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homecoming

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One of the last places Karolina expects to find her fiancée, when she goes looking for her, is in Molly’s room. Surprisingly enough, Xavin seems to have gotten roped into telling Molly a bedtime story. It’s something that Chase does, sometimes, or Gert, though her stories are usually thinly disguised lectures on the evils of modern society.

Molly could just read by herself if she wanted, of course, but sometimes they like to humour her. The Hostel is pretty low on entertainment opportunities, so they have to get creative.

Xavin's stories aren't the most child-friendly, and even though she should, technically, be great at doing different voices, what with the shape-shifting and all, she's clearly not familiar with the concept. She's trying her best though: she keeps attempting to illustrate things Molly’s never seen through sweeping hand gestures. Karolina can’t help finding it endearing.

Molly seems enthralled by the tales of Dorek III's bloody victory over the Kree, even if they’re a pretty dry account. Karolina figures that she’s actually absorbing strategies that’ll help her crush the rest of them at Risk the next time she manages to convince the group to play – or Xavin, at least, because Xavin has her pride and it won’t let her back down from a challenge, even when she’s bound to lose.

Karolina tries to be quiet, stays in human form so her light doesn’t attract their attention, because she doesn’t want to ruin the moment. It’s so nice to see Xavin bonding with other members of the team, since that—hasn’t always gone so well. Her attempt at stealth doesn’t work, though. Xavin turns to smile at her almost instantly. Thankfully she doesn’t stop speaking. Xavin always seems to know where she is. Karolina doesn’t know whether it’s a Skrull thing or a Xavin thing.

There’s still so much she doesn’t know about her fiancée, or either of their people. They’d had so little time to themselves, to learn each other, back when there was so much to do to secure their peoples' future. Trying to keep the fragile peace they’d brokered had taken up most of their days. And then, well. There’d been the running for their lives part. 

It’s a relief, in a way, not to have to bear that responsibility anymore – that her relationship with Xavin is only theirs now, that the lives of millions don’t rest on their union. But the cost of their freedom was so enormous that she can still barely begin to understand it. She avoids thinking about it, most days. It’s easier, for her: she still had people to go back to. Xavin doesn’t have anyone anymore – anyone but Karolina, that is.

Karolina’s confident that the others will warm up to her sooner or later, though. They’ll see that under the abrasive surface, Xavin is a sweetheart. Most of the time, anyway.

She walks into the room, figuring she might as well learn something about her fiancée’s people, but Xavin’s story seems to be wrapping up – most of the Kree army has been annihilated – and Molly does seem to have been lulled into a doze by Xavin’s last lengthy description of the Skrull armada.

"—And that’s why Skrull supremacy will inevitably prevail over Kree and men."

“Hey”, Molly protests with a yawn. “Don’t knock humans. I still beat you at board games all the time.”

Xavin shrugs, a little awkwardly, and extends a hand out to Karolina when she comes to stand by the bed. She takes it and Xavin gets up, transitioning smoothly into her female form as she moves.

“It’s how the story goes.”

“What, you were reciting from memory?”

“Mostly.”

“Wow, that’s kind of impressive. You’ll have to tell me more about this Dorek guy some time, he was pretty badass.”

“Yes, yes, when you’re not about to fall asleep.”

“Good night, Molly,” Karolina says, and arranges the covers around her a little absent-mindedly, thinking that it’s probably something her mother used to do.

“’Night, Lina, Xav.”

Xavin closes the door behind them, and Karolina turns to face her, smiling.

“That was nice of you.”

Xavin tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, looking a little embarrassed.  

“It was nothing. I do enjoy the hatchling’s company. She’ll make a great warrior someday,” Xavin says, and Karolina shakes her head fondly.

“Don’t go putting too many ideas into her head, honey.”

Karolina worries enough about Molly’s future as it is. She’s strong, yes, and smart too. But even though they all do their best to watch over her, she might get hurt, one day. And she’s not that young anymore, even if she doesn’t quite act her age, but Karolina wishes she could have had longer to just be a kid, that she could go to sleep after hearing fairy tales instead of war stories.

Karolina herself had loved fairy tales, as a child, though she’d always preferred to imagine princesses running off to have adventures together rather than marrying some stuffy prince, charming or otherwise.

