What Her Heart Could Not Forget

 by Linda Crist (Texbard)

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters and this story was not written for profit.  No copyright infringement is intended toward the Marvel Cinematic and Comic Universe. Pairing: Carol Danvers/Maria Rambeau. Rating: M. This story is based mostly on the Captain Marvel movie, and a little bit on Captain Marvel comic canon. If you’ve not seen the movie, some parts of the story may not make complete sense, but overall, love is love and I think you can enjoy the heart of it. Story first written for the Royal Academy of Bards 2019 Halloween invitational. Thanks to D and Lauren for your flora expertise, and thanks to the Academy for the invite.


“You are Carol Danvers. You are the woman on that black box risking her life to do the right thing. My best friend, who supported me as a mother, and a pilot when no one else did. You’re smart, and funny, and a huge pain in the ass. And you are the most powerful person I know.” - Maria Rambeau (Captain Marvel movie)


It had been a difficult two months of transporting the Skrull people and cargo across the galaxy in stealth, a few hundred at a time.  Carol Danvers stood to the side, as the remaining stragglers of the last group of refugees de-boarded the large space vessel and looked around at their new home.  It was a small planet in an uninteresting solar system, far from the Kree home world of Hala.   Carol knew the Kree had long ago explored it, found it lacking in useful resources, and abandoned it for more profitable ventures.  It didn’t even have a name, just a digital designation, XG-95.

Talos was the last to set foot on terra firma, and walked over to stand beside her.  “We’re home, at last.”  He surveyed the green, rolling landscape, noting the cheerful sound of a nearby babbling brook.  Overhead, a bright yellow-green sun shone down from a partially cloudy lilac-tinted sky. He knew that after sunset, two pale blue moons would appear over the horizon to guide his people through their first night as a reunited race. Already, other Skrull were running to greet the weary travelers, touching foreheads and guiding them to their designated living quarters.

Carol smiled and nodded, her arms crossed over her chest and her feet slightly more than shoulder distance apart.  “It won’t make you wealthy, but it has the resources needed to sustain life for the foreseeable future.”

“Yes,” Talos agreed in a satisfied tone.  “And the building materials and other supplies you and S.H.I.E.L.D. arranged for will soon have us out of these bunkers.” He gestured toward many rows of army-style metal barracks, where busy Skrull families went about the business of setting up their temporary shelters.  Talos’ own family already occupied one of the structures on the edge of the makeshift village. Beyond the orderly rows of living quarters was a large warehouse full of the materials, vehicles, and tools they would need to build permanent homes.

“Thanks to Mar-Vell’s cloaking technology, we should be able to keep to a monthly schedule of supply delivery until you’ve established your own sources of food here.” Carol turned to face him.  “It’s time for me to go and leave you to lead your people.” She handed him a pager similar to the one she’d given Fury.  “If you need me, I’m only a very short flight away.”

“We cannot thank you enough, Vers, er, Carol. Apology, old habits.” He grasped her by both shoulders.

“I’m still getting used to being Carol again myself.” Carol smiled and bent her head forward, touching her forehead to his.

“I am eager to join my family.” Talos looked up.  “Speaking of.”

A small figure came running from around the corner of a building, arms outstretched. Carol recognized Talos’ daughter and grinned.

“Auntie Carol!” The girl flung herself at Carol, who knelt down and grabbed her, and pulled her into a hug.

A lump rose in Carol’s throat. Only one other person had ever called her ‘Auntie Carol,’ Monica Rambeau, the eleven-year-old daughter of Maria Rambeau, back on Earth. She swallowed and pushed the memories aside for the moment. “It’s so good to see you.” She squeezed the girl and let her go, then stood up.  “I have to go now, but I’ll be back to visit.”

“Promise?” The girl moved to Talos’ side and grasped his arm.

“Promise.” Carol tilted her head toward Talos. “Until we meet again.”

And then she was off, flying up and away from XG-95.  She paused once she was out of sight in the clouds, hovering in the air as she pulled a creased photograph from a pocket. She smoothed it out, tracing a fingertip across the image of her dressed as Janice Joplin and Monica dressed as Amelia Earhart.  Halloween, six years earlier.  “I’m eager to join my family, too.” She thought about the two months that had passed since she last saw Maria and Monica, and realized on Earth it was nearly time for Halloween again.

“Wonder if she saved that Janice costume?” Carol tucked the photo back into her pocket.  “Only one way to find out.  Next stop, C-53.”


