Maria tries to hide her annoyance as Monica drags her to yet another store. All the clothing stores were “stuffy and boring,” Monica had told her, nose tooted up in the air, “none of this is her style.” All the jewelry was too flashy or too cheesy; she was too old for toys and didn’t have time to ready any books. Then the cellular phone Monica wanted to get Carol was way too expensive.
“Look, baby,” Maria starts as she cups Monica’s cheek upon seeing her disappointment when they leave The Sharper Image. “Auntie Carol will love anything you give her because it comes from you. You could even give her your old chewed up gum and she’ll treasure it forever.”
“Ewww mommy, no,” she giggles and Maria grins, happy to lift her daughter’s spirits. “She needs something really nice. Something so special that she’ll never forget us again.”
Maria’s eyes soften, wills away the tears and the ache in her chest, and just as she bends down to let her daughter know that Carol would never forget them in any other circumstance, something shiny, pretty, and special catches Monica’s eye.
“Mom, look!” she points at a golden, heart-shaped locket hanging in the display window of the jewelry store a few feet from them. “It’s perfect! Can we get it? Please, please, please!”
Maria smiles wide, so blessed to have this moment, because a few months ago she was sure her and Monica would never get the chance to go Christmas shopping for Carol again. “Yeah sweetie,” she says then gives her daughter a kiss on the cheek. “It is perfect.”
Auntie Carol kept her promise. She shows up the night before Christmas, her own gifts in hand that she drops to the floor to open her arms wide, and Monica runs and jumps into them, nearly knocking her over.
“Oof,” Carol grunts at the force. “You’re on your way to being stronger than me.”
Monica giggles, squeezing her tighter. “I missed you so much,” she whispers in her ear.
“I missed you more, Lieutenant Trouble,” Carol whispers back, squeezes her just as tight, and gives her a wet kiss on the cheek that makes her giggle more.
“Don’t I get some love?” Maria asks with a faux pout. Carol grins, wrapping her arms around Maria’s waist and peppering kisses all over her face, stopping at her lips for a few tender pecks.
“Ew, gross!” Monica exclaims, face twisted up in disgust. “You two should have enough decency to get a room instead of me having to leave it.” Maria and Carol burst into laughter and Monica gives them another disapproving look. “It’s not funny, guys, it’s disturbing.”
The two women share amused looks. “Well, we are so very sorry to disturb you, baby,” Maria says, clutching her chest, sarcastically apologetic.
“Can you ever forgive us?” Carol asks, teasingly, and Monica gives them a mischievous grin, showcasing her deep dimples.
“Only if I can open one of your presents.”
Carol looks to Maria, and she agrees with a nod of her head and playful eye roll. “Okay, you can open one.”
“Yes!” Monica shouts with a fist pump.
“But,” Maria interjects, cutting off her excitement, “you have to wait until me and Auntie Carol are finished talking before you can open it.”
Monica tilts her head toward the ceiling, mulling over her mother’s terms, and accepts it with a smile. Waiting to open one present before Christmas is better than opening none, she figures. “Okay!”
“Thank you,” Carol says, bending slightly to kiss the top of Monica’s head. “Now, can you do me a favor and put all those gifts I brought underneath the tree?”
“Of course, Auntie,” she says and gathers them all in her arms. “I’ll be waiting for y’all in the living room.”
“And no peaking,” Carol calls after her. They hear her snicker as she turns the corner, and then look to each other, shaking their heads and chuckling. “That little girl is just too much.”
“Who you tellin’?”
“God, she has grown so much. I can’t believe I missed most of it.”
Maria’s eyebrows knit together, a frown wearily settling across her features, and Carol turns away. “Oh, sweetheart,” she says, stepping closer then wipes away Carol’s stray tear with her thumb. She places a tender kiss there before enveloping Carol into her arms. “I’m so sorry they took that away from you, baby.” Maria kisses her temple, squeezes her tighter, and hopes her affection will help easy the pain. “So, so sorry.”
Carol sniffles. “They took it from you, too. And Monica. They took those moments away from all of us.”
She sighs, rubbing soothing circles into Carol’s back. “Yeah, I know, baby, but at least you’re here with us now, and we can make new memories. Plus, I have so many photos and video tapes to show you, and I’ll be sure to tell you every detail of every moment. That okay?”
