give your heart to the wanderer (who found your soul and called it home)
Carol Danvers loves with chaos.
That makes all the difference.
Carol gasped awake with the weight of two different lives weighing down her shoulders like boa constrictor chains. A corset was around her chest and the past had tugged the strings too tight. Even now she was cutting away the fabric and pulling out the bones, trying to discover who she really was.
Around her, Mar-Vell’s Kree ship hummed.
The metal was cold against her damp hair and she closed her eyes.
“You’re Carol,” she whispered, her voice sounding almost too loud in the small room. “Carol Danvers. Terran—” Sh*t. “Human. Human. I’m human.”
Are you lying to yourself? Yon-Rogg whispered in her ear and she bared her teeth at his ghost still roaming the hallway of her thoughts.
Air hissed out somewhere in the pipes and her lungs rattled in her lungs, oxygen catching in her throat. The memories mixed, folded, kneaded together. Mar-Vell standing in defence, the attacking Skrull, blue blood on her hands that switched to red to blue to red again.
Carol dug her fingers into her hair, pressed her face into her knees, and tried not to breathe in the ashes of who she used to be.
“Rough night?” Talos stood beside her, tray in hand, standing in line with everyone else waiting for their portions.
Carol shrugged and focused on Goose swiping playfully at the cooks as they passed beneath her perch. “It was fine.” Each of her limbs felt groggy and each movement almost seemed like too much. She’d probably have to try and take a nap somewhere.
God she missed coffee.
Talos hummed and turned away, taking a step forward as the line shifted. “We’ll be approaching the Badoon Planets soon.”
“Those are under Asgardian rule,” Carol’s gaze sharpened. “They don’t take very kindly to people encroaching on their territory.”
“They don’t,” Talos said, lifting his tray for a wet slap of breakfast. “We’re hoping to go in, find our people, and leave.” He moved out of the way but stepped to the side, waiting for her.
Carol didn’t watch the food land on her tray, eyes narrowed, searching Talos’ for a sign of... something. She didn’t know what. “Do you know where they are?”
“Yes; Soren has been in contact with them all morning.”
“An easy grab and run, then,” Carol followed him to one of the side tables and tried not to think about Torfa and the ambush that had waited. It was different. It would be different. “Do you need me to come with you?”
Talos offered a small smile. “No,” he said, “But stay close and keep the C-Sat on you.”
The Kree Cruise vessel cloaked before approaching the first of the Badoon planets and Carol stood next to Soren on the bridge. Every Skrull was quiet and the words left unsaid hovered in the air—thick and heavy—as the transport ship dropped into the atmosphere.
It wasn’t the first time, the second, or even the third, but Carol held her breath anyway.
Only when the three pings announcing that the group had landed safely did the group exhale their relief.
“And now we wait,” Soren said, the words trembling on her tongue.
Carol took her hand and squeezed it. “Now we wait,” she agreed.
Sitting still wasn’t exactly Carol’s thing and waiting was always easier when it didn’t feel like waiting to begin with. Carol dug up whatever music Mar-Vell had managed to squirrel away and brought stacks of CD’s and a stereo to the largest, empty room she could find.
The videos eventually made their way to earth and Nick Fury made sure to go down to the empty records hall to watch Carol Danvers.
She was glowing both from the wide smile on her face and the energy that swam across her skin like reflections at the bottom of a pool. Bare feet slapped against the floor, colour crackled across her finger tips, and the dark walls of the Kree ship were lit up by gentle starlight.
The video itself was shaking; not from horrible quality but simply from the fact that the person holding the C-Sat was trying too hard to keep their laughter contained. Fury could hear their giggles mixing in with the music in the background and the cheers of everyone else but it was the woman in the middle of it all that stood out.
Carol didn’t fumble, and she didn’t flail—something with her own, meticulous fight training was probably involved—but there was something about the way exaggerated way she shook her shoulders, flipped her hair over her face, and looked over her shoulder at the camera that was too clownish to be fully real. Her voice was caught by the speakers—just loud enough to be heard over the laughter of the Skrulls as she sang; “the love shack is a little ol’ place where we can get to-geth-er!”
A spin, another flip of her head, and she lifted her hands to the ceiling, cocked a hip and yelled “love shack bab-yyyy!” to the cheers of the audience around her.
