Maria thought sleeping would get easier with Carol’s return.
She still spends most of the night, alone in bed, staring at her ceiling, trying to keep her thoughts from wandering to Carol. Carol, who has superpowers now. Carol, who doesn’t remember her or Monica. Carol, who doesn’t know Louisiana is home. Carol, who isn’t exactly her Carol anymore.
It’s a lot to take in and Maria wonders if Carol will come home to Louisiana, to Monica...to her.
Maria wakes up coughing. It takes a second for her consciousness to catch up to her senses but when it does, she gasps and she’s coughing all over again.
Something is burning.
Maria dives off her bed, pulling on a pair of shorts as she stumbles towards the hallway. She throws her robe on and rushes down the stairs two at a time.
This is the third time that Maria’s woken up to something burning. Ever since she let Monica make herself breakfast once, Monica has been obsessed with learning to cook. It’s resulted in the fire alarm going off five times, the fire department showing up once, and nothing edible.
(She takes after Carol that way.)
“I am going to kill her.”
Maria shakes her head, swings herself around the end of the banister, and tries to keep her face more stern than amused. She speeds into the kitchen, ready to give her daughter another lecture about kitchen safety.
“Monica. I thought we talked about just making cereal-” Maria freezes when she gets a glimpse of blonde hair in the dim, dark kitchen. “Oh. Carol.”
“Hey,” Carol replies, raising her hand in an awkward wave.
“Hi,” Maria raises her hand, mirroring Carol’s stiff wave. “I wasn’t expecting...you back.”
“I should have beamed or sent a message or something.”
The kitchen falls silent again.
The tick of the grandfather clock echoes from the hallway.
Carol shifts nervously from one foot to the other. She’s almost bouncing on her feet with the amount of energy she has. Maria steps forward towards Carol and the floorboard creaks, breaking them out of their reverie.
“I should go,” Carol starts softly, tossing something in the trash before she moves towards the front door, “I’ll-”
“Stay,” Maria insists, taking another step into the kitchen. “It’s good to see you.”
They stare at each other, separated by the kitchen counter.
“What’s that burning smell?” Maria chokes out, stumbling towards the window behind the sink. She pulls it open and presses her face to the screen, taking a big breath of fresh air.
“I overestimated how much power it would take to re-cook this bread,” Carol answers, gesturing towards the loaf of whole wheat on the counter.
“You mean toast the bread? What setting did you put the toaster on?”
Maria frowns, scanning the countertop, “how did you burn the bread?”
“With my hands,” Carol replies slowly.
“You- with your-” Maria takes a sharp breath, an incredulous smile spreading across her face, “that’s going to take getting used to.”
“I can’t remember what it was like before,” Carol admits, examining her own hands.
“The toaster is up there. You know, if you want less burnt toast,” Maria says, pointing at the cabinet above Carol’s head.
“I’m right here,” Maria slurs as Carol stumbles sideways into her. They both fall down off the sidewalk onto a neighbor’s lawn in a tangle of limbs.
Carol takes the brunt of the fall. She’s knocked onto her back, with Maria’s drunk, dead weight sprawled on top of her. Maria smiles down at her, eyes glassy. Carol’s heart races.
Maria is so, so close.
Their noses almost brush.
Carol is frozen under Maria’s weight.
She can barely make out the expression on Maria’s face in the dim light, but she swears Maria is leaning down. Carol’s eyes flutter closed and their noses bump. Maria’s breath is hot against Carol’s mouth. Carol swallows hard, her hands gripping the grass she’s lying on.
Her whole body tingles in anticipation. Carol feels as alive as she feels when she’s flying high in the skies.
And then there’s a loud crash somewhere in the distance.
Maria’s head snaps up and she scans their surroundings.
“We should get back to my parents’ place,” Maria whispers, pushing herself up, off of Carol.
She holds out her hand, almost falling back down onto the ground when Carol tugs herself into a sitting position. Carol has too much forward momentum though and winds up pressing the length of her body to Maria’s. Instinctively, her hands fly to Maria’s waist in an attempt to steady them both.
With the alcohol in her system, Carol misses Maria’s waist, her hands landing too low to be appropriate.
“Tryin’ to cop a feel Danvers?” Maria teases, once they’ve found their balance. “And you didn’t even buy me dinner first.”
“We just had burgers.”
“You forgot your wallet. I paid.”
“I’m lucky to have you.”
“You know it.”