Monica Rambeau sat on the front porch, gazing up at the sky.  It was cool out, at least by New Orleans standards, the air less humid than the sauna-like days of summer just past.  Crickets were chirping in the Oak trees that towered over the house, and at just at the juncture where barely visible form gave way to full darkness, bullfrogs croaked from the bayou that bordered their property.  The leaves were beginning to turn and fall, creating a crisp rustling sound as a light breeze stirred up the piles gathering on the ground. Monica frowned and huffed, realizing that raking and bagging would be on the next day’s list of chores.

Peering past the canopy of remaining leaves and the Spanish Moss that hung in garlands from the tree branches, Monica watched and hoped, her heart leaping at even the slightest twinkle of a star.  Somewhere out there, her godmother, Auntie Carol, was flying through the sky, helping the Skrull people.  There had been no promises of a return. There was lots of work to be done, and amidst all of it, she knew the Kree were also hunting for her godmother.  Earth, her mother had informed her, was likely ground zero for that search.  Still, she reasoned to herself, if Auntie Carol had returned to them after six years, surely she might one day come back for another, hopefully longer visit.

As she watched the rising moon, she pulled her light jacket more closely around herself, her knees drawn up where her elbows rested, her hands cupping her chin.  A mug of hot chocolate sat next to her, its sweet steam rising and reaching her nostrils.  She lifted it up and took a sip, the slightly thick liquid warming here belly. Something flashed in her peripheral vision and her head jerked up. A blazing bright ball pierced the night sky, large to her eyes and fiery like a comet, as it sped in an arc above her and then disappeared somewhere beyond the trees near the end of the long driveway that led up to their house.

In her excitement, Monica dropped the mug off the side of the porch, spilling cocoa in the grass, as she leaped up and threw open the screen door and ran inside, the door slamming behind her.  “Mom! Mom! Come see! It wasn’t a meteor this time, I swear!”

Maria Rambeau sighed and rose from the desk where she’d been writing out checks to pay bills.  “Baby, you can’t keep doing this to yourself.  We don’t know if she’s ever coming back. I miss her too, but I can’t have you running off in the dark, chasing down every meteor fragment that hits the ground. There’s snakes out there.”

“And ’gators,” a familiar voice replied from the porch. “Don’t forget the ’gators.”

Maria and Monica gasped in unison.

“Hi.” Carol opened the screen door, just enough to poke her head inside. “Can I come in?”

Maria glanced at Monica and released an almost inaudible breath.  “Sure.” She placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Monica, can you —”

Her daughter was already bolting for Carol. “I knew you’d come back again, I just knew it!” She threw both arms around her godmother and closed her eyes, a huge smile plastered across her face.

Looking over Monica’s shoulder, Carol’s eyes met Maria’s, and Maria shook her head slightly. “Hey.” Carol gave Monica a little pat on the back.  “I think your Mom was trying to say something.”

“Oh, sorry, Mom.” Monica turned, one arm still wrapped around Carol.

“Can you go make us two glasses of iced tea, baby? I need to speak with your Auntie Carol.”

“But Mom!” Monica held both hands out in a pleading gesture.  “She only just got back!”

“Yes, and after you bring us the tea, you need to get ready for bed. It’s already past your bedtime.”

“Mom!” Monica rolled her eyes in frustration. “Just this once, can’t I please stay up late?”

“Your Mom’s right,” Carol cut in.  “I’ve come a long way and I’m pretty beat.  I’ll still be here in the morning and we can visit then?” Her voice rose in question and she looked to Maria for confirmation.

“Yes.” Maria shook her head again, counter to her answer. “Sure. How about after you get ready for bed, Carol will come talk to you for a few minutes and tuck you in? Then she and I can finish talking and after that we’ll let her get a good night’s sleep after her long trip.”

“Well.” Monica looked up at Carol.  “If you’re really that tired.”

“I am exhausted,” Carol replied. “Scout’s honor.” She held up two fingers.

“Oh, okay.” With a dramatic turn, Monica disappeared into the kitchen.

Carol and Maria stood silently looking at each other for what seemed an eternity. Finally, a hint of an uncertain smile graced Carol’s lips. “Can we move this standoff to the couch? I really am tired.”

