.

“I guess…I guess it felt good to not have focus for a while,” Monica says, thinking of the hours she spent just hanging out in someone’s room, poking around the internet, going out for fries at 3 AM. The first time she slept through a class she panicked, only to find out that attendance wasn’t mandatory and that half the class didn’t bother to show up on any given day anyway.

“Was the workload too much?” her mom asks, and Monica senses she could have a way out here, but there’s that tug in heart that won’t let her lie, not about this.

“No,” she says honestly, and it hurts to admit it to herself but it also feels good too. “I could have handled it. I just…didn’t. I…didn’t want to.” She jiggles her leg a few times, thinking it out now that she’s letting herself really acknowledge what happened. “It was the first time since junior high that I didn’t go all out. And I guess…that felt good. Auntie Carol always said she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life ever since she was little and I thought that was me too. I don’t know.”

Her mom’s face is softening, although Monica knows she hasn’t escaped discipline by a long shot. “Monica, you know whatever you choose to do, I will back you. As long as you are committed to it. If you decide you don’t want to become an engineer, we can always figure out a new plan. But you have to tell me. Okay?”

“Okay,” Monica agrees, and suddenly her appetite kicks back in. She forks up a big, relieved mouthful.

“Tomorrow morning you’re cleaning out the hangar,” says her mom as she’s mid-chew, and she nearly chokes on her food.

22 years old

Monica has gotten better at leaving over the years, but that doesn’t make it any easier. She just has more experience at untangling herself from her mom’s arms, gathering up her bags, and heading for the door or the taxi. Cooling her heels in this slightly damp cell, she extremely wishes she hadn’t left her mom the last time and had instead told the Peace Corps to screw off. There were any number of things she could have done in Louisiana after graduating, particularly for someone with an engineering degree. The state still wasn’t entirely recovered from Katrina and probably never would be, at least not in some ways.

Reinforcing levees or rebuilding homes would definitely be better than waiting for the US embassy to vouch for her humanitarian mission. She’s under no illusion that she’s a priority for her government and just wishes she could be detained with the rest of her group so they could at least make some kind of plan together, maybe figure out what exactly is wanted from them. But they’d been separated as soon as they were hauled into detention.

Dinner is usually a watery bowl of something that might be soup, a couple of slices of bread, and a tin cup of milk, but tonight, instead of slipping the metal tray under the gap in her door, her jailer inserts a key in the lock. Monica braces herself, wondering if she’s about to be moved, or perhaps if they’ve granted her request to talk to a lawyer. Three days with no access to the outside world has her antsy, pacing, doing pushups just to occupy herself. Her arms are pretty sore from it.

The door swings open and the guard steps into frame, backlit by the harsh fluorescent lighting in the hallway. “You,” he says, pointing to her, then hooking his thumb over his shoulder. “Released.”

Monica almost doesn’t want to believe it, how easy it is, but she’s never been one to look a gift horse. She jumps to her feet and beelines to the door, squinting at the light change as she follows the guard down the hall, through a pair of heavy security doors, and into a small, bare room. A large plastic bag with the clothes she was wearing when she was detained sits on the single metal table in the center of the room. The guard leaves, closing the door behind him, and Monica’s first impulse is to change back, but she waits. This all feels so sudden, and she wants to know where her friends are, and she doesn’t trust that this is going to resolve quite so easily.

But the minutes tick by, and if something bad is about to happen, she’d rather be in her own clothes than the prison-issued ones, so she changes and feels just a tiniest bit herself again. The door opens again, the same guard there now pointing in a different direction down the long, concrete hallway. “You come,” he says.

There’s some kind of processing area with a checkout desk and more guards, and her entire group is there, milling around, looking wary and confused. They brighten up at the sight of her but she holds up her hand, forestalling questions or conversation. Better not to open their mouths until they’re truly well away from here.