Fury covered his mouth to stifle his snickers as Carol faltered, breaking into full belly laughs as one of the Skrull children tackled her legs and sent them both crashing to the floor. The footage twisted as the C-Sat was handed over and, when it focused again, Fury recognized Talos’ daughter running to pounce on top of the dog pile.
“No!” Carol cried beneath the six or so children, her laughter mixing with theirs as she kept her resistance gentle, “no, please! Have mercy!”
“Never!” came the resounding cry and small hands reached for ticklish spots. “Surrender!”
Fury laughed, the sound echoing through the hall as Carol waved her hands out uselessly until they were pinned. “I do!” she cried. “Such brave, fearsome warriors, you are! I never stood a chance!”
The video stopped there, focused on Carol’s wide grin, her bright, blonde hair spread out along the dark floor of the ship. Fury stared at it for a while, his own, small grin on his face before he straightened. “Back to work,” he said.
(But if he took the C-Sat out to play the video on mute, who one else would know except him?)
Carol sat on the floor of one of the observatory rooms, her hair still damp from a shower and leather jacket pressing heavily against her shoulders. She had changed out of the space suit long ago, choosing instead to wear an almost too long t-shirt and a pair of torn, bleached jeans.
Goose was in her lap, half sprawled and half curled, chin resting on torn denim and paws kneading absently into a human thigh. Orange ears flicked when nails scratched at their base and her purr rumbled through her chest under gentle petting. Her tail curled in pleasure, smacking gently into Carol’s waist each time it flicked.
Outside the window, a planet sat, still and silent despite the life that formed and worked on the surface. They were looking down upon the backside—the night side—where lights mapped out cities and hundreds upon thousands of lives.
Carol lifted her hand and pressed her palm against the glass. In her lap, Goose lifted her head. She saw Earth mirrored in those lights, wondered what her home was doing, wondered what the night would look like when she looked down instead of up.
Some part of her was terrified of going back. Another part knew that there was no way she could stay away forever. It was home as much as anything could be home. That little planet on the edge of the galaxy.
Soren sat down beside them, hands on her thighs. “It’s beautiful,” she said.
“It is,” Carol said and pulled her hand away from the glass to scratch Goose under her chin. The Flerken purred and lifted her head, eyes drifting half shut.
They sat together, quiet, and watched the lights dance beneath them to the same song that pulsed through the universe.
“You know,” Soren said after a few moments of silence, “we’ll be here for a while.”
“Yeah?” Carol said, doing her best to sound uninterested.
Humming, Soren looked at the human beside her. “Talos will go to each of the planets to gather our people. It will take time.”
“Will it?” Carol rubbed her fingers beneath Goose’s collar and the Flerken rolled over, wrapped her legs around an arm and held it close to her warm underbelly.
“You could probably go back for a little while, visit your family.”
Carol blinked. “My—” paused, bit her lip. Right. Her family. Maria and Monica and, maybe, Nick. She ached for it, burned for it. There was a layer beneath her skin that itched. “Are you sure? What if—”
“We have ways to contact you,” Soren said, a small smile on her face. “There are moments where you must stay where you are needed,” she turned back to the planet below them, “but you also need to know when to go where you are loved.”
Go where you are loved. Carol looked down at the lights and traced their unfamiliar patterns, found the twisted constellations, soaked in the unfamiliar starlight. The itch grew beneath her skin as her throat tightened. Go where you are loved.
Carol scrambled to her feet, hoisting a disgruntled Goose up and cradling the Flerken against her chest. “I—” she swallowed. “I’ll be back.”
“We know,” Soren said with a small laugh. “Go.”
“Ready, Goose?” Carol said back at the carrier on her back. There was a disgruntled mrrow from the carefully air-locked container and she grinned, activating her cowl.
The doors for the old drop ships opened beneath her and she fell into the emptiness of space with a laugh.
Carol walked down the sidewalk of LA, hands in her jacket pockets, Goose trotting at her heels. The sun had already set over the horizon, vanishing behind the long stretch of the ocean. Only the brightest of stars managed to push through the lights of the buildings, creating half made constellations across the night sky. Glancing around for any cars, she jogged across the street and headed down to the wooden walkway by the beach.
Jumping on each foot, Carol removed her shoes and socks, and then vaulted over the banister. For a moment she dug her toes into the sand and sighed, closing her eyes and tilting her nose up to the sky. An ocean breeze brushed through her hair and the taste of salt settled on the tip of her tongue.