Maria grabs one of Carol’s hands, intertwining their fingers. She leads Carol two houses down to her childhood home. Carol trips on the first step, the steel toe of her boot thunking loudly against the wooden stair.
“Shhhhh,” Maria hisses into Carol’s ear. “My parents are sleeping.”
“The stairs keep moving,” Carol mumbles, stumbling along as Maria tugs her up the stairs.
They make it to the front door without further incident. Maria manages to dig out her keychain and tries shoving the wrong key into the lock. The lock clicks unhappily and Maria tries a different key.
“I can’t get it in.”
“Here, let me try.”
Carol takes the keys from Maria’s hand. As soon as the metal key touches the door knob, the front door flies open, and Carol almost falls into the figure in the doorway. She jumps back in surprise, nearly tripping backwards down the stairs, before she regains her balance.
“Sorry, Mrs. Rambeau.”
Monica’s mom squints up at the two of them, “are the two of you drunk?”
“Definitely not,” Maria responds too quickly, clicking her heels together in an attempt to stand more upright.
Carol shakes her head, vehemently and leans into Maria slightly, “no ma’am.”
Maria’s mom shakes her head with a low laugh and opens the front door to allow them inside. She flips the hallway light on but Maria still manages to trip over the raised metal in the doorway. Carol only barely reacts in time, reaching for Maria’s waist with both hands to pull Maria back upright.
In her inebriated state, Carol misses wildly. One hand just grabs air and the other somehow ends up tangled with Maria’s belt. Carol tries to free her hand, pulling it back towards her body, but it only results in pulling Maria’s back flush with her front, with her hand wedged somewhere between her crotch and Maria’s ass.
“You must be really happy to see me.”
“You know I am,” Carol snarks lowly, finally freeing her hand from Maria’s belt. “You good?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“Are you sober girls going to spend the night on the porch are are you coming in sometime tonight?”
Louisiana feels familiar, feels like home. But she doesn’t feel settled like she’s at home. It’s too humid, constantly and then there are the stares she gets from people whenever she’s out with Maria or Monica.
Besides the select few events that have come back, Carol can’t unlock any more memories from before the crash. It’s frustrating. Every night, she and Monica flip through albums of photos in an attempt to jog Carol’s memories.
The only things that have actually brought back memories are the black box recordings and the few videos Maria has of her. They didn’t get a camera until just after Monica was born, so most of the memories Carol has regained involve playing with an infant Monica, unwrapping gifts with a toddler Monica, or dropping off a school-aged Monica at her first playdate.
Carol isn’t sure how she fits in Louisiana, into their lives...if she fits at all now.
She doesn’t really fit in any better in space, but out there, she has a purpose, a mission, a distraction. Being Vers was straightforward. There weren’t any feelings or gut instincts she doesn’t recognize. The rhythm of heroics is an easy to get into. There’s only time to react to things. There’s never time to actually pause and think.
Down here in Louisiana though?
Every second is five times longer.
It leaves her with a lot of time to think.
Being Carol Danvers is...less straightforward. So much of her life is missing that Carol doesn’t even know where to start asking questions.
With Monica things are simple enough. Monica gleefully explains anything and everything that Carol asks about. In return, when Monica wants a bedtime story about space and aliens, Carol is all too happy to regale the kid with stories about flying through space.
With Maria though…
With Maria things are less clear.
When Maria smiles at her, a warmth spreads from her chest through her body. It’s a different kind of heat than the one she fire that erupts in her chest when using her powers. Carol’s heart thuds against her rib cage. Her heart rate races with every time she and Maria touch. Every time their hands graze or they make physical contact, even for just a moment, Carol feels it.
It is all consuming.
It makes her stomach twist...but in a good way.
It leaves Carol with an unexplainable euphoria.
But sometimes when Carol glances at Maria, she catches Maria watching her with glassy eyes and a tight smile.
It makes her chest ache and she can’t shake the gnawing feeling that she’s missing something.
Carol stares at the photo album in her lap, flipping back and forth through the pages. They look like a happy little family in every single photo. The ache in her chest intensifies and suddenly Carol is blinking back tears.
“Hey-” Maria greets, tapping her knuckles against the doorframe to alert Carol of her presence.
Carol presses her palms to her eyes, wiping away any stray tears and gestures to the seat on the couch next to her. Maria takes it, leaning over Carol’s shoulder to see what photos Carol is looking at.