It's only about fifteen more minutes before they’re all given paperwork saying they officially did nothing wrong and basically shoved through the exit into the muggy night air, where a car is waiting to take them back to their hotel, which has somehow not given away their rooms and tossed their luggage. Monica decides not to question it and just stumbles into her room, ready for a hot shower and clean underwear.

“I trust you weren’t treated too badly,” says a deep voice from the corner of her room, and Monica freezes for a microsecond before looking to dive for a weapon.

The lamp clicks on, and there sits a man Monica hasn’t seen since she was a child. “Motherfucker,” she says.

Nick Fury’s good eyebrow tics up slightly.

“You know, strange men hiding in young women’s hotel rooms is real bad look,” Monica says, toeing off her shoes and ducking into the bathroom to wash her hands and scrub some cold water over her face.

“That’s fair,” Fury says, not sounding particularly apologetic. “But the question stands.”

Monica emerges, drying her hands off on a towel, which she tosses onto the bed with rather more flair than normal. The sudden spike of adrenaline from being surprised has her temper spiking right along with it. “They weren’t beating us with rubber hoses, if that’s what you’re asking. Food could’ve used an upgrade.”

“I’ll be sure to leave a one star review,” Fury says.

He looks different, compared to Monica’s fuzzy childhood memories. The eyepatch, for one, which makes him look dangerous, or so she imagines he would if you didn’t know how he got it. His clothes and his boots are all black, and his long black coat drapes menacingly over the edge of the chair. She can’t fathom wearing a coat in this weather, nor how Fury isn’t losing his body weight in sweat. Even in the relative cool of her darkened hotel room, she still feels too warm.

“Haven’t seen you in a minute,” Monica says, now rummaging through her suitcase, which looks as though someone has already rifled through its contents in search of contraband.

“Been busy,” Fury says, though with the edge softened.

And it’s undoubtedly true; who knows what awful spy stuff he’s been up to since she saw him last when she was just starting high school. And if she’s honest with herself, she’s stopped clinging to her memories of those few crazy days back in 1995 for a long while now.

“You’ve been busy too,” Fury says.

“Well, water and power aren’t going to build themselves,” Monica says. Her instincts are telling her to get out of the country, but her heart wants her to check in on the refugee settlement, maybe go work on the solar converters she was setting up for a little neighborhood. The kids there were always playing soccer with a raggedy old ball tied up with twine, and she’d been wanting to get them a real one.

“I just want to know if this is going to be a regular occurrence.”

Monica narrows her eyes at him, a fresh t-shirt in hand. “Did my mom call you?”

Fury’s face is completely unreadable.

“Well if she did, tell her not to worry.”

“She’s not the one I’m here for. I made promises to a couple of people to keep my eye on you,” Fury says, and Monica pauses, the name of a woman flung far out in time and space just on the tip of her tongue. But she doesn’t say that name these days; she has more important work to do. There are people who need her help, people who don’t have a choice about whether to return home or not.

“Well I don’t need the eye of some borderline extragovernmental organization monitoring my activity,” Monica says. She changes tops in the bathroom and checks herself in the mirror for a moment, the bags under eyes and the slight sag to her tired, underfed cheeks. The sudden craving for a cheeseburger hits her, audibly rumbling around her stomach. Yes, tomorrow she’ll go back to the refugee camp. And she’ll use the sat phone to call her mom. But first, the refugees.

Fury is standing when she emerges again. “It’s not SHIELD. Just me. And I’ll make sure you and your friends are allowed out of the country.”

”I’m not leaving,” Monica says, and she could swear that Fury smiles before he tips his head in the slightest nod.

“Well then I’ll make sure you don’t get picked up again by the local government,” he says. He slides around her, ready to leave, no goodbye or hug or anything like that.

“Fury,” she says just as he’s reaching for the door handle, and he stops and looks at her. “Is…is she okay?”

Fury looks down at the worn carpet, the first actual trace of worry she can discern flickering over his face. But only a moment. “I don’t know. I have to believe she is.” He pulls the door open. “Wherever she is, I know she’s proud of you.” And then he’s gone, not even the rustling of his coat lingering in the void he leaves behind. The door slowly drifts closed.