Goose yowled at her from the path, looking down at the sand and whipping her tail back and forth.
“Not a fan?” Carol said, pulling her hair back from her face and placed her shoes beside one of the thick, wooden beams. Goose leaned into her hand, purring at the scratches along her cheek. “Fine with digging in the pots, walking through flour, but sand is where you draw the line?”
Carol rolled her eyes, grinned fondly, and picked Goose up into her arms. Claws dug into her t-shirt, but didn’t pierce skin, as the Flerken repositioned until she was cradled carefully in strong arms. Paws and a furry chin rested on a human shoulder and her purr vibrated through orange fur.
Feeling the sound in her bones, Carol pressed her nose into Goose’s shoulder and breathed in the smell of space and feline. She walked towards the ocean until water lapped at her heels and the abyss of the ocean loomed ahead of her, reflecting the sky and city lights behind her.
The stars stared down at her and Carol met their gaze while she tried to remember the old stories of the people who had looked at them long before she had been born.
“Searching for something in particular?”
A man stepped up beside her. Goose tensed in her arms and leaned back, head against Carol’s neck. The purring stopped and the long, orange tail whipped against one of the hands holding her. Starlight dimmed above her, pulling back like turtles into their black shells.
Pressing her lips against the Flerken’s flattened ear, Carol glanced at the man. White t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes he kept carefully away from the ocean waves. He had his hands in his pockets, hips forward, and a grin he definitely thought was charming on his lips.
“I’m waiting for someone,” Carol said and took a step back so he was out of her personal space.
He moved back into it.
Goose rumbled like a brewing storm.
“At least let me walk you back to the pathway,” he stepped in close enough that she could feel the heat of his skin against her arm. Claws dug into skin, not quite drawing blood. Not yet. “It’s not safe for a pretty thing like you to be out in the dark like this.”
“I’m fine,” Carol said, turning to face him fully and stepping back. Water splashed up around her ankles, soaking into the hem of her jeans. “And I don’t need your help.”
She felt Goose twist her head around to watch the man, ears brushing underneath her chin. A deep growl rose through the back of the Flerken’s throat and could mean nothing other than a clear ‘back off’. Carol reached up and brushed her hand down orange fur, hoping that she could calm the alien down before her tentacles came out.
The charming grin flickered, faded for a split second into something else. Something that was full of rage and anger and want that she had no desire to be a part of. It was a familiar look, one echoed on Yon-Rogg and the Supreme Intelligences’ faces, but she had never realized what it had been until that moment:
Carol straightened her shoulders, pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes. “Leave me alone,” she told him.
He laughed and reached for her. “Come on, sweetheart—”
Goose bared her teeth in a hiss and Carol snatched his wrist, held it, and squeezed until he gasped. “I said,” she snarled, tightening her grip until he was clawing at her fingers. “Leave me alone.”
His knees hit the sand and the ocean rushed forward, brushing past Carol’s ankles to slap against his knees. “Okay,” he gasped, “okay! I’m sorry! I’m sorry—”
Laughter rose from the beach and Carol snapped her head up, her emotions already boiling beneath the surface. Goose meowed against her at the sight of Nick Fury. He was still in his brown shoulder holsters—the leather standing out against his white button up—and had his jacket over one arm. “Oh, kid,” his voice was falsely warm as he walked down the beach in his shined black shoes and pressed trousers. “You picked the wrong woman to harass, didn’t you?”
“Agent Fury,” Carol said, her gaze turned back to the man kneeling before her. “How was work?”
“Fine,” he said, “got a call from a good friend of mine. Said she’s visiting from out of town.”
Carol couldn’t stop the smile that slowly grew across her face. Goose’s purr was so loud it vibrated through her blood and she let the man go. There would be bruises on his arm. She didn’t feel even remotely sorry about it. Water fell across her skin as she walked out of it and sand stuck to her heels and ankles, making their home uncomfortably between her toes.
“Hope that friend didn’t interrupt any plans you had for the evening,” Carol said and leaned into his hug. She didn’t bother turning around as the man scrambled out of the water, muttering unpleasant things under his breath as he fled.
Squished between the two humans, Goose grumbled but didn’t stop purring.
“Course not,” Fury said and his face grew years younger as he smiled. “Missed you.”
The words thundered through her and Carol had to swallow her heart down before it burst through her throat. ‘I missed you, too’ settled on her tongue. Instead, she breathed out and felt the loneliness of space be swept off her shoulders by an Earth breeze.