It’s three of them are at the kitchen table, with a cake in front of Monica. There’s a big “Happy Birthday” banner hanging in the background. All of them have wide smiles on their faces but not a single one of them are looking at the camera.
Carol is frozen, mid-laugh, strong arms holding Monica close to her torso. Monica’s tiny fist is a blur in the photo, smushing cake and frosting into Carol’s chin.
“She was trouble from the beginning,” Maria laughs wistfully, lost in her memory of that moment.
“We were happy.”
Carol flips through the last few pages of the album silently. Maria waits until Carol puts the album down to speak again.
“I’m really glad you came back.”
“Yeah, Carol, I am.”
Maria holds Carol’s gaze and Carol swallows hard. She can’t help it when her eyes drop to Maria’s lips for a split second. Her stomach twists in on itself. She swears that Maria is leaning towards her.
Carol clears her throat and Maria finally looks away, rising from her place on the couch.
“I’ll see you in the morning. Use the toaster instead of your hands if you want toast,” Maria says, from the doorway.
Carol relaxes at that, a small smile on her face, “goodnight Maria.”
The numbers shining from her clock feel like they’re burning her eyes. Maria rolls onto her back and squeezes her eyes shut. Five seconds later, she flips onto her other side, facing Carol’s side of the bed.
Maria tries to relax into her mattress. She takes a few deep breaths and burrows under the blanket a bit deeper, trying to recapture the elusive sleepy feeling. After what feels like hours, Maria flips all the way over, squinting for a glimpse of the time.
This time, Maria doesn’t try to roll over and force herself to sleep. She throws the comforter from her body and slides out of bed.
Maria tiptoes down the hall and descends the stairs, careful to skip the creaky fourth step. The living room is still dark when she passes by. It makes Maria pause because Carol is usually also awake around this time of the night.
She’s about to poke her head in the living room to make sure that Carol is still sleeping soundly on the couch, when she sees the light from the garage from the window at the end of the hallway. Maria creeps down the hall, grabs her jacket from the coat rack by the front door, and slips through the kitchen and out the side door.
A strip of yellow light shines from the one inch gap between the bottom of the garage door and the concrete. Maria tugs on the handle and the metal door creaks in protest.
“Should I get used to this? You sneaking around at ungodly hours?” Maria greets, pulling the garage door down behind her.
Carol doesn’t even react to Maria’s presence. She keeps looking through the box in front of her, kneeling in the far corner of the garage.
“You’re sneaking around too,” she responds, finally, looking over her shoulder with a smile.
“What’re you looking at?”
“My old footlocker,” Carol answers, waving her hand at the battered chest in front of her. Carol was never the most careful with her things, but Maria can spot at least three new scorch marks along the seam of the footlocker.
Maria also notices the warped metal perched on the top of the footlocker. The metal isn’t crushed or dented at all though and it takes Maria a full second to realize that Carol melted the metal lock with her hand.
“It’s a fun trick,” Carol comments, holding up a glowing fist.
Carol looks like Carol. Carol even talks like Carol.
But this Carol can glow and fly and doesn’t remember them.
This Carol is unsure, tentative. Her Carol, past Carol, was sure of herself, cocky.
Maria tries not to compare Carol then to Carol now. She knows better than to hope that Carol gets all of the memories back. Thinking about past Carol reminds Maria how hollow and empty her chest has felt since Carol left the house one morning and never came back.
And then there’s the fact that present day Carol comes with alien refugees and superpowers.
She doesn’t dislike the aliens and the superpowers, but both are constant reminders that Carol is a different now.
There’s no handbook on how to grieve for your wife when her memories are wiped and she comes back as a human-alien hybrid with superpowers but the same smug smirk she’s always had. Maria never felt comfortable in her sorrow. She always believed that Carol was out there somewhere.
Maria looks away from Carol, swallowing the lump in her throat, and changing the subject,
“You think you could use your hand to weld?”
A bar is the last place Maria wants to be tonight.
She’s felt off for the last week. Her stomach has been in knots all week and she hasn’t been able to keep down much besides water and flavorless food. She’s just parked across the street and already Pancho’s grimy exterior makes her gag.
Maria leans back in her seat, breathing in deeply, trying to feel some kind of normal. The feeling never comes and she huffs, pinching the bridge of her nose before she finds the motivation to get out of the car.
Every step towards the familiar grunge entrance fills Maria with more and more dread. The smell of stale beer and reused frying oil, has her gagging as she pulls the door open.