“Oh, sure.” Maria led the way across the room and sat down, plastering herself against one end of the sofa. Carol took the cue and occupied the other end.  “Look, it’s not that I don’t want you here —” Maria paused and drew in a long breath.  “God knows it’s not that.  If it were just me —” She tilted her head back and looked up at the ceiling, then looked pointedly at Carol. “She’s sat outside and looked for you every night since you left. Hot, humid, rain, it doesn’t matter. One morning I woke up and discovered she’d snuck back out after I thought she was in bed. She stayed out there all night and fell asleep on the porch swing. Woke up covered in mosquito bites. There was a meteor shower that night, and she was convinced every shooting star was you.”

“I’m sorry,” Carol answered sadly.  “I had no idea.”

“No, you wouldn’t, would you?” Maria replied.  “You may have forgotten us, but she never forgot you.  Neither did I.  Not for six long years.”

“I didn’t forget you.” Carol looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. 

“Don’t tell me that,” Maria’s voice rose in anger. “You showed up here after six years and acted like you were seeing us for the very first time.”

“Mom, here’s the tea.” Monica returned and placed two glasses on coasters on the coffee table.  “So I really have to get ready for bed now?”

“Thank you, baby, and yes.” Maria smiled. “Come here.”  She cradled the back of Monica’s head and drew it down, giving her a kiss on the forehead.  “Upstairs with you. I’ll send Carol up in a little bit.”

“I’m eleven you know.” Monica was halfway up the stairs, muttering all the way.  “I think we need to re-negotiate my bedtime. Junior high is next year. I’ll need extra time to get homework done.”

“God, help me.” Maria laughed.  “You blink and suddenly they’re nearly all grown up.”

“I’m sorry I missed it.” Carol looked wistfully toward the staircase as Monica disappeared from view.  “All those years.  I missed so much.”

“What about the next six years?” Maria’s dark brown eyes searched her face.  “If you’re going to disappoint her again, I hope you’ll do it just once more, tomorrow when you leave.”

“What about you?” Carol replied, a little afraid of the answer.  Her eyes stung and her chest ached, hearing of the pain she’d caused. “Have I disappointed you, too?”

“I have to think of her, first,” Maria responded.  “What I feel doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me.” Carol scooted closer, while still leaving a safe space between them. She almost reached out and stopped herself, unsure of her reception.  “It’s true. I didn’t forget you.  Just — everything got jumbled up for a while. They —”

“Mom!” Monica called down from the top of the stairs. “I brushed my teeth and put my pajamas on.”

“Go on.” Maria waved a hand at her. “She — um —- there’s this teddy bear she likes to cuddle with.  She sleeps better with it.  She’ll probably try to put on her big girl act for you, but if you give it to her, she’ll take it. It’s on the chair next to the bed.”

“Okay.” Carol got up and made her way up the stairs, glancing back once.  Maria had moved to the front door and was staring out into the darkness, her shoulders visibly rising and falling as she breathed harder than usual. With a heavy sigh, she latched the screen and closed the wooden front door and locked it, then pressed her forehead and one hand against it.  The songs of crickets and bullfrogs were silenced.

Carol resumed her ascent and felt the weight on her own shoulders increase, knowing she was the source of Maria’s distress.  “Hey.” She entered Monica’s room and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I can’t believe she’s making me go to bed,” Monica groused, her arms crossed.

“She loves you very much. You know that, don’t you?”  Carol smiled and reached for the teddy bear.  As she lifted it, she realized it was wearing a small leather jacket like her own flight jacket, and around its neck was a chain and tiny dog tag. She squinted at it and then her eyes grew wide at the inscription, ‘Carol Danvers.’

“I know.” Monica reached over and placed a hand on Carol’s leg. “But I missed you so much and now I have to miss out on tonight while you’re here.  It’s not fair.”

“I’ll be here tomorrow, just like I promised.”  Carol smoothed the bear’s soft fur. “You know what tomorrow is don’t you?”

“Oh!” Monica sat up. “Halloween! Are you going to be here for the Halloween carnival at the school?”

“I, um — your mom and I haven’t discussed it yet, but I think I can arrange for that, if she’s agreeable.”

“She’ll be agreeable,” Monica assured her. “She just has to be.”

“I’ll talk to her about it, so I’d best be getting back downstairs.” Carol placed the bear next to her. “Meanwhile, I think this bear needs a hug.”  She leaned over and kissed Monica on the cheek.  “Night night.”

“Sleep tight.” Monica giggled.

“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” Carol replied.

“You remembered!”

“Yeah, I guess I did.” Carol smiled in wonder.  “Sweet dreams, Monica.”

