Carol and Maria had never called each other girlfriends, and they didn't plan on it. 'Wife' was foreign to them, too official. Rings and maybe a wedding would be nice one day, but for them that seemed more like a faraway dream.
"What about 'partner'?" Carol suggests over breakfast one morning, Maria just laughs in response. "Hey, I'm being serious!"
"I know, it's just—" she chuckles to herself again, and Carol pouts at her. "How very Southern of you, Danvers."
Carol laughs along with her this time, for the next few days she annoys Maria with her version of a (horribly done) Southern accent. So they settle on partner, because God knows what she'd do if she had to hear Carol say 'howdy, pardner' one more time.
It's not the smoothest relationship, with Maria trying to find a place in Carol's complicated family life and Carol trying to fit into Maria's life as both a responsible and capable partner and parent that can balance their personal and work life, all while they try to keep everything under wraps as women in the Airforce.
But they work as a team, as partners relying on each other, and together they smooth out the bumps along the way.
Subconsciously, they form a routine; Carol wakes her in the morning, Maria makes coffee for the both of them, and Carol deals with a very reluctant and very sleepy Monica every morning.
Maria does most of the cooking, because Carol can't cook anything aside from eggs to save herself.
Carol cleans the house because she's determined enough to go through every nook and cranny that Maria is too lazy to deal with.
They do the laundry together with Monica, though, because one thing's for sure: they don't want to have to deal with the kid's clothes as she grows up.
Slowly, steadily, they fall into place. Like puzzle pieces finally fitting together, they form a life around each other, a neverending support system. Carol, Monica, and herself are all curled up on the couch watching a movie when it finally settles in; this is her family now.
Here, in rural Louisiana, safe in Carol's arms, with Monica resting in hers, this is home.
When the phone rings, it's late. The moon dips low in the sky, threatening to disappear over the horizon before the sun can even wake itself up. Carol almost declines the call, but they both jolt awake to Dr. Lawson's voice.
Their routine is disturbed momentarily in the weeks that followed, with Carol's strange schedule and Lawson's tendencies to call her into work at random times in the day.
The house seems to be quieter without Carol's spirit to fill the rooms, Maria can't bear to spend a minute in if without her. She passes time in the hangar, taking model planes apart and putting them back together—anything to keep herself from worrying about God knows what Lawson and Carol are putting themselves through.
Maria convinces herself to brush it off, says to herself it's what Carol--what they--always wanted. So when Carol leaves for work one afternoon and doesn't return any of her calls, Maria starts to regret that decision.
The military come knocking on her door no less than two days later.
Carol never gets a funeral.
Maria lives the following months in a haze. Carol's disappearance—Maria spent countless nights about how Carol could never just die, she was just stubborn enough to fight Death herself, but maybe that was just her own wishful thinking—left an empty space in the middle of their lives.
It was like saving a seat for someone who will probably never come, but you do it anyway because what if?
She knows she has to say it herself one day, to speak it into her reality. Monica kept prying, asking about the 'big army men' any moment she could, asking about Carol. Two months after the fact, Maria finally tells her, but she never says she died.
Carol is gone, she tells her. It was a half truth Maria didn't have to feel bad about, because she wanted to believe in what it implied.
"Will she ever come back?" Monica asks in response. Maria can only kiss the top of her head, holding her tightly, keeping her close.
"I don't know, baby," she says to her softly, earnestly. When Maria goes back to her room—their room—she sits down at the bed, mindlessly smoothing out the sheets on Carol's side of it.
They told her to move on, and she wanted to yell at them, to drag them by the ear and show them every wall, every shelf, the inside of every drawer—show them that every room in that house had a little bit of Carol in it.
How was she supposed to move on when in every aspect of her life, Carol left her mark there?
In the next few months Maria decides to pack Carol's stuff into boxes, with Monica's help so she doesn't have to look at all the cheesy family photos. She ends up packing them in a separate box and Maria lets her keep it in her room.
"Just in case she comes back, so I can return them to her safe and sound!"
Monica beamed at her, holding the box up in her arms, and Maria was reminded in a thousand ways how she loved her daughter more than anything. Maria peppers her face in kisses as a response, Monica protests loudly despite her giggles, but she eventually gives in.
It doesn't hurt as much for Maria to think about Carol now, to refer to her in the past tense even in her own thoughts. Maybe she'll never heal from this—she knows she'll be angry at the government forever—but she knows she has to keep living. For Monica, and for Carol.
Reality comes crashing down for Maria on a Sunday. Like any weekend, Maria and Monica were busying themselves in the hangar. Unlike any weekend, she hears Carol call her name.
In the split second it happens, Maria thinks of three possibilities: Monica flawlessly perfected her imitation of Carol's voice, Maria had finally fully deluded herself, or Carol, after 6 painfully long years, was suddenly in their backyard.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for Maria Rambeau?"