When she pushes the curtain aside and steps into the main bar room, Carol is already there, bent over the pool table, in the middle of a game with an airman she recognizes from base. Carol looks up when the door swings closed behind Maria, sending Maria a smile. Maria gestures towards the bar and Carol nods, returning to the game long enough to pocket the last solid and the 8-ball.
“Pay up,” Carol says, holding her hand out, a victorious smile on her face.
“Shit, Danvers,” he groans, digging a twenty out of his wallet and slapping it into Carol’s outstretched hand.
“Good try Baker.”
“I’m gonna win one of these days Danvers.”
“In your dreams.”
Carol heads over to the end of the bar. She slides onto the stool next to Maria’s and steals Maria’s drink, taking a long sip before sliding it back over.
“I’m not drinking tonight.”
Carol swivels around on her stool so that she’s facing Maria.
“Is everything okay, Maria?”
Maria opens her mouth to respond, but she can feel the bile in her stomach rising and it’s all she can do to keep herself from vomiting. She pinches her nose and tries to take a deep breath from her mouth.
“Can we go outside?” Maria finally gets out, when the nausea abates for a moment.
Carol nods, sliding off her stool. She holds her hand out and Maria takes it, concentrating on breathing and keeping her lunch down as Carol weaves through the crowd and leads them out of the bar.
The cool, night air instantly settles her stomach.
“I parked across the street,” Maria nods towards the end of the lot.
Carol keeps their hands linked, tugging Maria through the parking lot. With her other hand, Maria digs around her pockets for her car keys. They only let go of each other’s hands when they get to Maria’s charger. She unlocks the driver’s side, sliding into the seat, and leaning over the gearbox to flip the lock on the passenger side door.
Carol climbs into the car and the heavy car door thunks closed behind her.
Maria keeps her hands in her lap and her eyes trained forward out the windshield. She can feel Carol’s curious stare on her face. When she doesn’t turn to meet Carol’s eyes, Carol turns her attention towards the street in front of them as well.
“You can tell me anything,” Carol promises, glancing over at Maria’s stiff form, “whatever it is- we can work though-”
“I’m pregnant Carol.”
Maria doesn’t dare look over at Carol. She keeps her eyes trained on the empty street ahead. Her knee bounces up and down. It feels like an eternity before Carol asks,
“It was just a one night thing,” Maria sighs, fidgeting with the stitching on the seat.
“Are you gonna keep the baby?”
Maria shrugs and the car falls silent again. She chances a glance at Carol. Carol stares out of the windshield at the hood of the charger, deep in thought. She clears her throat and her hand reaches over the gear shift to grab one of Maria’s hands.
“Whatever you decide-” Carol says, squeezing her hand, “I’ll be here for you every step of the way.”
“And if I want to keep the baby and raise it?” Maria tangles their fingers together and looks up into Carol’s intense gaze.
“Then I’ll help you raise him or her.”
“I’m your family and you’re my family Maria,” Carol reminds her, her voice quiet and serious.
The words have Maria’s stomach in knots again. She glances down at their joined hands and then looks up at Carol again. There hasn’t been a lot that’s been steady in the past few years. Between basic and then tech school, Maria has lived in seven different states within two and a half years.
But since they met in basic, through every assignment, and new school, Carol has been a consistent source of support and love for Maria. Even for the brief times they were separated, Maria could count on the odd piece of mail from Carol, usually a hastily penned note on a postcard or greeting card.
(Maria still reads over Carol’s Happy Birthday, Grandpa card on the days she needs to laugh.)
“Are you serious about this?”
Somehow the mornings come too quickly even when it feels like the night drags on forever.
Carol wonders if she can even be sleep deprived with her powers. Lightning flashes across the sky as she switches the coffee maker on and Carol almost jumps, surprised by the sudden light. It takes a full second for her to get remember that she was trying to make coffee.
Filter, grounds, add water.
Carol recites the steps in her head as she goes through the motions like Maria showed her last time she was in Louisiana. She watches, fascinated, as coffee begins to drip down into the glass pot.
Thunder rumbles from somewhere in the distance. Carol pours herself a mug of coffee and heads out onto the porch.The stormy air is thick and warm, almost comforting. Carol closes her eyes and takes in a deep breath, enjoying the smell of the rain.
“You loved watching storms back then too,” Maria comments, the screen door clacking against the door frame behind her.
