You’ve been back to C-53—Earth—three times now.
The first time you slept on Fury’s couch with Goose—he hadn’t even hesitated when you showed up at his door with empty hands and shrugging shoulders. It wasn’t until three days of flying across the country to see Maria that he asked why you hadn’t just stayed with her—and you hadn’t had an answer.
It had occurred to you, but you’d been a little afraid to ask.
You thought that maybe with no impending doom Maria would stop looking at you like a miracle—she’d take the time to realize you weren’t the woman who crashed all those years ago. You had her face, and you had this insistent little tug in your chest—but you weren’t her. You were a ghost—a specter of that person; walking, and talking, and maybe sounding exactly like her.
But you weren’t her.
Honestly, you don’t know who you are—you’re not Carol Danvers, but neither are you Vers…not anymore. Never again.
You’re neither of them—and yet, you’re both of them.
The second time, you’d tentatively landed in the clearing behind Maria’s house—kicking the grass back into place when you kicked it up with a little too hard a touchdown. You’d been hastily kicking at grass when Monica had come bounding out the back door and right into your chest—the girl threw herself with abandon, never wondering for a second whether or not you’d catch her.
“Auntie Carol!” She’s exclaimed, rubbing her face against the rough fabric of your suit, and you’d melted. If Talos saw you now he wouldn’t let you live it down—you were putty, so when Monica pulled you into the house with running commentary on all the cool things you’d be able to do with her, there wasn’t a bone in you that wanted to protest.
“You’re still such a soft touch,” Maria says as her daughter tugs you along—she still watches you like you’re something to cherish, something lovely that she found without looking. And it always makes you duck your head a little and grin.
Just a little.
After that, there was no question of where you’d stay when you stopped by good ol’ C-53.
You don’t remember everything—but that doesn’t seem to matter. Maria smiles when you enter the room—wide and bright, and happy to see you always—and before you can think of it, you’re smiling too. Wider than you’re used to, and more genuine than it’s been in years.
“There you are stranger,” she’s in the kitchen, and you suddenly remember that Maria had the recipe for the best chili you’ve ever tasted. It’s a strange thought, because she hasn’t even started cooking dinner—but you’re there, lingering half-awkwardly in the doorway wondering how that’s what comes to you.
You remember that she used to complain that the grocery stores near the base didn’t have the right chili peppers—that she only made it “right” after she came home from visiting her parents in Louisiana.
You remember how the first time you tried it “right”, you burned half the taste buds off your tongue—after that you were addicted.
What can you say? You were an adrenaline junkie—were, are, tenses seem weird when it feels a little like another person.
Another person who was definitely you—a you that you’re a little jealous of because they got to have more than a vague memory of chili.
Even if it was the best.
“Earth to Carol,” Maria teases and she’s five steps closer—a kitchen towel over her shoulder, and a concerned little furrow between her brows. “Come in, Avenger.”
She’s closer, and you’re closer—having stepped forward mindlessly like you’ve been pulled by some great gravitational force. You’re rubbing a thumb between her brows like you’ve done it half a thousand times; soothing the small wrinkle between them until it was no more. Until her expression relaxed—soft, she looked soft now, maybe it was the light.
“I can’t believe I’m back sometimes,” you say softly, because you always feel softer without the suit—a little less like a force of nature, and a bit closer to just a woman.
“I’m not,” she says confidently, hand reaching up to catch yours between both of hers.
You laugh, shaking your head a little—but your hand stays firmly in her grasp; you don’t even want it back.
“Six years, Maria! I was gone six years—you thought I was dead for six years.” Monica grew up, Maria moved...on? Away? You can’t put your finger on why exactly that first one seemed so horrible—something in your chest lurches and splits, and you feel like you’ve been cleaved in halves suddenly.
You’re a human implosion on your best day, but suddenly it seems absolutely meaningless.