Maria can feel her smile against the crook of her neck. “Yeah, that’s perfect.”
After a few more moments, Maria pulls away, searching Carol’s face for any sadness, and smiles at the hope softening her eyes now. Then she continues to take Carol in, commit her visage to memory, because she doesn’t know how long she’ll be staying or how long she’ll be gone when she eventually leaves to be a superhero.
Yes, Maria’s proud, so very proud of the work Carol does, the lives she impacts, but after nearly seven years apart, Maria wants Carol for herself. At least for a little while... She wants to actually have the time to make those new memories, to hear all about her time in space, to get to know one another again.
However, Maria’s grateful, too. Carol is here, safe in her arms, and as selfish as she wants to be with Carol, she knows she has to share her with the world now. And that’s okay as long as they make the most of the moments they have together.
Now, they make the most of staring at one another.
Carol is meticulous in the way she takes in Maria. Their last time together had been so chaotic, she didn’t get a chance for moments like this: slow, unhurried gazes capturing new features and getting reacquainted with the ones that have always been there. Like the new laugh lines sitting beautifully at the edges of her eyes, and the same narrow, barely-there dimples that crease her cheeks when she speaks or smiles. And Carol watches the smile, suddenly, slowly, spread across her features, dimples denting her cheeks along the way, as Maria’s eyes trail down her suit, and Carol’s heart flutters.
Maria traces over the golden star in the middle of the hero’s suit, surprised to find not a speck of dirt for someone traveling through space. Do Skrulls have washing machines? Maria shakes her head of the silly thought. “So…” she starts, eyes meeting Carol’s, “how’ve you been?”
Carol knows she’s asking if she’s been hurt, can tell by the way Maria searches her face for any faded bruises. She takes her face into her hand, and Maria sighs into the touch. “Hey,” she says softly, and Maria’s eyes flutter open, wide and brown, and full of love and concern. Carol meets her gaze, bores into it with certainty. “I’m fine, Maria,” she states, matter-of-factly. “And even when I do take a hit, I heal up pretty quickly.”
She has that cocky smirk on her face that Maria hates and loves all at once. She glances down, trying to hide her grin, because even as cute as she is with her assuredness, Carol needs to understand that sometimes she keeps her up at night with a gut feeling she can’t shake. “Yeah, I know,” she mutters, looking down as she plays with the zipper of Carol’s brown leather jacket. “I just—I worry about you sometimes, is all.” She stops herself from pressing the issue, ignores the need to ask how she’s been emotionally.
“You don’t have to worry, love,” Carol says softly, kisses Maria’s forehead. “I’m more than capable of handling myself.” She sends a tiny jolt to the small of her waist, making Maria jump and giggle.
“Keep on playing, and I’ll lay ya ass out, Danvers.”
“Oh, please do.” She has the audacity to wink at her, that cocky smirk playing at her lips. “It’s been a minute since you have, if I remember correctly.”
Maria grows hot, from her face to the heat pooling in her belly, imagines Carol remembering one of their many nights of passion together. “Um, I- yeah. So I, um,” she stammers, looking at everything but the way Carol licks over, then bites into, her bottom lip. “I, uh,” she clears her throat, “I need some water.” As she heads for the kitchen, Maria can hear Carol chuckling, like she knows the effect she’s having on her.
Maria tries to ignore the way the breathiness of her laugh makes her breathless, tries to ignore the longing burning deep, because if she’s honest, she’s not ready for that yet. As they try to reassess their relationship, find out if they can be as romantically involved as they once were, Maria was fine with the long hugs, kisses, and cute pet names. That didn’t bother her at all. However, sex opens up more vulnerability, more intimacy, opens up the wound that had taken six years to scab over, opens up the very real, very scary possibility of Carol leaving and not coming back… Maria’s not sure she can handle that again.
So she mentally tells her vagina to cool it as she shakily pours herself a cup of water from the pitcher she just pulled from the fridge.
“Hey, you okay?” Carol asks, touching Maria’s wrist to steady her hand.
The breath she lets out is even shakier than her hands were moments ago. “Yeah, it’s ju—“ she starts to answer then cuts herself off. “Can I be honest?”
“Of course you can, baby. Tell me what’s on your mind?”