“It’s calming,” Carol murmurs, opening her eyes to watch Maria take a seat on the other end of the porch swing.
“You always used to say that.”
Maria leans over and grabs the mug of coffee from Carol’s loose grasp.
She takes a sip of coffee, pull the mug away to study the liquid inside the cup as soon as she gets a taste, “you add honey?”
Her frown deepens when Carol nods and she looks down at the coffee again, “Monica put you up to this?”
“Put me up to what?”
Maria freezes. The hand holding the coffee is halfway to her lips, hovering in the air because Maria realizes that-
“It just seemed right.”
“Good to see that your instincts are still solid.”
Thunder rumbles, from somewhere closer this time.
“I wish I could remember everything.”
“You remember anything new since last time?” Maria asks, trying to force some nonchalance into her question.
“I don’t know,” Carol starts, eyebrows knit in thought. Her chest tightens and she feels that slightly uneasy, anxiety pooling in her gut.
Maria hums and she steals another gulp of coffee, allowing Carol to think. Carol’s knee begins bouncing up and down with her excess energy.
“I remember feelings more than actual memories. You know when we sat in the mustang yesterday? I felt excited, like I was on the edge of a cliff, anticipating the drop.”
“We used to drag race our cars out on this shutdown runway just off base.”
Carol nods, her knee slows and stills, and she falls deeper into thought. Maria notices, nudging Carol’s knee with her own, “Where’s your head at?”
“I don’t think it was the drag racing.”
Maria’s head snaps back towards her,
“What do you mean?”
“The drag racing. I remember that feeling. It was a rush, all that power and speed, but nothing like this.”
“So what was it then?”
Carol’s frown deepens, “I don’t think I’ve felt it.”
Maria reaches out, her hands cupping either side of Carol’s face, her thumbs gently smoothing at the worry lines on Carol’s face, “I guess we’ll just have to keep doing things we used to and hope it triggers the same feeling.”
“I hate not knowing,” Carol gets out, a twinge of emptiness hitting her square in the chest.
“Look at me,” Maria says lowly, ducking her head to meet Carol’s eyes, “You’re still you. Memories or not. You got that?”
“Yeah,” Carol leans forward, her eyes darting between Maria’s eyes and her lips. Carol’s hands feel like they’re burning where they touch Maria’s knees and it’s all Maria can do not to pull Carol into her lap and give her wife a proper welcome.
Maria doesn’t move. Her hands stay on either side of Carol’s face, warm and steady. She keeps her eyes trained on Carol’s, waiting for Carol to take the first step.
She hopes that Carol can’t feel the way her fingers tremble with anticipation. Carol’s hands press harder into Maria’s knees as Carol closes the distance between them. When Carol’s forehead touches hers, Maria swallows hard, concentrating on keeping her breathing measured and steady.
“This is the feeling,” Carol gasps into the negligible space between them, pressing her lips to Maria’s. Maria’s hands tighten on either side of her face and she pulls Carol closer, deepening their kiss.
Carol’s hands slide up Maria’s thigh, to her hips and Carol relax backwards on the bench, dragging Maria into her lap. Maria’s leg gets caught halfway and she nearly tips backwards off the bench. Carol’s hands tighten around her torso, her biceps flexing with the effort of keeping Maria upright.
It takes some giggling and re-situating and hands accidentally grabbing the wrong body part but then Maria is straddling Carol, looking down at that smirk, and kissing the smug look off her face.
Her whole body feels warm, settled, at home.
And for the first time since she woke up after the explosion, Carol’s heart doesn’t ache for anything.
“She’s not being charged with anything. She just needed to sober up.”
“Thank you officer.”
Carol’s head snaps up at the sound of Maria’s voice. An officer slides the jail cell open and grabs her by the elbow. He marches her down the hall with Maria following them.
At the end of the hall, they hand Carol her shoelaces and wallet, before ushering them out the front door. Maria begins walking towards her charger and Carol follows, shuffling as quickly as she can with laceless boots.
“Get in the car.”
“Carol, get in the car.”
Carol obeys and immediately opens the door. She slumps into the passenger seat, like normal, without thinking. Her ribs scream in agony with the sudden movement and Carol closes her eyes, trying to breathe through the pain.
The drive back to their house is silent.
They don’t talk again until Maria is tossing her keys onto the counter, “grab the rubbing alcohol and sit at the table.”
