Julie made her get a phone. Said it came down to safety. How was she supposed to call for help, if she got into trouble? If something happened to Molly, Klara?
Really, she's sure Victor has a phone option in his circuitry somewhere, and anyway, she's probably still on a wanted list or two.
"Who could I even call?"
Julie had stared at her with a look Karolina couldn't quite decipher.
"You can call me, silly."
Karolina flushes. She loves this girl.
Luckily, there hasn't been much in the way of emergencies, yet. However, it has helped her dating life get a little less complicated. Suddenly, planning dates is a lot easier. She learns to get used to the phone.
Very few people have her number. Her teammates, past and present. Julie, of course. A few of the other teen heroes she's run into over the years. Wiccan aka Billy Kaplan had been delighted when she'd reached out to him, which had surprised her. After Julie, Billy is the one she talks to the most, although it's always texts. Everyone talks to her in texts. Last time she got a call, Molly had broken her arm. So when her phone rings at 8pm on a Thursday, she doesn't even bother to look at who's calling. A call means something's wrong. Adrenaline rushes through her body as she picks up, followed by the flare of light that is her loosening her grip on her powers.
Silence on the other end. She stands up, hiding her fear under irritation and steel.
"Who is this?"
The voice is staticy, very far away, but there's something familiar to it. Like looking at a picture from a childhood you can no longer remember.
"This is her. How did you get this number?"
There's something that could be a laugh, or a strange cough.
"The witch found me, of all people. He said you should hear it from me, rather than him."
The witch? The voice had said he, which meant Billy. What had Billy done? Or perhaps she had misheard, maybe the witch was Nico, who still hadn't contacted them. Maybe she was reaching out through strange phone calls in almost familiar voices. Shit. She's not supposed to think about Nico, because when she does, she gets angry, and she can't be angry, because everyone's left and she is the leader now and she has to hold it together.
She closes her eyes, breathes through her nose, thinks calm, and asks the voice what they're talking about.
There's a crack that Karolina almost mistakes for the connection crapping out, but when the voice speaks again, it sounds close to tears.
"Karolina, love, I'm sorry, I... I can't remember what I'm supposed to sound like."
There's a ringing in Karolina's ears. Her whole world narrows to her, and this phone, and the person who is by some miracle on the other end.
"Xavin?" She lets herself slide to the floor, not sure if she can trust her legs to hold steady. "Xavin, is that you?"
"Karolina," Xavin breathes. "Yes, yes. It's me."
She's crying. "I thought- oh my god, I thought you were- I didn't even come looking."
"No, Karolina, my darling..." As they talk, Xavin's voice sounds more and more familiar, closer and closer to what it used to be. Karolina wishes she could do that, turn back the clock so easily. "There was nothing to find, no way you could have done anything."
Karolina doubts that. There is always something more she can do. Always someone she lets down.
“Are you okay?” Xavin doesn’t sound okay. She changes the question. “Are you… are you safe?”
A silence that is a moment too long to offer any assurance. “Yes. No. I…” Karolina listens to Xavin struggle for words, and has to cover her mouth to muffle the hiccuping sobs escaping her. There’s a voice in the background, but she can’t hear what it’s saying. “I am safe. I am with… do you remember the Cube?”
Like she could forget it. The first time she lost Xavin, staring at her body and listening to Billy scream, praying to anyone listening for it all to be a dream. Out loud she just says “Of course.”
“Yes.” Xavin sounds like she’s realized what a stupid question that is. “Well, the Kree boy who was there. He found me.”
There’s a novel in those three words. Karoline leaves it for now. “He saved you? You’re with him still?” She remembers when Billy texted her ‘guess who Kate’s dating,’ saw photos from their New Year’s Party for months afterwards. She knows the boy was brainwashed. In incredible pain. But that doesn’t stop the nightmares, so often staring him, the soundtrack made up of a neck snapping.
“Yes, I am currently in his ship. He was on Dor- I mean, Teddy’s team, briefly. The witch, Billy, he said you were well but that I should call.” Another pause. “Should I not have called?”
She doesn’t know what to say. “No! I’m glad you called.” That seems like too simple a statement for what she’s feeling right now, but no other words come to mind. “Are you coming home?”
“Is there a home for me?” The hope in Xavin’s tone makes her heart lurch.
“Always.” She’s choking on her own words. “Once a Runaway, always a Runaway.”
“Thank you,” she says. She’s crying too.
Karolina knows she has to say something more, can’t have Xavin coming here expecting something not possible.
“I should tell you.” She takes a breath, holds it while she searches for the right words, and knows that somewhere across the galaxy Xavin is holding her breath too. “I thought you were gone. And… I didn’t go looking, but I met this girl, and she’s amazing, she’s been so patient, she’s so kind…” No noise from the other end. “I’m sorry.” Her voice is very small now. “I didn’t want you to come home and be disappointed.”
“Karolina.” There is so much love and affection in that one word. “I love you. Who would I be, if I were upset with you finding happiness?”
Relief floods her, makes her feel lighter than she has in a long time.
“I will always love you. But you are no longer the sole reason I consider Earth my home. I want… I want to be with family again. You, the rest of your team… That’s what you are, to me.”
“The family is… a little broken, right now.” But they could fix it. If they can get Xavin back, anything could happen. “Nico left, and Chase. Victor comes and goes.” Xavin’s right, though. This is their home. For the first time since Nico left, Karolina lets herself hope. “Molly and Klara are still here.”
“And you,” says Xavin.
“Yes.” Karolina smiles. “I’m not going anywhere.”
There’s that background voice on the other side again, and Xavin talks to them for a moment before returning.
“Karolina? We’re about to go out of range, I’m told. I will call you soon?”
She sounds so unsure. “Yes! Please. Call lots, until you’re back.”
“I will.” Xavin says it like a promise. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
The words come out on instinct, but they ring true. She loves Julie, but she loves Xavin too. There’s nothing wrong with that, she assures herself. Life is too short to not tell your loved ones what they mean to you. She knows this. It’s a truth she carries with her every day, made heavy with the memories of everyone who left before she could say goodbye.
“Thank you,” Xavin whispers, and she sounds so close. Karolina can almost close her eyes and pretend she never left. The line goes dead.
Karolina doesn’t move for a long time, just holds her phone like it’s the most precious thing. In this moment, it is. Then she gets up, texts Julie about their date tonight.
Change of plans? You come over, I’ll make dinner?
Family dinner. Her and Julie and Molly and Klara. Small, for now. But they’re finally starting to grow again.
Their family may be strange, a little broken. But Karolina is responsible for them all, now. And she is strong, and they are strong, and that is good enough. That is all they need.