“You too, Auntie Carol.”  Monica hugged the bear and closed her eyes with a contented sigh, as Carol switched the light off and went out into the hallway.  She paused at the guest room door, remembering a pair of faded jeans and a Heart t-shirt. “Time to get out of this flight suit.”  She went to the closet, glad when she found her clothes still hanging there. She removed the red boots and the red and blue jumpsuit with an efficient motion, and exchanged it for more comfortable attire, then went back downstairs to the living room.

Maria smiled when she saw her. “That’s more like it. She down?”

“Yeah.” Carol nodded. “That bear.”

“My mother made the jacket for her, and ordered the dog tags.” Maria looked up, over the rim of her iced tea glass. “I might need something stronger than this.” She tilted her head meaningfully toward the kitchen.

“Be right back.” Carol took the hint and retrieved two bottles of Abita Beer from the refrigerator and popped the caps off with a bottle opener refrigerator magnet.  “Cheers.” She handed Maria a bottle and clinked its long neck with her own. 

“I didn’t ask for this to happen.” Carol extended an arm and made a fist, and her hand momentarily turned red with a fiery glow. “I didn’t want to leave her.  Or you.”

“I know.” Maria took a long, slow drink from her beer, drawing fortification from it.  “It’s just so hard.  A part of me knew you were alive out there somewhere. I just didn’t realize how far out there.  I thought maybe they were keeping you somewhere here in the U.S., and for whatever reason they wouldn’t tell me where or why. Monica never gave up on you, and I never moved on.”

“No?” Carol’s voice rose hopefully.  “There were these dreams —” She drew one bare foot up onto the couch and tucked it under herself.  “I saw your face. I didn’t know who you were, but they were always good dreams.  Warm.” She bit her lower lip.  “I felt safe. And loved.  Some of the other dreams, about the accident and Wendy Lawson, those were confusing and there was always this sense of great loss when I woke up. But the dreams about you, they comforted me in a world where I didn’t know who I was or where I’d come from.  More than anything, I wanted them to be real.”

“Anything else about them that you remember?” Maria observed a pink blush rise from Carol’s neck and dust her cheeks.

“I felt that you were very important to me,” Carol answered, her tone thoughtful.  “When I first saw you in that hangar out back two months ago, I knew — my heart knew — I think —” She paused and drained half her beer bottle.  “I was more than just your best friend, wasn’t I?”

“You.” Maria released a trembling breath.  “Monica will always be my first priority, but other than her, you were my everything. And then you were gone, and the damned military — I had no one to talk to.  Monica was too young, my friends were all Air Force, and my mother, though she loved and still loves you, enacted ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ long before President Clinton.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell?” Carol frowned.

“Bunch of homosexual management bullshit the military implemented last year.  A long story for another day,” Maria answered.

“Oh.” Carol placed her now empty beer bottle on the coffee table and closed the distance between them.  “Can — can I?” She opened her arms in invitation.

Maria set her own bottle aside and they hugged for a long, silent time, holding each other tightly and swaying back and forth. It felt so good, and familiar, as two hearts came home again after a long absence. “It’ll kill me and her if we lose you again,” Maria spoke directly into her ear, her breath warming Carol’s neck.

“You know I can’t be here all the time.” Carol released her and sat back against the couch.  “This power that Wendy Lawson accidentally gave me, it has to be put to some good use.  There are so many people, races out there, that need help, and I can be the one to provide it.  Fury is building a secret team of specialists.  He may need my help with that as well. And then there’s the Kree. I haven’t seen any of them since I left, but it doesn’t mean they won’t search for me.  Wendy’s power core is inside me, made by one of their own, and they want it.  I don’t want to put you and Monica in danger.”

“I’m not worried about me,” Maria replied.  “But her, yeah. And you.”

“I may need to come and go at random, and only stay a few days at a time. But if I promise to always come back, can you live with that?” Carol touched Maria’s arm. “I’m still figuring out who — what — I am. I know you knew me, know me now, probably better than I know myself.  But I’m not who I was six years ago.  My blood is blue like a Kree, for crying out loud. Some of the memories are coming back, but even if I eventually remember everything, I’ve changed.  I don’t even know if I can — what will happen if —” She flexed her hands, feeling the power surge through her.

“I’m not afraid of you.” Maria took her hand and twined their fingers. “Not afraid of your hands of fire.  I know you’ll never intentionally hurt me.”