“Who,” her grin was cheeky, “me?”
“Course not,” Fury huffed and looked down, “I was talking to Goose.”
Carol knocked into him with her shoulder, making them both laugh as they stumbled across the beach. She spared one last glance up at the stars as they walked back to her shoes and smiled.
“Peggy Carter,” Fury said, picking up one of his fries and frowned down at what was left of his meal, “is a complicated woman.”
Carol worked her way through her second cheese burger and pushed her plate away from Goose’s searching nose. “Complicated?” She licked ketchup off her thumb. “Why? Does she have powers?”
“The powers of persuasion, maybe,” Fury grumbled and popped a fry into his mouth. “Nah, she’s just intimidating.”
His grumpy confusion was such a stark contrast to his eye patch and scars that Carol had to swallow down her grin with another bite for her burger. After weeks of the tasteless shlop from the Kree ship the flavours were almost overwhelming but it settled in her; warm and heavy. “And she wants to meet me?”
“Sure does,” Fury said, “probably will give me a disappointed look cause I didn’t call her the second you made contact.”
Carol’s brows lifted and she didn’t bother hiding her smile. “Agent Fury,” she said, “are you afraid of a little old woman?”
He scoffed. “What? No.”
Silence settled between them. Carol took another bite of her burger and nudged Goose back down to her lap.
“Maybe,” Fury mumbled and waved a fry at her. “But she’s not just a ‘little old woman’, Danvers. She could probably kick my ass and that of every agent in the LA branch’s office.”
Carol laughed, shoved the rest of the burger in her mouth. She yelped, cheeks stuffed, when a tentacle snapped across the table, snatched up a fry, and brought it back to Goose. The Flerken chewed noisily, tail curling in satisfaction.
Heat settled in Fury’s car; a heavy heat. The kind that weighed down skin and made everything seem more sticky than it actually was. He waved his hands over the fans in the front and felt the weak putter of cool air against his palm before turning to Carol.
She was curled up in the passenger seat, dressed in a thin tank top and a pair of jean shorts. Sunlight had settled like a blanket across her skin and the half open window let the wind sneak in to tug playfully at her hair. At some point between LA and Palm Springs she had put the backrest all the way back and had tucked up on the seat. With one leg on the floor and the other folded beneath her, she looked young. Too young.
(Sometimes Fury forgot that she was trained as an air force pilot. Sometimes he forgot that she saw the front lines of an intergalactic war.)
Goose, after a few more miles, wormed her way up from the back seat and had settled against Carol’s chest. She wiggled beneath one arm, caught her claws in cotton, and tucked her nose against a human neck.
Humming in her sleep, Carol pressed her lips to a soft ear and pulled the Flerken close.
“Anything else?” Fury glanced back at Carol. She was holding Goose like a child; arms crossed over her chest with the Flerken hanging by the armpits.
Not that the alien seemed to care all that much. She actually looked quite content dangling from the super-human’s hold.
Blinking slowly, her movements still slow from the nap, Carol looked over the pile of snacks and drinks sitting on the counter of the gas station and frowned. “Gum?”
Fury glanced at the packages. “Which kind?” he said.
“One of those,” Carol nodded towards the bright sticks of Hubba Bubba.
Grabbing one of each flavour, he added it to the pile.
The sun was setting behind them by the time Carol brought her seat back up. She rolled the window down all the way as they passed over the river beneath I-10, and passed by the tiny, almost insignificant, Arizona State Line sign. Her arms were folded on the sill of the door, chin resting on top as Fury moved into the left lane to pass a massive semi. Goose sat on her thigh and the two of them watched the flat, empty landscape race away.
He wondered if their planet measured up to the others she’d been to. If Earth would even be a blip on her radar if it wasn’t the home to the people she loved.
But then Fury pulled off into one of the stops and watched her race Goose towards the dusk painted horizon, and realized that it didn’t matter.
Twenty-Seven hours. Two hotels. One long highway.
Desert became woodland, arid became humid, and Carol stuck her head out the window and laughed at the moon still sitting in the late morning Louisiana sky.
The car hadn’t stopped before the passenger side door was flung open and Carol launched up the driveway to meet the bright coloured blur racing to greet her. They hit like two stars colliding and Monica laughed as she was scooped up in a hug. Maria walked out of the house, a streak of flour across her cheek. She gave Fury a small grin and wiped her hands down on her overalls. Goose trotted up the gravel, tags jingling as she meowed.