The wrench she was holding clatters noisily on the table, and Maria's own heart starts beating erratically. She hears Monica call out to her, and then to Carol, but the blood rushing through her ears muffles any noise. In a moment, the life she built away from Carol on the past few years suddenly doesn't matter anymore. As if on autopilot, Maria finds herself getting up and walking towards her, almost completely zoning on the woman.
But something was off, Maria could feel it the moment she looked at her. It was subtle, in a way alien. Like every atom in the air around them reacted to differently to Carol, and Maria sensed it even from across hangar.
This Carol looked down at Monica hugging her around the waist, confused, and then back at Maria. "I'm—not who you think I am."
When Carol—or Vers as she calls herself—explains the past 6 years to them, Maria fights every urge to slap her then and there.
She wants to tell her to snap out of it, wants her to say that it was all just a sick joke. That Carol still had human blood running through her veins, and she spent the past 6 years in a plane crash induced coma and just now woke up, or something—anything—that could make Maria believe that the Carol she once knew wasn't all gone, replaced by something she could never fully comprehend.
She had once imagined—or hoped, more like—that their reunion would be some sappy romcom bullshit, not something straight out of a sci-fi comic. That there would be a knock on her door one day, and when Maria opened it Carol would be there and she'd fall into her arms and they could live their happily ever after.
She's back with same arrogance, stubborness, and pain-in-the-assedness. But it wasn't the same Carol she brought back with her, it wasn't her Carol.
It hurt to have her gone, but it was a different kind of pain altogether for Carol to talk to them like her and Maria had never been partners, that she had never been family.
None of it was her fault, and Maria could never blame her for it, even though deep down she wished she could. It just seemed easier to be angry at Carol instead of the otherworldly beings responsible for erasing her memories, but she knew projecting all the anger and dread built up over six years onto a very clueless, and very frustrated Carol was unfair to both of them.
But Carol needed her, had asked Maria to help her. So Maria bears through it all again, braces herself for another set of bumps on the road. Aliens aside, it wasn't anything she hadn't dealt with before. As long as it was Carol by her side, what could stop them?
Monica comes running down the stairs with Carol’s box of memories. Maria stands at the door way as she watches this Carol study each item, turning over each photo, being reintroduced to bits and pieces of herself. Monica shows her their picture from Christmas morning, she thinks she catches Carol smile. Maybe this won’t be so hard.
When they're on the ship, a long way from Louisiana, Maria stares in awe at every star. She turns to look at Carol in the pilot's seat and finds her staring back.
Her hair haloes around her face in the zero gravity, the light bounces off it and makes her glow bright—brighter than she's ever been.
She doesn't look away, neither does Maria. In that brief moment, Maria knew—memories be damned—they could never take Carol away from her.
The thought helps to softens the blow when, after everything is said and done, Carol comes home to Maria only to tell her she has to leave again.
She tries to hide her hurt, but her own tears betray her. Carol closes the distance between them to hold Maria in her arms, and Maria has to bite her tongue so she doesn't cry any harder, doesn't beg her to stay.
"It's hard, there's no pretending any of this isn't. That we're just magically okay after it all." There's a legitimate pain in Carol's voice as she talks to her, it's almost hard to believe this is the same woman who turned up at her backyard from a few days ago. "I can't begin to imagine what those 6 years were like."
"You don't have to leave." Maria says weakly, but Carol stays silent. Her only response is to hold Maria closer to her, because they both knew what her answer would be in the end.
Maria had always known, as early as the first time they met. Carol had always been for the greater good, that was the very reason she joined the Airforce. That was what got her here, with Maria now.
"You are an absolute pain in the ass, Danvers." Maria says after their long silence, Carol laughs and pulls back so she can cup Maria's face in her hands. Maria settles in the warmth, covering Carol's hands with hers, to make sure they stay there.
"And it has yet to kill me." She says with that smug smile Maria knows so well.
"You better not jinx it." She says with a sudden dead seriousness to her tone, Carol holds in her laugh this time. Maria studies her face, comitting each line and wrinkle, the dip and curve of her cheeks to memory
"Don't make me wait another 6 years, Avenger."
Carol smiles that wonderful smile again.
"Never again, Photon."
They stay like that for a long moment, silent and just holding at each other, swaying with the wind.
Maria and Monica both stand on the porch as they watch Carol board the ship, Fury stands next to them with Goose in his arms.
Carol waves at them from the cockpit, she shares one last look with Maria—like a short promise for her return, a look of understanding—before the ship cloaks itself and they can only see the faint outline of it against the trees.
She disappears into the clouds, leaving almost as fast as she came.
This time it doesn't hurt Maria as much that she's gone, somewhere in a far away galaxy saving the Universe or whatever she usually does.
This time, she knows Carol will carry her in her heart.