Carol doesn’t argue. She grabs the rubbing alcohol from the medicine cabinet and slowly sits down at the kitchen table. Her ribs protest slightly again, but the pain only lasts a second this time.
Maria tosses her a bag of frozen peas and carrots, “for your ribs.”
“Thanks,” Carol exhales shakily, pressing the cold bag to her skin.
Maria steps between Carol’s thighs, a washcloth in one hand. Her other hand traces the deep cut along Carol’s cheekbone. Carol can’t help but flinch away from the soft touch.
She’s always been weak for beautiful women looking down at her.
It doesn’t help that Carol has been noticing her own feelings for Maria.
Maria’s piercing gaze coupled with the way she’s touching Carol’s cheek almost reverently, make it hard for Carol not to just stand up and close the six inches between them. Her hands curl around the edge of the chair, the wooden corners digging into her palm.
Carol’s breath catches in her throat when Maria begins wiping the dried blood from the wound.
“Relax,” Maria murmurs, a gentle hand tilting Carol’s chin up so that Maria has a better look at the cut.
“It stings,” Carol protests tensing when Maria’s hand gets close to the open wound again.
“Hold still and it’ll hurt less.”
Carol inhales deeply, willing her body to relax, as Maria finishes cleaning and dressing the cut. Once the bandage is on, Maria’s hands drop from Carol’s face. She doesn’t move from where she stands between Carol’s legs.
“People are always gonna talk. You can’t shut ‘em all up.”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t try.”
Maria nods, her eyes finally dropping, ending their staring contest. She reaches down with both her hands, grabbing Carol’s hands in hers. Her thumbs gently graze the scrapes along Carol’s bruised knuckles.
Maria’s next words are so quiet, Carol almost misses them, “you can’t keep trying to be the hero.”
“I’m not trying to be the hero,” Carol counters before dropping her voice, ”’m trying to be yours.”
“And you’re going to do a great job from behind bars,” Maria snaps, her voice sharp. Carol withers under her glare, visibly shrinking. Maria inhales sharply but her voice is softer when she speaks again.
“I don’t need saving. I don’t need a white knight to swoop in, you hear me?” Maria continues, with a shake of her head, looking away from Carol’s miserable gaze.
“I know you don’t need saving, Maria. But you deserve to have someone in your corner, watching your six.”
“I need someone who I can count on.”
“You can count on me,” Carol insists, looking at Maria until Maria gives in and meets her eyes again.
“No more fights.”
“I promise,” Carol holds up her right hand, “no more drunk fighting. No more fighting. No more beer or whiskey or getting drunk. Scout’s honor.”
Maria laughs, slapping playfully at Carol’s hand before retangling their fingers. Carol smiles at Maria, her eyes red-rimmed but bright.
“Thanks for cleaning me up.”
Carol stares up at Maria and wonders what would happen if she tugged Maria down into her lap.
She wonders what would happen if their lips met.
She wonders if Maria feels what she feels.
She hesitates for a split second. She lets doubt creep in and she freezes, flinching when a siren rings out from down the block.
The spell between them breaks and Maria’s eyes flit away, looking everywhere but at Carol. Maria steps away from her, mumbling something about getting ready for bed, and then Carol is left alone in the kitchen, clutching a hand to her aching ribs.
When she comes out of her bedroom into the living room the next morning, there’s a folded blanket at the end of the couch and a glass of water in her sink.
They’re the only two signs that Carol slept over.
Maria rises on her tiptoes, putting away the medical supplies she left on the table last night when the front door swings open. Carol stands in the doorway, one foot outstretched to keep the door open as she holds a box of pastries in one hand, and balances two coffee cups in her other hand.
Maria drops the box of gauze she was putting away to open the front door for Carol.
“I got breakfast,” Carol announces, holding out the box, “it’s a thank you for picking me up last night.”
“If this is gonna happen every time you get in a fight with someone, I lift the no fighting rule.”
Carol barks out a laugh and Maria plucks the box of pastries from Carol’s hand before she turns back towards the kitchen. Carol juggles the two coffee cups, kicking the front door closed with her heel. The pink string on the pastry box is already untied, when Carol enters the kitchen, seconds later.
“Hot chocolate,” Carol answers before Maria can even ask.
Maria gratefully takes the hot chocolate Carol slides across the counter, finally lifting the lid on the box and peering inside.
“You got me beignets?”
“You said you were craving them-”
“So you found beignets? In small town Southern California?”
