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1995 -- Ghosts

The Black box recording had given her -Vers - Carol - back some pieces - some jagged memories that now made more sense. There was not a flood of scenes, but rather a slow drip that added to an ever-growing pool replete with emotions and scattered thoughts and a jigsaw of faces and words. She burst out into the Louisiana twilight overwhelmed with emotions. Betrayal. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Those feelings rose high to the top of her head and filled her lungs near to the point of bursting. But then Maria was there with her out there in the yard keeping her from exploding with simple concentrated look in her eyes. She was the woman who figured so heavily on the edges of Carol's memory, and when she followed her out into the lukewarm night there was also another emotion that filled in between the creases and gaps of those other emotions. Maria and Monica were in those gaps. And those empty pockets were full of affection, full of belonging, full of love. She could see it in Maria's eyes and when she spoke about Carol, the Carol that she wasn't quite, at least not yet anyway, she could feel it filling those creases and those gaps.

Maria spoke about her best friend and her brave friend and it took all her discipline to not keep going, to not let her mouth form around the other words she wanted to say: I missed you so much; I love you so much; I knew you wouldn't leave us. She didn't say the words. She couldn't, but she didn't stop herself from reaching out towards this woman with Carol's smile and Carol's eyes. Strong fingers touched down on Carol's shoulder and they are moving towards one another and it is easy. It is a memory. It is a beginning.

Vers, no, Carol.

Carol. Carol. Carol.

Carol knows these fingers and this touch and that voice. She wants to be this brave woman who is loved by this beautiful woman. Their eyes are filling with tears and she sinks into Maria's arms - these familiar arms- and it's not just a broken and hazy dream. It's real. She's real. And they are real together. She chokes out "Maria" like a life line and Maria just holds her tighter because slowly but surely, this is her Carol gripping her sides and molding against her body as if nothing has changed.

They cling fiercely to one another in the yard with the buzz of the crickets and bullfrogs providing a soundtrack. Carol nuzzles into Maria's neck breathing her in, and no she doesn't have all of her memories back yet, but this feeling is clear and familiar and right.

Carol's breath tickles her neck and Maria let's out a huff of laughter and a happy sniffle. There is a spark of remembrance in the way Carol is holding her. She knows these hands and the body that fits so easily against her own. She moves her hand to cup Carol's warm cheek and they meet each other's tear-filled eyes and smile bright and long. Maria does not hesitate this time. The first kiss in what might as well be forever is wet and salty (and ironically enough it's much like the very first one) and this time it's perfect.

They break the kiss after a few moments and Carol gulps air and touches her forehead to Maria's before chuckling. "Well shit, if I had known you were out there, if I had known what it was like to kiss you...I-I would've stolen a spaceship years ago."

A happy shiver goes up Maria's spine and she peppers Carol's face with kisses. "And if I have my way, you'll never forget again."

They are laughing into their kiss once more when they hear the screen door swing open with a hard slam against the frame. Neither of them need to look up to know that it's Monica's quick footsteps that are zipping across the grass. She practically skids to a stop as she bumps into the legs of the two women. Big brown eyes that match her mom's bounce between her mom and then Carol. Her smile is nervous, but her eyes are hopeful. She cranes her neck back and finds Carol's eyes. There is something familiar there.

"Mommy?" Her little voice cracks with hope and hesitation.

Carol's knees almost buckle, but Monica's hands braced against the small of her back keep her upright. Carol's chin wobbles a bit as she nods and before she can even take a breath, Monica is leaping up into her arms. Carol catches her easily and adjusts her so that she's balanced on her hip. She's much too old for this, but in this moment, it's as if six years haven't passed and Monica is still that little five-year old who loved her favorite spot snuggled between her parents. The women adjust their arms as they embrace Monica and each other. Three heads huddled together with delighted tears and smiles and butterfly kisses on cheeks for everyone.

They are lost in a moment of re-connection when Fury comes to stand in the doorway. He looks out on the family and just smiles. Dusk had finally settled in and the light of the stars glitter in the sky. They had a long night ahead of them with plans to make and strategies to consider, but for now he recognized this was the only thing that mattered. He turned around and left the family to themselves.