“Auntie Carol!” Monica cried, laughing and wrapping her legs and arms around the blonde. They were tangled together; a mix of arms and legs that was made of so much joy it almost dripped off them like ambrosia. “I missed you!”
Carol laughed. “We talk every day!” She said.
“I know,” Monica smiled and tucked herself back up against the woman. “I still missed you.”
Carol’s face softened and she kissed the girl on the forehead. “I missed you too, Lieutenant Trouble.”
They ate dinner outside on a blanket, paper plates on laps, fingers smoothed with fried chicken grease, and watching the sun set over the tree line. Carol waved away Maria’s poking finger and sent crumbs flying across Nick’s trousers. Goose purred against Monica’s thigh, her tail curling, eyes half lidded as laughter settled in the spaces between the five of them.
It was just another moment. One moment among the millions that happened every second between friends, between strangers, between lovers.
But that one was theirs.
In the end, that’s what mattered the most.
The memories didn’t come back all at once. They came in dreams, came in unfamiliar habits, in pictures and stories and phantom flashes that burned the tip of her tongue. It was hard. Harder than she had ever thought possible. Sometimes Maria and Monica would look at her with such hopeful eyes, asking her about her old favourite movie (she didn’t know) or a joke at project Pegasus (she didn’t remember).
They loved her, they did, but Carol didn’t believe half the things in her head, half the truths she once thought about herself. Some part of her still tasted like heartache and war and she wondered if it would ever fade away.
After an endless night of being unable to sleep, she rolled off the couch and padded, barefoot, to the front door. The porch lights stayed off and Carol stepped down the old, wooden stairs, gaze focused on the sky.
Stars looked down at Carol; unfailing, ancient, old. She spread out underneath them, grass poking at her back, tickling her biceps and elbows. Some part of her could still smell the dust of falling dirt, feel the crackle of energy burning through her, consuming every cell before deciding that it wanted to stay.
She wondered who she was born to be, what kind of destiny had been woven between the stardust that hummed under her skin.
There was a gentle mrrp at her shoulder. Carol turned her head and was met by a mouthful of hair. “Goose!” She sputtered and took the brunt of the Flerken’s gentle head butt. “What’re you doin’?”
Orange fur looked almost brown in the dark, starlight glimmered in the metal tag, and Goose meowed. She stepped up onto Carol’s sternum with one foot, earned a rough ‘oof’ in response, and decided that ‘yes, this is the perfect place to rest’. Weight bore down on human ribs—the good kind, the kind that murmured things about life and breathing and each thump, thump, thump of a heart—and the Flerken flopped down.
Brass eyes were half lidded and a rumbling purr vibrated through every cell in Carol’s body.
Fingers reach up, scratched between soft ears.
“You good?”Carol said, looking down. “All comfy?”
Goose let out a self-satisfied mrrow.
“So you just drove the whole way?” Maria leaned against the counter, watching as Fury flipped the pancakes. “Why not fly? Seems like a whole less trouble.”
Carol snickered at the table and narrowed her eyes as Monica blocked her victory in the game of tic-tac-toe they had drawn up while waiting. “Tell her, Nick,” she said drawing her X in a new spot. “Tell her why we didn’t take a plane.”
“Shut up, you,” Fury pointed his spatula at her, turned back to the pan, and sighed. “Look, I work for a spy organization,” he said, “and, guess its old habits, but I’d rather not have other spies know about where I spend my off days.”
Maria clucked her tongue. “Aw,” she said with a pout of a smile. “That’s sweet.”
“No,” Fury glared at her. “Nuh uh. Nope.”
Monica leaned across the table. “I don’t get it,” she whispered but the words were still loud enough that everyone in the kitchen could hear her.
Carol leaned down and tried to hide her smile. “He’s protecting you guys,” she said back in a stage whisper. “He loves us.”
“That’s it,” Fury said, “none of you get pancakes!”
The sound of groans and outraged cries escaped through the partially open windows.
Louisiana heat settled in around noon and they all pulled inside, dressed down to thin shirts, tank tops, and shorts to sit around the dining room table. The doorbell rang and Monica scrambled out of her seat to answer it, Maria at her heels. Muffled talking came from the front, but Carol and Fury didn’t notice, their eyes locked, expressions hard and refusing to give anything away.