Carol lifted their joined hands and kissed the back of Maria’s.  “I just wish I could take away all the unintentional hurt.” She reached across and brushed her fingertips against Maria’s face.  “The Kree have this sort of religious thing, a godlike Supreme Intelligence. You go into a private chamber and there’s an energy field that transports you to a sacred space to commune with it. Each person sees the Supreme Intelligence differently. It’s supposed to be the image of the person you admire most.  I never told Yon-Rogg, or anyone, but the first time I met the Supreme Intelligence, I saw you.”

“Me?” Maria’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Carol pursed her lips together.  “Just for a few minutes and then there was this sort of veil that came down and when it lifted again, I saw Wendy Lawson instead. I think, now, knowing how adept they were at mind probes, that the Kree found out what you were to me, and were afraid that if I saw you on a regular basis, I’d never stop trying to find out who you had been to me before the accident. I think they knew all along who I was seeing as the Supreme Intelligence, and that they were able to control it, and took you away from me and replaced you with the image of someone who was Kree like them.”

“I’m so sorry for everything they put you through.”

“ After that, I only saw you in dreams. I’d reach for you. You were — are — so fierce and beautiful.  There were these fuzzy bits, where I’d reach out and try to touch all that brown, warm, inviting skin, and I’d get so close and then you were gone into a mist, and I’d wake up, so angry that the dream ended.”

“Well.” Maria moved closer and took both of Carol’s hand in her own.  “You’re not dreaming now.”  Her face came within inches of Carol’s. “You promise me you will be in our lives on an ongoing basis, as you’re able?”

“That, I can promise.” Carol smiled, her eyes twinkling as she saw Maria’s eyes crinkle up at the edges.

“Well, then —” Maria’s face inched closer.

“Wait, what if —” Carol glanced down at their hands.

“Hush.” Her lips lightly brushed Carol’s, sending tiny electric tingles down both their spines.

Carol drew back. “Did you feel that?”

“Yes.  Did it feel good?”

“Yeah.” Carol smiled.

“For me, too. Trust me, that wasn’t the power core.” Maria wrapped one hand around the back of her neck and pulled her close again.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to —”

“Hush.” Maria touched a finger to Carol’s lips, then she kissed her again.

It was long and slow and sweet, the passion building as they remembered each other’s taste and scent.  Carol moaned and took Maria into her arms, then carefully laid her down on the couch, hovering over her.  The kiss ended, only for a moment, as she drew back and looked into Maria’s eyes.  “You okay?”

“Less talking, more kissing.” Maria pulled her down and they continued to explore, lips moving now to nibble an earlobe here and a neck there, their hands wandering with hesitantly gentle touches that gradually grew more sure and urgent.

Carol eased a hand under Maria’s t-shirt and unhooked her bra strap, exploring soft, warm flesh, eliciting little yelps of pleasure from Maria’s lips.  As she continued with the teasing touches, she felt Maria unzip her jeans and a knowing hand slid down her belly and cupped her, parting her and stroking steadily and insistently, until all she could concentrate on was the pleasure, her body aching for the release that rose up and claimed her with wave after breaking wave, until she was gasping for air, held safely in Maria’s arms.

Maria rubbed her back and stroked her head, pushing sweat-dampened locks out of Carol’s eyes. “See.” She rubbed noses with Carol. “You didn’t incinerate me.”

“Speak for yourself.” Carol drew in a long, shaking breath as an aftershock claimed her.

They both laughed, holding each other close.  “Now.” Carol reached down, tugging at the waist band of Maria’s sweat pants. “Let’s see if I can set you on fire, without actually setting you on fire.”

Maria laughed again, then took several quick breaths in succession, as Carol made her intentions known.  The sweat pants flew across the living room, and a strong thigh pressed against her, as a steady hand supported her, guiding her hips in a rocking motion that ended in the promised fire and a few fireworks for good measure.  As she slowly came back down to Earth, her lips met Carol’s in another passionate, searing kiss.

“Let’s take this upstairs.” Carol eased up and then stood, offering Maria a hand up.  They gradually made their way across the room, turning in one another’s arms, touching and kissing, in a heartfelt journey that finally took them up the stairs to the master bedroom, which was thankfully at the far end of the hall from Monica’s.

The fire was re-kindled, the rocket ready to launch again. It was bedtime for the grownups, but sleep would have to wait for a few more hours.