Maria takes a few steadying breaths before turning to face Carol, whose fingers move from Maria’s wrist and find home in their entwined hands. Maria smiles at that, kisses the back of Carol’s hand to show her appreciation. She inhales one last time as an act of encouragement. “What we had, y’know, before—“ She makes a gesture with her hand to demonstrate Lawson’s aircraft crashing, and laughs nervously.
It’s still very difficult for Maria to talk about, especially when simply thinking about it has her vividly remembering the remaining piece of Carol’s dog tags in her dirtied hand as she kneeled among the wreckage, scavenging for any piece of her partner.
She closes her eyes, tries to control her breathing as she counts down from ten, and when she opens them and sees Carol, she feels even more calm, like she can take on the world. “So, like I was saying,” she starts again, and her heart melts at the encouragement in Carol’s eyes, silently urging her. “What we had was beautiful. I don’t know what you remember, but I want you to know that. Our love was nurturing, and supportive, it was loving in every sense of the word. And the sex, god, it was phenomenal.”
They both flush as flickers of skin on skin come to mind. Then Maria’s expression distorts to a mixture of fondness and pain, tears stinging the corners of her eyes. “You remember the night before?” She asks, voice tender with tears and love. Carol nods, her pooled tears threatening to escape with every affirmative shake of her head.
“We made love like we somehow knew it’d be our last time,” Carol answers.
“Then you,” Maria, struggling against her words, clears her throat. “You were gone,” she finally gets out, trying her damnedest to keep her tears at bay. “For six years, you were gone, and I was devastated. Now, you’re back, and my love for you hasn’t gone anywhere, but,” she stops, tears spilling past the brim of her eyelids as she puts the back of her trembling hand against her lips to quiet the sound of her whimper. Carol takes her into her arms, holding her close. “I am so terrified,” she admits into the crook of Carol’s neck. Carol just holds her tighter, rubbing circles into the small of Maria’s back with her thumb. That soothes Maria, calms and grounds her as she breathes through her tears.
“I’m terrified that you’ll leave, and this time, six years will turn into a lifetime without you. I’m terrified that when you leave to go be Captain Marvel, you won’t come back. I know it’s irrational, but it’s how I feel. And I feel like I want to start our relationship again, and wake up to you every morning, and kiss you, and love on you, without fearing the worse.”
Carol’s heart aches, aches for the pain that their years apart have caused. She gently cups Maria’s face, holding her gaze to let her know she means every word she’s about to say. “Baby, if I could take that pain away right this second, you know I would. Wish I could kiss it all away...” she trails off, pressing kisses along the track of tears down Maria’s cheeks.
Maria leans into Carol’s touch, and for a moment, that ache is gone, soothed by Carol’s affection. “This helps.” she whispers against her lips.
“Well, I hope this helps, too.” Carol smiles as she pulls out a ring from her leather jacket pocket, identical to the one on her left ring finger. Maria’s mouth drops. “It’s not an engagement ring, so calm down, Rambeau.”
“Shut up and put it on!”
“You don’t even know what it’s for,” Carol says through a giggle.
“And I don’t care! It’s cute and it’s from you; that’s all that matters,” Maria says, her whole face aglow and Carol’s breath gets caught in her throat.
The superhero has taken out whole alien armies without flinching, but this sight of Maria, so happy and beautiful, has her struggling for her next breath.
“C’mon before my finger falls off,” she says wiggling the awaiting finger.
“Okay, okay, bossy,” Carol teases as she slides the ring onto Maria’s left ring finger and it fits perfectly.
“Wow...” she marvels at the intricate ring. White gold, and a grey-ish, marbled stone she’s never seen before, twist together and three diamonds line the front, the middle diamond significantly bigger. “It’s so beautiful.
“Yeah, it is,” Carol says, dreamily, looking directly at Maria.
Maria glances at the woman she loves so much, heart so full, but… “Carol, honey, I can’t—how much—”
She shakes her head indignantly, “no, don’t you start.”
“Nope,” she says, stressing the p, then takes Maria’s hand into her own and kisses the finger the ring sits on. “You don’t have to worry about the cost because it’s priceless; I made it with my own two hands, some meteorite, and an asteroid.”
“Really?” Maria asks, incredulously, eyes wide like a kid on Christmas—she looks exactly like Monica, really, and Carol grins at the thought, because it’s the cutest thing ever.