Carol doesn’t answer verbally. She smirks, that frustrating, familiar smirk. Maria rolls her eyes. Neither the box nor the ribbon have any stamps or branding to give her some kind of clue.
“Fine. Don’t tell me.”
Sometimes she swears Carol is closer to 14 than 30, but Maria loves her for it. She loves it Carol like this, playful and free, slouched over Maria’s counter, laughing on a quiet Saturday morning.
“Thanks for breakfast.”
“Thanks for the pickup last night.”
The rest of their day is a nondescript, normal day off. Carol takes two advil and starts up the lawn mower before Maria even has the chance to suggest that Carol rest. Maria knows better than to try to get Carol to take it easy.
It isn’t until the sun is falling that Carol finally pushes the mower back into the shed. Maria watches as Carol walks slowly back towards the house. The screen door slaps against the doorframe, alerting Maria to Carol’s re-entrance into the house.
“Hey, need any help?” Carol asks, poking her head into the kitchen.
“From you? In the kitchen?” Maria laughs and shoos Carol away, “go shower. Dinner will be ready soon.”
“How’s your hand?”
“Feels fine,” Carol lies, keeping her face carefully neutral as Maria examines her hand, taking stock of every cut and bruise.
Maria nods and then squeezes Carol’s bruised knuckles, “feels fine?”
“Maybe a little achy.”
“Uh-huh. And your face?”
Carol pushes her fingertips into the purple skin and wincing, “it feels bruised.”
“Oh baby, it’s definitely bruised,” Maria says, her voice soft and her fingers softer on Carol’s bruised cheek. Carol tries to keep Maria’s gaze but her eyes betray her and fall to Maria’s lips for an instant before Carol looks up into Maria’s eyes.
“You done punishing yourself now?”
“I wasn’t punishing myself.”
“You were pushing a 100 pound lawn mower up and down my whole backyard with broken ribs.”
Maria pulls back slightly, narrowing her eyes at Carol, until Carol relents, nodding.
“Yeah. I’m done punishing myself.”
Carol licks her lips, barely daring to breathe, watching as Maria leans closer.
“Tell me I’m reading this wrong and I won’t,” Maria murmurs, her other hand coming up to cradle Carol’s other cheek.
Carol inhales, once, twice, and then their lips are brushing. Carol’s body vibrates, her heart pounding wildly even though she can barely feel the press of Maria’s lips against hers.
Her hands fall to Maria’s waist and she steps forward, pressing Maria back against the counter. She leans into Maria, bringing their bodies flush, deepening their kiss. Maria tangles her fingers in Carol’s hair. Carol sighs against Maria’s lips, smiling for a split second, before kissing Maria again, hard.
It’s better than flying.
A fire spreads from Carol’s chest to her hands.
Her whole body buzzes.
Carol kisses Maria and she’s alive.
There’s a long column of white smoke coming up from somewhere near her house. Maria pushes the gas pedal harder, urging her car forward. The car rumbles down the long driveway. Maria throws her car in park, yanks the key out of the ignition, and rushes up her front steps.
She bursts into the house, but there’s no smoke, not even the smell of anything burning. Maria walks through the house to the backyard. The door creaks with disuse and it takes an extra jiggle to open the door just wide enough so that Maria can slip out to the back.
There’s a round coal-fired grill sitting in the corner of the back patio. Carol stands over the fire with a charcoal-smudged apron hangs around her neck. The grill sizzles and tall yellow flames rise for a moment when some fat drips off the steaks, fueling the fire.
“Happy anniversary,” Carol greets, smiling at Maria from across the porch.
Maria freezes midstep, “how did you-”
Carol turns back to the grill, poking at the steaks with a pair of tongs.
“I wanted to do something for you. And your mom said I was always miserable at cooking over the stove.”
“So, your dad taught me how to grill.”
“You learned to grill today?”
“No. Monica was three and you were working those evening shifts. She wasn’t a picky eater right?”
“No, she wasn’t.”
“Yeah and she still wouldn’t eat anything I made. I kept burning the baby food.”
“You burned the baby food.”
“Three times,” Carol says, carefully rotating the steaks so that the grill marks are offset by ninety degrees.
“I had to go over to your parents for dinner because I didn’t want your daughter to starve and your dad started to teach me how to grill.”
Carol’s head snaps towards her, her eyes wide with surprise. Maria stares steadily back at Carol.