It’s Maria’s turn now—you don’t know where the thought comes from, you don’t know why Maria gets a turn, but she’s close enough that you feel her warmth, and she’s looking at you like you’ve asked the silliest of questions. Slow smile, soft eyes, and the soothing warmth of her hand against your cheek—your own hand still loosely held in her other, fingers curling around her’s without thought.
“If there was one person in this world,” she scowls a little, and your heart warms because it’s adorable, “—galaxy, universe, whatever—if I had to bet the house on someone, it would be you, Carol Danvers. I can’t say I ever accepted it; that I ever considered that you were gone forever. It didn’t seem possible.”
You look for the lie—after six years of being lied to, of being Vers, you expect it. But she’s honest, and open, and it feels a little like a betrayal to look for the dishonesty with Maria.
“I think some part of me was always waiting for you to swan your way back into my life,” a confession, Maria’s words have the gravitas of a confession, and you’d do anything to absolve her of her sins. Anything—everything. “Did I expect super powers, federal agents, and aliens? That would be a resounding foxtrot November, but I should have figured it would have to be something pretty fantastic to keep you away so long.”
You’re crying—you only realize it when her thumb brushes one away. They’re rolling silently down your cheeks, and you don’t know why—you’re happy because you’re here, but you’re sad because you’ve missed so much time.
That power that’s always burning inside you now sputters and flares, and Maria only flinches in surprise when there’s a spark where her fingers touch your cheek. A little wince, and then another one of those smiles.
You think there should be a more specific word for the curve of Maria’s lips.
Something more descriptive than smile.
“I missed you,” you say, softer than soft and claiming another step—closing what little distance exists between you. Maria doesn’t even seem to care, if anything she leans forward and into the curve of your body. “Even when I couldn’t remember you; I think I always missed you. I’d have trouble sleeping, and my feet would already be bringing me someplace—and no matter where I ended up, it felt wrong.”
You’d wake up entirely and you’d be standing outside Yon-Rogg’s door—it’s where you always ended up, but it never felt right. Like your subconscious was trying to make sense of a puzzle it didn’t have all the pieces to.
You could guess the final picture—but that’s all it could ever be.
But you understand now—you remember shaking Maria awake, you remember running fingers across her forehead and down her cheek. You remember those first months after Monica was born, and there’d be a warm bundle in your arms that squirmed and sighed. Maria would open her eyes and she’d look so happy to see you.
You, her family.
You blink—long and hard, trying to knock the tears of your lashes, but…
There’s a memory—foggier than the rest—but it matches up to the way Maria’s running fingers over the curve of your cheek, the way she cradles your hand gently—fingers lacing and squeezing to remind you that she’s got you. You remember darkness, and the crack of thunder—the pitter-patter of rain against the metal of the hanger roof. You remember how the far off lightning had crashed, and Maria’s eyes turned to molten blazes.
You remember thinking I’m going to kiss her only half a second before you actually did—you remember the half-moaned gasp into your mouth as her hand pawed at the collar of your flight suit. You remember how you thought maybe this wasn’t the place for this—no one was around, you knew it, but you still didn’t want this to be the moment you were wrong.
You remember worrying until Maria pulled you closer and you felt the warmth of her body against yours. Fingers working their way up your neck and through your hair—nail scratching at your scalp, chest burning because you’d been kissing so long you’d run out of air.
You remember the warm puffs of her breaths against your chest as you grinned…
You shake yourself out of the memory, shake the thunder from your bones and the flashes of lightning from your eyes—but Maria’s still there. Still so close, still warm and smiling—and maybe you’re more Carol Danvers in this moment, maybe your body simply remember how easily Maria fit into your arms. How her mouth felt under yours—how she moaned your name and clung to your shoulders.
You kiss her—this you; not Carol Danvers, not Vers, not Captain Marvel—this you, this version of you, this amalgamation of pieces of all the people you’ve been.
You kiss Maria, and it feels right—it feels like coming home.