25 years old

It’s too much food. Monica is on her second plate of mac ‘n cheese, okra, fried catfish, and cornbread, and her mom is watching her like a hawk to make sure she eats every single bite. She’s not going to make it.

“More tea?” Maria asks.

Monica groans around a mouthful.

“I know you. You ate garbage the entire time you were gone because you were too busy working to make a real meal. Eat your greens,” Maria says, pushing the salad bowl closer.

Monica leans back in her chair, pushing her plate away. “Please, mom.”

“Your grandma made a pecan pie too.”

Monica just breathes through the protest rising from her stomach, marching towards the barricade of her esophagus. “In a minute.”

Her mom relents and begins tidying up a bit before returning to stand over Monica, still prone in her chair, trying desperately to burp. “Come on, let’s take a walk. It’ll get your digestion going.”

Monica is only too happy to get up, even though it jostles her stomach a bit, and start trudging after her mom down the back steps and towards the gravel road fronting the property. The sun is about halfway gone below the horizon, throwing long shadows behind them as they begin walking up past their closest neighbor. “How’s Tom?” Monica asks.

Maria shakes her head. “Had a stroke last year. He’s in hospice. His kids are selling the place.”

“Oh no. That’s awful. I should stop by and visit them,” Monica says, craning her head to look at the house, noticing now how the lawn is too long, the shrubs overgrown.

“They’re not around much,” Maria says. “All moved away. Think the oldest is in New Orleans and the younger one, Bobby, he’s in Dallas.”

Monica drifts closer to her mom. “Do you wish I was closer to home?”

Maria looks at her, surprised. “What makes you ask that?”

Monica shrugs, one toe scuffing a pebble along for a step. “I don’t know. I’ve just been wondering if I could’ve stayed closer to home. You know, helped you with the house. Seen pawpaw more before he passed.”

Her mom wraps an arm around her shoulders. “You were exactly where you needed to be, baby. Pawpaw was always so proud of you for going out there and helping people. He bragged nonstop to everyone down at the rec center. ‘My granddaughter the humanitarian’. They got pretty sick of it, to be honest.”

Monica laughs, imagining her grandfather shuffling around with his cane, badgering people with wallet-size photos of her. “Well what about now, if I moved closer to home?”

Maria release her and is silent for a bit. “You’re not happy in New York?”

“I mean, I am, but…” Monica shrugs. “I could be happier.”

And then her mom stops and turns and looks at her, the way she looked at Monica before she left to go do something crazy with her Auntie Carol that they stopped talking about a long time ago, around the time Monica quite Air Force JROTC. Like she’s weighing up everything in her life and coming to some sort of decision that, good or bad, she’s going to see through or die trying. Monica has remembered that look her entire life and thought about it – when she was failing her classes, when she was cooling her heels in a prison cell, when she started feeling like maybe flying in and out of her barebones New York apartment just wasn’t for her. “Monica,” Maria says. “Anything you do, I support you, because I know you. You will make the best possible decision for yourself. So whatever that is, whether it’s staying in New York or moving closer to home, I will understand.”

Monica remembers, too, her mom’s face as she packed up their base housing at Edwards in the weeks after the crash. How she was in constant motion, as though if she stopped at any point she might not start back up again. Monica could hear her sobbing, when she thought Monica was asleep, but she hadn’t wavered at all when Monica begged to stay in the house that held all her memories of their family. Their entire family. The scrapes on the floor from Carol’s chair at the dining table, the dent in the wall from the baseball they weren’t supposed to be throwing indoors, the scrape against the rain gutter outside from a wobbly slow-motion bike crash when she insisted that Carol let go of the back of her seat and let her pedal on her own. Maria had taped up the boxes and told her they’d find new memories in Louisiana, and wouldn’t it be nice if she could see grandma and pawpaw whenever she wanted?