Which makes a lot of sense in retrospect, she supposes.

“What is it, my love? You seem distracted.”

It’s a strange kind of fairy tale her life has turned into. More like old an old folktale than the Disney versions she grew up on, death and evil parents included.

She still misses them sometimes, despite everything.

“Just thinking.”

“About?”

“I don’t know. Nothing in particular. Just—how things have turned out.”

Xavin’s expression creases in concern, and she steps forward to close the space between them, wraps her arms around Karolina.

“We have suffered great losses, Karolina, but I still think that—well, it hasn’t been entirely bad, has it?”

Xavin’s not very good at comfort, not with words anyway, but Karolina has to admit that she’s right. No, their lives aren’t all bad.

Xavin kisses her, once, twice, presses her lightly against the wall and they stay there a while, breathing each other in. Xavin chuckles when Karolina loses control of her form for a second, lighting up the hallway as Xavin trails a line of kisses down her neck.

Yes, for all the things that have gone terribly wrong in her life, there have been some upsides, too.

It’s still early enough that Karolina doesn’t feel like going to bed yet, though Xavin is clearly displeased by that decision. Karolina laughs a little, and assures her that there’ll be plenty of time for what she has in mind later as they wander back down into the common area where the others still are – Nico painting her nails, Chase and Victor arguing about something to do with Leapfrog’s circuits, and Gert reading, Old Lace curled at her feet like a very odd-looking dog.

Going to sit by Nico is more reflex than conscious thought, for all that their relationship is still – rocky, sometimes. Xavin follows with only a little hesitation, which Karolina will count as progress. Nico looks up from her thorough inspection of the drying polish to aim a smile at them.

“Want me to do yours? I already did Gert’s and Chase’s. Victor said no, but that’s because he’s boring.”

Victor protests weakly and Chase wiggles his fingers at them in answer, but they quickly go back to their own heated conversation. Gert doesn’t bother looking up at the sound of her name.

Black really isn’t Karolina’s colour, but it is Nico’s – and she can see an olive branch when she sees it, so she accepts enthusiastically.

“Is there a cultural significance to this ritual?” Xavin asks, peering over Karolina’s shoulder with curiosity. This, of course, attracts Gert’s attention and Karolina sees her gearing up for a rant. Nico rolls her eyes but Karolina had missed that, when she was away.

“Historically, yeah, a lot of different cultures gave it meaning. Then it was seen as improper in some places, so some people wore it to be rebellious. Now it’s pretty common though. Even for men sometimes – though some people can’t get over stuffy gender roles, right Victor?”

Hey,Victor says again.

Xavin frowns.

“Why do you do it, then?”

“It-- looks nice?” Karolina offers, uncertain. It’s not something she’s ever really taken the time to consider.

Xavin’s nails turn purple, to match her suit. She gives them a cursory look, and then hums in satisfaction. “Yes, I suppose so.”

Karolina finds herself dozing against Xavin’s shoulder, half-listening to the conversation she’s having with Gert about ‘Earth culture’ – whatever that it. She’s about to suggest they retire for the night when the police scanner Victor’s rigged crackles into life and they all turn towards it, try to make out if the reported incident is one of theirs: the costumed villains, the aliens, the weird creatures.

“Yep, a costumed creep,” Victor says first, because he’s the best at deciphering those codes, still.  

“No rest for the wicked, I guess,” Nico says as she gets up, stretching.

“Should somebody wake Molly?”

“She’ll be cranky.”

“Which is why it’s going to be fun.”

“Chase, you do it.”

They scramble to get ready and pile up inside the Leapfrog. Chase practically drops a sleepy Molly into Karolina’s arms, so they sit together at the back.

“I’d just fallen asleep,” Molly complains, rubbing her eyes and accidentally setting off a chain of yawns. “Why can’t anyone try to rob a bank during the day for once?”

Karolina has to agree with the sentiment.  

Then they’re off, and she has to smile at the feeling of the Frog leaping through the air. She catches Xavin’s gaze, shining with the expectation of a good fight, and listens to the others bicker about the best route to take to get to their destination. They reach the city and she looks down to watch the nightlife underneath them.

It’s good to be home, she thinks.