Carol never asked, so Maria never said.
She didn’t think it needed saying.
They had a child together, for Christ’s sake.
Carol was the one who got up with Monica at 1am; Maria was the one who got up with her at 3am.
When Maria’s period cramps were especially bad, Carol would take both shifts, kissing Maria lingeringly on the back of the neck, just under her scarf, whispering that she should sleep, she should rest.
Of course they were together. Romantically.
If Carol was more than a little not-at-all-into-sex, more than a little asexual, that was more than a little alright with Maria. She had Carol’s heart, and her own hands, and that was all she needed.
They were together. It was screamingly obvious. And, unlike so many other complicated things in life, it didn’t need saying.
Maria was happy. With Carol. With their daughter.
But Carol? Carol had no idea.
She knew she had the 1am shift when Monica inevitably woke.
And she knew that when Maria wasn’t feeling well, she’d be the one to take little Monica on walks outside, feeding her and then telling her all about the stars, all about what an amazing pilot her mother was.
She knew she loved those nights, because she loved the time with Monica, but also because those were the nights when Maria would try, and fail, to get out of bed to take care of her. And those were the nights that gave Carol the excuse she needed to kiss the nape of Maria’s neck, to kiss her and soothe her and assure her that it was alright, she’d take the baby.
Any excuse to kiss her, to show her how much she cared for her, even if it wasn’t the only place she wanted to. Even if it wasn’t her mouth.
But at least they shared their bed.
Of course they did.
Monica’s crib was in the spare bedroom that Carol had always stayed in, so naturally, she was doing Maria a favor by letting her sleep in there with her.
It was just easier, wasn’t it?
And so what if she blushed and gulped and had to find somewhere, anywhere, else to look when Maria stripped out of her clothes after a 10k jog around base? Sharing a room was just easier. Sharing a bed was just more convenient. Getting undressed around each other was just more efficient.
And who was Carol to argue with a little more efficiency?
“Where’s your head at?” Maria asked as they laid there one of those nights, those efficient nights that had become every night, when she drew back the covers for Maria and opened an arm for her to lay in - because who could afford proper heating, really, it was a sharing body heat thing - and Carol was mulling it all over.
Mulling over the way Maria smelled like vanilla and lavender and engine oil, and the way it made Carol want to take her clothes off and taste her everywhere. The way Maria laughed, full-bellied and careless, whenever she or Carol showed up the boys on base and Carol would imitate their gruff shock later, and the way it made Carol want to hold her and never let go. The way Maria’s hands fell so easy, so confident, on her Camaro’s steering wheel, the way she hugged tight turns and shifted gears without ever breaking her easy concentration, without ever breaking a sweat, and the way it made Carol want to throw back the seat and lay Maria down and…
Best friends. Maria was her. Best. Friend. And she should be grateful for that. She was grateful for that. Wanting to be more to Maria, to do more with her, was… was just like needing oxygen. A part of her background noise, something she didn’t even have to think about most of the time, except when she felt especially deprived of it.
And now Maria was asking where her head was at, and it was her favorite question in the world, but right then she had no way to answer it honestly without saying something about Maria’s clothes being off, laying back and letting Carol make her scream, and that just wouldn’t do, would it?
“Uh. Flight plan for tomorrow.”
Maria tilted her head and shifted, so she was on her side, facing Carol. She smoothed a stray bit of hair back behind Carol’s ear, and Carol gulped at the intimacy.
“Mmhmm. Where else is your head at?” she asked, because dammit, she knew her too well. And not nearly well enough.
“You ever want something you can’t have?”
“Danvers, you wear the same uniform I do, you know I do.”
Carol shook her head. “I don’t mean flying. I mean. Other things.”
“So much more specific. Illuminating, thank you.”
Carol reached for one of the stray pillows Maria always tossed to the bottom of the bed and launched it at her head.
Maria caught it and launched it right back. Carol dodged. Maria sought revenge.
Carol wound up pinning her down, wrists above her head, straddling her.
It made her heart stop.
That damn oxygen thing again.
She should move.
She really should.
But that… were Maria’s pupils… dilating? Was she more out of breath than a quick pillow fight would ever actually make her? Was she actually licking her lips?
Carol figured her brain must be short circuiting, malfunctioning.
Maria gulped, and blinked, and her eyes locked into Carol’s. She smiled that best friend smile, and Carol knew she must have imagined it.