“Mom,” Monica says. She looks up at the darkening sky, still lit orange around the edges. “It happened, right? It really happened. And she’s out there. Somewhere.”

Maria looks up too, then places her hand on Monica’s arm, squeezing with a grip that’s still firm from hours in the shop. “Yes baby. It happened. And she is out there.”

“Whatever it is…I guess, sometimes there are things that are more important than coming home,” Monica says.

Maria doesn’t have much to say to that. She squeezes Monica’s arm once more, then keeps walking, a straight line steadily forward along the road.

28 years old

For eleven days, Monica shovels rubble and hauls debris, and for eleven days, she wakes up thinking she should’ve left New York when she had the chance. But she’s stuck here now. Her mother didn’t raise a coward, and there’s not a chance she’s leaving the city after a goddamn alien attack has the whole place still smoking and people reeling.

“I’m worried about you,” her boss Harry says to her on the twelfth day of coordinating relief efforts and trying to scrape their office into functionality.

Monica frowns, not looking up from her clipboard. “I’m fine.”

“That’s why I’m worried,” Harry says. She gently pries the clipboard out of Monica’s hands and sets it on the countertop, which has a huge dent from a bunch of filing cabinets falling into it. “Look, no one really knows how to handle…everything that happened. But one thing I do know is that we’re all still freaked out, and that’s normal. Because.” Harry exhales a sharp breath. “Aliens, Monica! Fucking aliens fell from the sky and tried to blow up New York!”

And Monica realizes that maybe she’s been a little too cavalier about the whole thing, but when you’ve known that aliens exist for real since you were eleven years old, somethings are easier to digest for her than for others. “Yeah, it’s uh…wild,” Monica says.

“I think you should sign up on the counseling schedule. Everyone else has already signed up. It’s not much, but at least we can all check in and see where we are,” Harry says.

“Yeah, of course,” Monica says, anything to get Harry to leave her alone so she can go back to her work. Get back to not thinking about how all of this could have been taken care of a lot easier and a lot faster with a little more help. Captain America is handsome and all, but in the end he’s just a kind of strong guy with a shield.

Harry nods sympathetically at her and finally wanders off, probably to go check in on the housing relief fund they’re coordinating.

Monica returns to her clipboard and doesn’t look up at the sky. There’s no one else falling out of it, she’s pretty sure.

35 years old

Carol returns on a Thursday. Monica is at home; indefinite leave, she’d called it. There was no one at the office to contradict her, anyways. She’s pushing the mower along, making those nice straight lines her mom taught her when they first moved here and it was her chore to mow the front lawn. And then there’s a crackle in the air, a buzz she hasn’t felt in years that sparks her memories in a sudden cascade. Like coming home for Thanksgiving break and smelling her grandma’s pecan pie and remembering every Thanksgiving that came before, like pulling an old leather jacket around her bony shoulders and remembering being small enough to be twirled in the air.

Carol lands in a blaze of coruscating golden light that fades away, revealing that still-proud uniform in its blue and gold and red.

Monica releases the mower’s safety bar, letting the engine sputter to a stop, and it’s suddenly too quiet in front of her mom’s house. Maybe it’s hers now, legally, but it will always be her mom’s house.

Carol stares at her, as young as the day she left. As young as Monica’s mom used to be. Monica stares back at her, and there’s nothing but the cicadas and the silence between them.

Monica has always remembered Carol as a towering beacon of light, but now she looks – she looks like what Maria must have seen, the first time Carol came back, just a woman struggling to hold a mask in place. She looks smaller too, and Monica realizes that she’s taller than Carol now.

“You look exactly like her,” Carol says at last.

Monica doesn’t have any words, not yet. The grief is still too fresh.

“I’ll get her back,” Carol says, voice wavering. But then - and oh how Monica remembers this look - but then Carol’s jaw squares and her teeth clench and her hands ball up into fists. “I swear to you, I will get her back.”

And for the first time since the decimation, since Monica called and called and called and never got an answer back, she speaks. “I believe you,” she says, and means it.