“Yeah,” she answers, rubbing her thumb along the ring, never taking her eyes off the beauty in front of her. “If you didn’t know, I’m sorta, kinda powerful.” Maria rolls her eyes, giggling all the while. “Wanna know something else?”
Her eyebrows lift, eyes sparkle with curiosity. “What?”
“This ring is my promise to you, to Monica, and to myself, that no matter what—even if I have to move heaven and earth—I’ll always come back home to my family.” Maria’s crying before Carol can even finish her sentence. It’s ridiculous how soft this woman makes her feel. Carol feels the exact same as her eyes pool as well. “I know this is scary for you, to think that I might not make it home to you two. It’s just as scary for me, especially when I’ve had a few close calls these past months. I told myself I wouldn’t come back, that I’d stay as far away as I could, because you and Monica don’t deserve to go through that again. But, baby, I made a promise to our little girl that I’d been home for Christmas, and it made me fight harder so that I could keep my promise.” She takes a breath, hopes her words weren’t muffled by her tears. “I say all that to say this: we may not know what tomorrow may bring, but we can’t let it impend on our happiness, Maria.”
She nods in understanding, and Carol cups her face, places a chaste kiss to her lips then wipes at Maria’s tears with the pads of her thumbs. “God, I’m a mess,” Maria says through a chuckle.
“A cute one,” Carol quips, kissing the tip of her nose.
Maria scrunches up her face. “I’m pretty sure you just tasted my snot.”
She licks her lips. “Mmm, delicious.”
“Ew, you’re disgusting!” She tries to wiggle out of her grasp, but Carol grabs her by the waist, and all Maria can do is dodge all of Carol’s kisses, until she finally lands one; wet and right on her lips. This time, Maria’s tears are from laughter and it’s the prettiest sight and loveliest sound.
“You love me, though,” Carol says, voice soft.
“Yeah,” she responds, just as softly, glancing up at her through long lashes, “I do.” She kisses her, knowing there's no snot to fret over, and it’s slow. So slow, time seems to stop, and love drips over them like molasses. They finally pull apart when they’re dizzy from lack of oxygen, rest their foreheads together, sighing contentedly.
“God, I’ve missed this, missed you,” Maria whispers, nuzzling their noses.
“I’ve missed us, too,” Carol whispers back, then finds solace in the crook of Maria’s neck. They stay there, wrapped up in each other, and they don’t know how much time passes, but it’s enough for Maria to decide that this is what she wants for the rest of her life.
Maria pulls away, lovingly takes Carol’s cheek into her hand. “Yes, I want this. I want you— us —together as a family.”
Carol laughs, because she can’t believe this is her life now. On Hala, as Kree, there was an emptiness inside her, something hallow, and the Starforce members had told her that was the price they paid for being noble warrior heroes. There was no time for family, for love; they had a war to win, and all that would come after. Supreme Intelligence even used that void to motivate them to fight harder. But she knows the truth now: her family was the thing missing. Then, she found them. She found home. What was once hallow, is now filled with love, and it runs over, cascading into rivers of laughter that's light and airy with loving tenderness.
Concern paints Maria’s face as she watches Carol become undone. “Baby, you okay? Is something wrong?”
“No,” she responds, the last of her laughter dripping from her lips as she shakes her head. “I just love you is all.” She hugs Maria to her, kissing her forehead.
“Did space make you such a sap?” she teases, even as she smiles bright.
Carol pinches her side, making Maria giggle. “Only for you, my love.” Maria just shakes her head, leans in to kiss her.
“There’s only so much Fresh Prince I can watch, guys.” Monica says, and the couple break apart. “Especially when I’m tempted by presents.”
“Okay, Monnie, we hear you,” Maria says with a playful roll of her eyes. “Lemme get the camera then you can open your gift, okay?”
She frowns. “Okay, but hurry up,” she says then adds a very sweet and apologetic “please” when Maria and Carol cut their eyes at her.
“C’mon, Lieutenant Trouble,” Carol says with a smile as she squats to let Monica jump on her back. She runs them into the living room, Monica giggling and it’s just like old times. She unloads her onto the couch then plops down beside her. “So,” she says, glancing over at Monica. “What kinds of trouble have been getting in to?”
She grins. “Nothing as cool or interesting as your adventures up in space.”
She makes a face of faux contemplation, head tilted, eyes toward the ceiling, the corner of her lips downcast. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” she says with a nod.