“I meant,” she forced herself to say, pushing normalcy into her voice but for reasons beyond her understanding, not letting Maria’s wrists go. Not slipping off of her. Not shifting so she wasn’t straddling her.
And apparently, that was just fine with Maria, because she looked, then, like they were having the most normal conversation, in the most normal way.
“I meant, uh.” She couldn’t help it. Maria’s body was underneath her own, and her pajama pants were too thin, dammit, and god, she was a disaster. Her eyes dropped down to Maria’s lips, and she cursed herself for being so obvious. She couldn’t wreck their friendship with something Maria obviously didn’t want.
Because Maria always went for what she wanted. It was one of the things Carol admired so much about her. But she’d never gone for Carol. So obviously, she didn’t want her. So obviously, Carol was just taking advantage. Obviously.
“I just, you know what? Never mind.”
She flipped off of Maria in a single, fluid movement that - had she been watching her best friend - made her bite her lip and take in Carol’s entire body with an all too familiar sweep of her eyes.
“It’s okay if you don’t wanna talk, Carol. But you know I wanna listen. If you change your mind.”
There was no way Maria wanted to listen to… this.
Carol needed a cold shower.
She didn’t mean to say that bit out loud.
But apparently, she did.
Say it out loud.
Because Maria’s eyebrows practically flew up into her scarf, and Carol had never heard her squeak like that.
“You need… what? Why?”
She’d also never heard Maria stumble for words like that.
What. Was. Happening.
“Nothing. Just. Shower. Long day. Should’ve before we went to bed.”
“I’ll only be a minute.”
“No, Carol. You… did. Shower. Before we went to bed.”
She cursed internally, and as if on cue, Monica started stirring in her crib. Maria made to get out of the bed, but Carol shook her head. “No, it’s fine, I’ll take her for a walk. We just fed her so. She’s gotta just be restless. Come on, Lieutenant Trouble. I can tell you all about mine.”
Maria said nothing as she watched Carol gather her child - their child - into her arms, give her a half smile that she knew was forced, and set out for the stars.
She wondered vaguely if Monica’s first words would be Vega or Polaris or planetary nebula or some such.
But more, she wondered about Carol’s little meltdown, just then.
She’d tried to keep her face clean of just how turned on she was, when Carol had ended their pillow fight by getting on top of her and pinning her down. Maybe she’d failed too much?
But Carol had said she’d needed a cold shower. Did that… what? If she wanted something from Maria - something different than what they usually had, something sexual - didn’t she know she could just take it? Or, god, ask for it? Didn’t she know she could talk to her girlfriend instead of sorting it out on her own? Unless she wanted to sort it out on her own. Which was fine. But didn’t she…
Apparently, Maria’s own spiral had lasted longer than she’d thought.
Because Carol was back, this time with a sleeping baby. She put a silent finger to her lips, triumphant, before she gently laid Monica down in her crib.
“I don’t know if that kid’s gonna grow up associating the stars with being so bored she falls asleep, or if she’d gonna be the first woman in space,” she whispered reverently, and god, Maria was in love.
To that end.
She crawled out of bed before Carol could climb back in, and she gestured her best friend, her girlfriend, to her own bedroom. So they could talk without fear of waking the baby.
“You okay there, soldier?” she asked once she’d sat on her bed, and Carol hovered awkwardly next to it. She patted the bed next to her. They share Carol’s bed every night. Why did Carol think she needed an invitation to sit on Maria’s?
“I don’t want to ruin things,” Carol murmured as she plopped down, gingerly keeping a distance, a personal space, that the two never had.
“What would you ruin, Carol? And, you know. How?”
“I don’t want to take advantage. Of our friendship.”
“Our friendship,” Maria repeated, arching an eyebrow and putting her hand out to Carol’s knee. “Carol, we haven’t had a friendship since 1983,” she teased, because that was the night everything had shifted. The first night she’d fallen asleep in Carol’s arms, Carol kissing the back of her neck and murmuring how much Maria meant to her.
They were both more than a little drunk, but also more than a little coherent.
And more than a little earnest.
“What are you talking about?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I wanna kiss you senseless is what I’m talking about.”
“Then why don’t you, is what I’m talking about.”
It was seamless and it made sense, and they’d have time for clarifications and confessions and explanations and laughs - a lot, a lot of laughs - later, but now?
Now, they had other things to do.
Because now, Carol’s mouth on hers was fire and it was oxygen and it was everything she’d ever needed and even better than she’d ever imagined.
It changed nothing and it changed everything and god, it was absolutely perfect.