Carol sat on the front porch with a blanket wrapped around her, and a mug of strong coffee cradled in both hands.  Ground fog rolled in from the bayou in ghostly wisps, obscuring all but the nearby trees, as if the land itself was decorating for Halloween.  A wan sun made a valiant effort to pierce the thick, gray clouds that covered the sky overhead.  Off in the distance, thunder rolled.  “Good luck with that.” Carol peered up in the general direction where she knew the sun to be.

“Morning.” Maria opened the screen door, her own cup of coffee in hand. “You left me alone up there.”

“You were sleeping so soundly,” Carol objected.  “You had this dreamy little smile on your face.  I didn’t have the heart to disturb you.”

“Mmmm. Thanks.” Maria sat down next to her, scooting under the blanket as Carol opened it invitingly, and then wrapped it carefully around both of them.

“For letting you sleep? Or for making a full pot of coffee?” Carol pecked her on the lips.

“For that smile you saw on my face.” Maria tilted her head to the side and delivered a proper good morning kiss.

“Puleeeaaaze.” Monica appeared in the doorway, covering her eyes with one hand.  “Children present!”

“You’ve seen us kiss before.” Maria motioned to her, and Monica sat down next to her, as her mother tucked the end of the blanket around her.

“Does this mean Auntie Carol is staying for the Halloween carnival?” Monica asked hopefully.

“Oh.”  Carol smiled and blushed.  “I forgot to ask your mom about that. Got a little distracted.”

“If she wants to join us at the carnival, she’s more than welcome to,” Maria replied.  “We need to come up with a really good costume for you, though.” She glanced at Carol, the concern evident in her dark eyes.

“Yeah, probably something that will hide my face a little bit better than that Janice Joplin costume. Though luckily, fewer people know me here than back in California.”

“Oh!” Monica bounced up and down. “We could go to the costume shop in town!  And buy some more candy to take to the carnival, and maybe go early and help them finish decorating?”

“Okay, but you know what needs to be done first, as soon as breakfast is over and before the rain gets here,” Maria admonished.

“Raking leaves.” Monica wrinkled her nose and then scrunched her whole face up.  “And bagging them and dragging them out to the road. I know. But Mom, that will take all morning.” She gestured toward the vast lawn in front of the house, the piles of leaves obscured by the fog at the moment.  “You said I could spend today with Auntie Carol.”

“You can, after this one chore.  If we don’t do it now, the rain is going to turn them into a soggy mess.”

Carol looked over at both of them, then toward the lawn. She extended an arm and made a sweeping motion, and leaves began to rise up from the ground and swirl together into one, giant ball.  Fire shot from her hand and as suddenly as they rose up, the leaves were gone, only fine ash remaining, which drifted down and settled on the ground.  “Done.”

Monica shrieked with joy. “Auntie Carol, that was too fly!”

“Now how am I supposed to instill any discipline in my child if you go around doing her chores for her?” Maria lightly backhanded Carol in the stomach.

“My bad.” Carol peered over Maria’s shoulder at Monica, their eyes shining with mutual mischief. “Won’t happen again.”

Monica giggled and then covered her mouth.

“Whatever.” Maria shook her head.  “I’d forgotten how much trouble you two can get into, together.”

“Does this mean we’re a family again?” Monica clambered over her mother’s lap, planting herself between them.

“As much as we can be,” Maria answered. “But Carol may not be around all the time, like she was six years ago.”

“That’s true.” Carol slid an arm around Monica and extended it until her hand was at the small of Maria’s back. “I have things I’ll need to do sometimes, that mean I’ll need to leave from time to time.  But last night I made a promise to your mother, and I’m making it to you, too, Monica. I promise to be in your lives, and I promise that no matter how many times I leave, I will always, eventually come back, as soon as I can.” She gave a little scratch to Maria’s back.  “I left a special pager in the kitchen drawer.  No matter how far away I might be, if you ever, ever need me, all you have to do is press a few buttons, and I will be here.”

“Dope!” Monica jumped up.  “Mom, can we make pancakes for breakfast? Please?”

“I think since Auntie Carol is so proficient at lighting fires and stirring up things, maybe she can make the pancakes.” Maria’s eyes narrowed, but a smile tugged at her lips.

“At your service.” Carol stood, careful to tuck the blanket back around the two most important girls in her life.  “A fresh cup of coffee and a mug of hot cocoa coming up, while you wait.  It’ll be good practice for making Thanksgiving and Christmas breakfast.” She paused in the open doorway and winked at Maria, then turned and went inside to take care of her family.

THE END (for now?)

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