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paint me a picture in our night sky

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When Maria was a kid, her gramma used to tell her there was magic in Louisianan soil.

Her brothers used to roll their eyes at that, turn their noses up and whisper that gramma was getting senile, but Maria always ignored them. The way her grandmother talked about their home, it made it feel special, important, in a way that nothing else ever really could.

Even when she shed her wonder of childhood like a second skin, she was still inclined to believe her. She's never really been out of state, excluding some trips to distant some cousins in South Carolina, but she doesn't need to to know that there's something special about the ground, about the air, about the water here in New Orleans.

It's not really a smell or a texture or even just a feeling. It's a knowing. It's rolling down the window on a night late in July, sticking her head out, and just feeling the wind rushing over her face and thinking, Home's just a little ways down the road . It's bounding up the steps of her old church, dragging her fingers over the decaying planks of wood strewn up over the windows, and smiling because, God, had she hated this place. It's driving into town on the bicentennial of their state’s naming and celebrating two hundred years of bad luck, getting drunk beyond belief, and just hoping to hell that another catastrophe doesn't strike in her lifetime.

Maybe it's like that for everyone born and raised in a specific place. Maybe it’s not.

Whatever it is, it feels damn good.

And Carol? Well. Carol moved to New Orleans when she was a teenager, too hot-headed and pissed at the world to give enough of a shit to stop and smell the roses, but Maria thinks she's mellowed out and started to see a bit of that magic as well.

They’ve just finished a flight test, a couple of Super Galaxies hot off the press. They’re still in uniform; Maria’s still got her jacket on, buttoned all the way up, but Carol’s shrugged her’s off and tied it around her waist, doning a black, sleeveless t-shirt underneath.

“Been a while”, Carol muses. “Since we’ve done this.”

They’re sitting on the hood of Maria’s mustang. The door’s open, the radio spilling out soft and harsh melodies, a inconsonant mixtape they put together the spring they first moved in together. Damn near six years ago , Maria thinks, then, on instinct, tacks on, After three years of bunking together on base . It’s the longest friendship she’s ever had with a woman. This year’s been busier than most, but that fact still remains true. “Too long”, she agrees and lifts the rim of her bottle to her mouth, taking in several gulps of beer until her head swims.

Carol watches her out of the side of her eye and shakes her head; her own movements are slow and sluggish. “You tryin’ to keep up?”

Maria just rolls her eyes. “Not that much a race, Danvers.”

Carol smiles, fond and warm, then turns her eyes skyward. She scratches at her stomach, yawns, and lets her own bottle fall to the ground with a soft clank. “Dipper’s out tonight.”

“Mm. Which one?”

“Big one. I think he’s showing off.”

Maria lets her tongue poke out and cocks her head to the side. The clouds part just enough to reveal the seven stars making up their asterism. She grins and lets her head fall upon Carol’s shoulder. Carol doesn’t push her away.

“Teapot’s hiding”, she notes quietly. Too much fog, too many lights, even this far away from the city.

“Maybe tomorrow.” She doesn’t finish the thought, which is that they’ll be shipping out to midstate in a demonstration. They won’t have time for star-gazing.

“You nervous?”

She doesn’t finish that question either. They used to be more vocal about it, when they were first starting out and sought sanctuary in their shared struggles. Over the years, though, the need’s lessened as they grew to know more about one another and a simple shared look could say more than words ever could.

But tonight’s different. This is the first time they’re letting them participate in an Air Show, the first women on their base to do so.

"Nah", she says and bumps their shoulders together for good measure. "Got my lucky sister in arms trailing behind me. I’ll be fine." Carol snorts. Then, almost wistfully, she says, "Sisters". "Yeah." Something tight stirs in Marias chest. It’s a new thing, that feeling. She has an idea of what it is, especially when Carol looks at her the way she looks at the stars, but she won’t say it out loud. Ten years, she’s known Carol. She ain’t about to give that up just cause she’s feeling weird about this thing between them. "Frank wants me to move in with him", she says. It feels like the right thing to say, even if saying it makes her throat feel swollen. She should have been told her, back when he first asked her, but she’d been putting it off, hoping... 

She turns to Carol and smiles. "I said 'yes'". Carol tugs another beer free from the case. "Oh. Really?"

"Yeah. Really." 

Silence, then. It’s not usually a problem for them. "You welcome to stay here", she rushes to add. "I was thinking of sellin' it, but it’s yours if you want." Carol twists the cap off her bottle and nods. "Thanks." She gulps down a good third of her beer, then wipes the back of her arm over her mouth and belches. "I think Imma start looking at new places, though. Too much space for just me, you know?"

"Right." It’s gotta be an odd adjustment. They never really talked about it, but there seemed to be a sort of silent agreement that they’d always live together, even if they would one day leave the house. Now the house is fading from the picture, and, just that quick, this thing between them feels like it’s growing taut. 

"You love him?", Carol asks lowly, shyly. Her bottle slips between her fingers and crashes to the ground, spilling its intoxicating contents all over the desert floor. She doesnt move to retrieve it. 

"Yeah." She does love him, has for a while now. Maybe not enough to live with him the way he wants but she does. She sips at her beer and rubs a hand up and down her sideburns. She’s letting her hair grow out. She’ll have to cut it soon, but for now, it’s nice. It feels good, to be able to feel her curls tickling her cheeks. She’d almost forgotten what that felt like.

"He’s a good guy”, Carol says suddenly, voice thick from what Maria assumes is the alcohol. “I’m...I’m happy for you guys." She slides her palms up and down her thighs and nods, hard, like she’s convincing herself of this. 

“I’ll help you look for a new place”, Maria promises. More words missing. Words like, I’ll always be here for you . Words like, This doesn’t have to change anything . Words like, I did mean “forever” when I gave you the spare set of keys . Lots more words and if the way Carol looks at her means anything, Carol’s caught them all.

Silence again, this one much more comfortable than the first. Maria traces the entire length of the night sky with her finger, plucking out Bears and Fishes and Sisters and Serpens and stars that have no shape at all that but shine brighter than just about any other in the big, black dome containing them all. 

Sometime after four am, she feels Carol’s fingers settle beside her, twitching. They slither closer and closer, and Maria peels her own fingers back and moves her hand over onto its back. Carol’s hand slips inside of hers, and they both just breathe, low and shaky, and keep staring up at the Louisianan sky, not quite realizing that they’ve formed their own constellation, the picture of a love not quite defined yet.

“Beautiful, isn’t it”, Maria says with a shudder.

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Carol dart her eyes to her. Then, as quick as they’d come, they look away and return to the sky. “Yeah. Almost magical.”