Fury smirked. “Come on, Danvers,” he said and leaned back into his chair, posture full of false relaxation. “Just admit that I won.”
The front door closed. A trio of feet padded down the hallway.
“Never,” Carol said, face hard, and slapped her card down on the discard pile. “Draw four, suckah!” She cried, leaping out of her chair and pointing at Fury, finger a good couple of inches away from his nose.
“What?!” He snapped forward and stared at the black card. “You pain in the ass! You’ve been holding onto that this whole time, haven’t you?”
Carol cackled and waved her single card in his face. “Uno, motherfu—”
Someone cleared their throat.
Freezing, Carol looked up, eyes wide, and snapped back, hands behind her back, shoulders squared. She looked like a child that had gotten caught playing with matchsticks in the barn all the way down to the innocent little smile slowly forming on her face.
Fury turned around and groaned, slumping back into his seat.
“Having fun?” Peggy Carter asked them.
It was too hot to even consider putting the kettle on and Carol was sure that Director Carter (“Call me Peggy”) was just humouring her when she poured two glasses of ice tea. Something about it all felt surreal. There was a ghost of a memory that rose and fell in the back of her consciousness. Her and a group of classmates sitting still, rapt, listening to a recording in history class: the last time anyone had ever heard Steve Roger’s voice before he went into the ice.
“Good to know that Nick didn’t have to drive me across the country,” Carol said, sitting down at the table and handing Peggy her glass. Goose jumped up to her lap the moment she sat down and stared at the ex-agent with sharp, gold eyes.
“Oh,” Peggy smiled, “no one knows I’m here, actually. His secret’s still safe.”
The tension at the base of Carol’s spine eased. She sipped her tea and rubbed the smooth, soft fur between Goose’s ears. “How’d you find him?”
“A very old tracking device—ones that the Howling Commandos used back during the war,” Peggy brushed her thumb across the moisture gathering on the outside of her glass. “Virtually untraceable with the technology we have now.”
“Sometimes the old things really are better,” Carol murmured.
Peggy smiled but her eyes were full of something. It was the kind of look only birthed from years of watching people using sticks and stones to build their thrones mixed with the between two women on opposite sides of a bar when a dangerous man walked through the door. “But not all things.”
“No,” Carol took another sip of her tea, swallowed. “Not all things.”
Peggy did drink the tea—eventually—and Carol scooted her chair over so they were shoulder to shoulder, leaning over the C-Sat to look at the pictures. There were planets, cities, aliens, and Goose; videos of her time with the Skrulls, of fixing the old probe, of flying over the moon towards Earth.
“I don’t think,” Peggy said, smiling at a picture of Carol outside the Kree cruiser, engulfed in her power, giving the photographer a thumbs-up. “This planet could have ever been prepared for you.”
Carol looked down at the burning, nebula energy that trailed behind her. “I just wanted to fly,” she said, softly. But it had been more than that. She had wanted opportunities, wanted a chance. The military had offered that when no one else could, telling her that she could be better, do better.
Higher, further, faster.
She breathed in, put the C-Sat down on the table, and wrote her initials on the side of her glass. Peggy reached over, placed her hand on Carol’s wrist, and squeezed. Her skin was old, wrinkled, and stretched across fragile bones.
They weren’t fragile like flowers, though. Fragile like bombs and ideas and hope.
“Can you tell me about him?” Carol looked up, meeting the other woman’s warm gaze.
The first hero the world had seen. The military man who dove a plane into the ocean to save the world.
And Peggy smiled.
She stayed for dinner and sat out on the porch as the sun set. Dusk painted bittersweet happiness in her eyes as she watched Nick, Monica, Maria, and Goose chase each other through the grass. Carol leaned back against the steps, hair brushing across her bare shoulders. The heat had broken some hour before but the aftertaste of it lingered against her skin.
Peggy would have to leave but, for that moment, they sat together beneath the open sky.
She was kneeling, standing, bleeding, choking. Smoke filled her lungs, clawing at the back of throat, mixing with the smell of bitter blood.
“Carol,” Lawson said beside her, eyes blank, a black, burnt hole in her chest. “Carol.”
“No,” she gasped around the weight of her tongue as hands grabbed her, forced her down. “No, Lawson, Lawson! Please!” White light ignited shadows with hungry, grinning mouths and blue blood oozed into her arm.