“Well, tell me about it!”
Maria stands in the entryway, hip leaned against the frame as she watches the loves of her life. Carol is so animated as she recounts her time in the vastness of the universe, and Monica is so in awe. Right then and there Maria decides the sight in front of her is the best present she’s ever received. She’s so glad she didn’t let her fears get in the way, that she’s allowing herself to love wholly and fully without worry for the things she can’t control. She promises herself that she won’t guard her heart like that again. It hurt more than it helped.
Carol’s making some exaggerated gesture and Monica’s eyes have the sparkliest twinkle to them, so full of wonder, and Maria has to capture this moment. The flash goes off and they snap their attention to Maria who holds up her hands in apology. “I’m sorry! You two looked so cute being space nerds.”
“That’s actually the best nerd to be.”
“Exactly,” Monica co-signs, sticking out her tongue. “You’re just jealous ‘cause you can’t join the club.”
“I’ll have you know, I’m actually the co-president,” she starts as she sits on the other side of her daughter, “since, you know, I’ve actually been to space and all.”
Monica huffs and rolls her eyes, drawing a laugh from Carol and Maria. “You don’t have to keep rubbing it in my face, mom.”
“You’ll get there someday kid,” Carol says with a smirk and wink.
“Carol Susan Jane Danvers, you will not be taking our child into freaking space !”
“Of course not, baby.” She leans over to give her a quick, reassuring kiss then leans down to Monica’s ear. “We’ll go when you’re 18,” she whispers and Monica giggles.
Maria cuts her eyes at them, smiling all the while. “You two are trouble,” she laughs. “We need another kid so I’ll have someone to cut up with, too. See how y’all like it when we cause trouble.” Carol’s eyes light up like it’s the greatest thing she’s heard, and it is. To add to their love and grow their family.
“I wouldn’t mind a little sibling,” Monica says, mulling it over.
“Yeah?” Carol asks, enthusiasm all over her face and it makes Maria’s heart melt. She had only been half serious, but she’s more than ready to start the process if another child is what they want.
“Yeah,” she nods. “Plus they’ll have the best big sister and the greatest moms.”
Maria and Carol share a smile, a small confirmation that this is definitely something they all want. “We can talk about it later,” Maria assures Carol, and she nods, her soft smile never leaving her face.
“Not to be rude or anything,” Monica starts, voice sweet like the sugariness will keep her from getting in trouble. “Can we focus on the child you actually have so I can finally open my presents?” Apparently the sweetness works, because they laugh at her.
“We’ve definitely created a spoiled little monster,” Carol says, getting the one, special present she knows Monica will cherish.
“I blame you,” Maria counters. “She was fine til you came back.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she dismisses before handing Monica the perfectly wrapped present. “Merry Christmas, Lieutenant Trouble.”
“Thank you, Auntie Carol,” she says, tearing open the blue wrapping paper with white snowflakes. Her mouth drops open as she eyes the box. “A telescope?! This is so cool!” Her fingers fiddle with box to get it open.
“Remember how we used to stargaze?” Carol asks. Maria nods, fingers still working to get the telescope out of the box. “Well, now I can show all the places I’ve visited up there and I can teach you everything I know.”
Monica finally gets it out of the box, holds it in her hand like it’s a delicate piece of glass as she inspects it. “Wow,” she breathes. “This is wow.”
Carol smiles, proud that she shares the same love for space that she has. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Like it?! I love it!” She exclaims, then carefully hands it to her mother before hugging Carol tight. “Thank you so much. This is the best present ever.”
“Of course, sweetie.” Carol kisses the top of her head.
Then Monica looks up at her mom. “Can I try it out tonight?”
“Yeah, baby,” Maria agrees, unable to say no to the passion in her eyes.
“I’ll go grab my shoes,” she calls after shooting out of the room.
“There’s no way I’m gonna top this,” Maria tells Carol, grazing over the cool, grey metal. “I should just return all my stuff.”
“Oh, hush,” Carol dismisses as she gathers her into her arms.
Maria leans into the embrace, sighs happily as her eyes flutter to a close, weighed down by bliss. “Y’know, you’re starting to spoil me, too.”
“As long as you’re happy, I’ll give you whatever you want,” Carol says softly, her lips right at Maria’s ear.
She lifts her left hand, kisses her ring finger. “I promise.”