“Our daughter,” Carol amends, a smile spreading across her face.
“You never told me any of that.”
Carol shrugs and looks back down at the steaks, flipping each of them in turn.
“I failed at feeding our kid because of my nonexistent cooking skills. That’s not something you brag to your wife about.”
“No I guess not,” Maria concedes, trying to stifle her laughter.
“My grilling skills on the other hand...”
“Oh. You’re a grill master huh?”
“Something like that.”
Carol carefully plates the steaks and Maria re-enters the house, emerging with silverware and beers. They set up their dinner on the small table on the patio. Carol pulls out her chair to sit down, but before she can sit, Maria tugs her forward by the collar of her shirt.
“Thank you for this.”
Maria tilts her head, sliding her mouth against Carols, smiling when Carol kisses her back. She groans when Carol slips her tongue, accidentally bumping the table with her knee. The jangle of the silverware against wood interrupts them. Maria smooths Carol’s collar. Carol relaxes into the seat across from her, taking a swig of beer before grabbing her fork and knife.
“You ready to have the best steak dinner in town?”
Maria wakes up with warm body curled into her. Carol’s head is resting on Maria’s chest and Carol’s arms are tight around Maria’s torso.
Sun is barely above the horizon but Maria is the most rested she’s been since Carol disappeared. She slept all night. They slept all night.
Some birds chirp and twitter outside and Carol shifts her weight on top of Maria. Maria’s finger slip under Carol’s shirt, absently tracing the bumps of her spine. Carol sighs at the soft touch.
“You’re warm,” Carol mutters, shifting to press a kiss into the hollow of Maria’s neck, the edge of her jaw, and then square on her mouth.
“Good morning to you too.”
Carol rolls off Maria and pushes herself into a sitting position against the headboard. She reaches above her, stretching her back. Maria takes the opportunity to poke her hard in the side. She catches Maria’s hand and an undignified squeak leaves her mouth.
Her other hand reaches behind her, blindly grabbing at the pillow that’s sandwiched between her back and the headboard. Maria’s yelp is muffled by the pillow that hits her face. Carol pulls her arm back, pillow in hand, ready to smash into Maria’s face again.
“Oh it’s so on.”
Maria ducks, dodging Carol’s pillow attack. She flips onto her stomach, diving towards Carol’s side of the bed. Her hands find Carol’s hips under the comforters and she tugs Carol down the bed. Before Maria can swing her leg over Carol’s torso, Carol is shoving at her shoulders, flipping their positions.
They stare at each other. Carol can barely breathe with the way Maria’s eyes study her face. Maria tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, her fingers lingering, gently grazing the soft skin at the corner of Carol’s jaw.
Maria draws Carol down, tilting her head and bumping their noses before she presses a soft kiss to Carol’s lips. Carol’s lips part automatically, like she never forgot they used to do this. The moan Carol lets out when Maria’s tongue slips into her mouth, sends the familiar thrum of want through her body.
Carol gives as good as she gets and it takes all of Maria’s willpower to leverage Carol’s distracted state and flip their positions again. Carol lets out a sharp, surprised breath when her back hits the mattress. Maria’s thighs bracket her torso and Maria’s body hovers over Carol’s.
Maria leans close enough for their breath to mingle. Carol tries to surge upwards and join their lips again, but Maria’s hands hold steady against Carol’s shoulders. Carol looks into her eyes, waiting, patient. Maria ducks down, feinting a kiss, and using the opportunity to pinch Carol’s ticklish side again.
Carol giggles involuntarily and tries to squirm away from Maria’s touch. She doesn’t move enough though and Maria is able to poke her in the side again. Carol shifts her hips out from under Maria’s weight and right off the bed.
There’s a loud thud when Carol hits their bedroom floor. Carol looks from the ground at Maria, in shock. Maria stares back at her with wide, surprised eyes.
And then they’re both bursting into laughter.
Maria sits up amid their tousled bedsheets. She swings her legs over the edge of the bed and offers Carol her hand. Carol takes the offered hand, but neither of them can contain their amusement. Every time Carol begins to tug at Maria’s hand to stand up, they start giggling and then laughing all over again.
It takes another few rounds of collapsing into fits laughter before Carol actually gets up from the floor. Standing here in their bedroom, Maria’s thighs warm around her waist, her hands firmly holding Maria’s waist, there’s no ache in her chest.
Her heart feels whole.
Carol is home.