Sweat stuck the cotton sheets to her skin, tangling them around her legs. Each beat of her heart thundered in the back of her throat and the dim light of the moon sent long shadows to reach their grasping fingers towards her feet. Carol scrambled, almost falling off the bed before hands caught her, pulled her up.
Energy crackled across her knuckles and Carol breathed in oil, spices, and the heavy chemicals of straight, black hair.
Her powers went out like a candle being blown out and she reached out, wrapped her arms around the other woman, buried her nose against a damp neck.
“Breathe,” Maria climbed on the bed, rubbed her hand down a sweat soaked back. “Breathe, honey. You’re okay.”
Carol tried, but the air got caught in her lungs and shuddered out in a sob. Her fingers dug into dark skin, nails catching on thin fabric. Lying down beside her, Maria didn’t care about the way their skin stuck together or the damp twisted strands of their hair. She just tightened her grip, breathed deeper, and held on for as long as she could.
Lungs steadied and a terrified heart climbed out of the back of her throat, soothed like a stray dog by the gentle, thudding pulse of Maria’s. Falling limp against her blankets, Carol pressed her lips against the other woman’s shoulder and focused on the crickets singing outside and the shifting, groaning wood of the house around them.
“What time is it?” She managed. Some part of her still felt too raw to be awake.
“Doesn’t matter,” Maria said, tightening her hold.
Carol hummed and shifted her grip so her arms were wrapped around a waist instead of digging into shoulders. “It’s hot,” she grumbled.
“Deal with it.”
Maria woke them all up before the sun was up, had them all tug on swim suits, and hooked the boat up to the back of her old pick up. Carol tied an old Hawaiian shirt over her halter top and laughed at the sound of flip flops slapping against asphalt as Fury and Monica snuck Goose into the back seat.
The sun was still low in the sky when they stopped at the nearest grocery store, racing each other through aisles to find snacks, drinks, and sunscreen and was just over the tree line by the time they got to the lake. Heat and humidity was already sticking to everything and the coolers in the back rattled together like some strange maracas as they turned onto a gravel road.
“There, mom!” Monica said, leaning forward, pointing through the gap between the front seats to an empty spot. It had high enough trees to provide shade and privacy from the rest of the areas and a picnic table with a grill.
“Go get it,” Maria said, slowing to a stop so her daughter could scrambled out of the truck. She tugged Fury and Goose along with her, leaving the two women alone with the radio.
Turning the wheel towards the slipway, Maria rolled down the windows, rested her elbow on the door, and hummed along to the music.
“Do you remember this?” She said between the pause of one song to another. “Fishing? Boating?”
Carol looked out over the lake, traced the way the sunlight crated shadows across the small waves. “A little,” she admitted. “I remember that I hated fishing.”
“That’s cause you got no patience,” Maria huffed and grinned when Carol snorted. They both got out to remove the boat’s cover, folded it, placed it beneath one of the seats. A breeze blew over the water, ruffling their hair and soothing the sun that had already kissed their skin.
Carol stepped up behind the wheel of the boat without thinking, catching the keys when they were tossed to her. She did remember—or her body did, at least—and her fingers brushed over the leather, tapped against the dash.
Maria backed the boat into the water, watching out of her side mirror. “You good back there?” She called.
“Yeah!” Carol waved her hand, watching to make sure she was off the trailer. One reverse later and she was free of the slip way, pulling out into deeper waters. Standing to look over the windshield, breeze running through her hair, Carol grinned.
It was almost like flying.
She hit a wave and water splashed over the side.
Carol took off long after the sun had set. Her things were packed, Goose was in the carrier, and the C-Sat was fully charged.
“Come back soon, okay?” Monica said, arms wrapped around the blonde woman’s neck. “And take care of Goose.”
“I will,” Carol said against her hair. When she let go, a different pair of arms pulled her in and she breathed in Mara’s warmth.
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
Carol laughed but the sound was wet. She’d never been a big fan of goodbyes. “You know me,” she said.
Snorting, Maria tightened her hold, “I do,” she said. “That’s why I’m telling you not to do anything stupid.”
Holding on, Carol closed her eyes and felt the crackle of energy beneath the other woman’s skin, memorized the way her cells communicated.
“I won’t,” Carol promised
Maria was right, in the end. Carol had never been one for sitting still. She had a heart like an open road; no signs or speed limits, just a highway of endless possibilities disappearing into the setting sun.
It’s why she left.
But, most of all, it’s why she always came back.