Grace Augustine hates the military. Of this she is certain.
They are a constant thorn in her side with their strategies and their... meddling in places that don't concern them.
Whether that hatred precludes her from finding them fascinating, well... of that she is less sure.
She is a scientist. Logical. Curious. She studies plants, primarily, but her methods certainly apply to other subjects.
Whether they apply to hardass Marines who live for making her life difficult, well... of that she is less sure.
Grace hates not being sure.
She notices the little things first, the minute details. Looks beyond the swagger and finds a little there worth her time – though, she admits, not much. He's a Marine to the core, cut him open and you'd find Semper Fi written through him as he bled scarlet and gold.
But, there's still something there to latch on to.
She's taller than him. She considers the ways in which she might be able to make use of this on a regular basis.
In the end it doesn't matter, of course. He might not be taller but he is broader, more confident, unshakeable - larger than her in all other possible ways. The thought of her extra height having any discernible effect on him is as laughable as the thought of Miles Quaritch being intimidated by anyone, let alone a woman.
No, Miles Quaritch knows what to do with people stupid enough to front up to him.
He also knows what to do with women, his eyes promise as much every time she passes him. It earns him nothing but cold indifference at first (not that he's the kind to be dissuaded so easily, she's heard the gossip). In her waking hours it is easy to scoff at all foolish impulse to dwell on the promise, the smugness that burns in his blue eyes.
But her unconscious mind, free of all trappings of sense and logic, runs free and enjoys playing through all the possible ways he could prove his knowledge to her. She wakes up shaking and sweaty on a regular basis, kids herself that it's symptomatic of nicotine withdrawal, not temporary insanity.
One day when she's wandered too far from the safety of the lab with her attention stolen by a journal article he nearly steps on her in his damn AMP suit.
(She wants to drag him out to the Avatar compound and retaliate with her own increased size and strength - but she knows he'd probably just enjoy that.)
He grins as he flips open the lid of the cockpit. "Sorry Doc. You're easy to miss when you're not all blue."
She scowls, pulling her cigarette from her mouth as she cranes her neck back to look at him. "I wouldn't expect a jarhead to give a damn about who's in their way, Colonel."
He shrugs, the wide metal arms of his suit raising lazily into the air. "Get your head out of your books once in a while and you might realise - we're not all bad." Grace narrows her eyes at this but it only serves to amuse him. "Ooh, I think I like you better ten foot tall. Less intimidating."
He pulls the lid of the AMP down and stalks away, leaving her standing a little dumbfounded, wondering if that was supposed to be a compliment.
She sometimes thinks RDA have given their security forces some kind of secret chemical treatment to heighten their internal temperature – it's the only explanation for the fact that they walk around with barely any clothing on despite having perfectly serviceable fatigues, while the scientists exist quite happily in lab coats and long sleeves without any discomfort.
She's rounding a corner one day, deep in discussion with Max about something likely completely inane when there's suddenly an unyielding presence in her path. Her hands shoot out to steady herself and grasp solid muscle, she looks up to find herself staring at the amused face of Miles Quaritch.
Of course. Because her day just needed that extra little hit of shitty karma.
She wants to pretend she's never wondered what curling her hands around his biceps and squeezing would be like, but she can't. She's only human and even with him being the biggest pain in the ass known to mankind he's still exactly the kind of body type she craves. She finds his arms just as firm as she expected, knows in that moment how hard he fights against the effects of the low gravity and wonders, just a little, if he puts the same effort into all his endeavours.
And then he smirks, runs his tongue between his lips and she realises she's lingered too long.
"Afternoon." He greets, but he might as well have said 'I know you want me, just admit it' for all the hidden suggestion that one word holds.
"Colonel." She responds, stepping back, hoping her intended message of 'Go fuck yourself' is appropriately conveyed by her tone.
From his expression as he passes her, it probably was. It only appears to please him more. Max questions her on what the hell just happened but she ignores him, stalking off towards the lab with renewed purpose.
"What the fuck is your problem?" She questions, walking into his office without preamble. The fact that she didn't even know he had an office until ten minutes ago is beside the point (and Parker's amusement at her lack of knowledge will bother her for a long time).
"Hello to you too, Doc." He says, looking up from behind a spartan desk when she throws a datapad at him and it skids across the surface unimpeded.
"Don't you dare deflect me on this Quaritch." She says, gesticulating wildly with the hand holding her customary cigarette. "What gives you the right to reject my requisition? It's none of your goddamn business!"
He smiles broadly, reclining in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. "If I think it'll compromise the security of this compound, anything is my goddamn business."
"Four computer upgrades will not compromise the security of the compound you smug son of a bitch. You're just making life difficult for the entire Avatar program."
"Hmm, guess again." He says, eyes sparkling with barely-suppressed mirth.
Grace frowns at him, irritated to be a step behind someone who... hell, a step behind anyone. It's his utter delight in her confusion that helps her understand. "Me? You're making life difficult for me?"
"You make it so easy Doc." He practically purrs.
She scoffs, walking away from the desk and taking a heavy drag on her cigarette. "I'm flattered, Colonel. That I'm worth so much of your precious time."
He looks like he's about to retaliate with another undoubtedly fantastic piece of wit, so she beats him to the chase, turns on her heel and storms out of the SecOps barracks without a second look.
She might not be military, but Grace can make war with the best of them.
He leaves it until he knows she'll be alone, working late in the lab as usual. The place is deserted, she always outstays everyone - it helps avoid the dreams if she doesn't sleep very long. When she turns around and sees him leaning up against the now-closed door, she should be less surprised than she is.
She'd almost expected him sooner than this.
There's still a small part of her, the female part, that cowers a little in the face of this man. He is, after all, much stronger than her; could, if he chose, subdue her in a second. But, she guesses that's not how he works. He doesn't take what he needs, he makes others want it first, want to be taken, claimed, possessed. That treacherous female part of her certainly does want it - a strange contradiction, and an irritating one.
"Can I help you Colonel?"
He looks almost impressed with her lack of reaction to him. Doesn't need to know that it's taking a lot more willpower than usual to remain so damn aloof in the face of his cold confidence. But she's enjoyed this time, building her strategies, taking on a man far more used to playing silly little war games and waiting for him to put the pieces together, and it's that enjoyment that she uses to fuel her act.
"Care to explain why my express orders got overturned by that little shit Selfridge?"
Grace just smiles, walking around him to cross to her one of the pods. "Careful, he's the one that signs your paychecks."
Quaritch doesn't follow (like he ever would, he just waits for others to come to him), simply raises his voice so he can still be heard by her. "Also the one that signs the requisition forms. I saw those upgrades getting wheeled in here earlier."
She needs something from the workstation he's standing by or she could have stayed quite happily across the room from him until he gave up on this pointless argument. She rounds him once more, purposely keeping her distance, and with her back to him searches the surface for the object she's hunting. "You weren't going to let me have what I needed. Had to go over your head, Colonel. This is bigger than your ego."
Suddenly he's behind her, less than an inch separating their bodies and she wishes she hadn't stood so close to the desk, leaving herself no exit.
"Oh I can let you have what you need, Doc. Just say the word." He says and she can feel his breath on the back of her neck. She does not shiver. She does not.
"You're disgusting." She says, shoulders set firm, ignoring the way she can feel the heat of his body along the entire length of her own.
He simply laughs. "Tell me how you really feel."
She spins around in the tiny amount of space he's afforded her, ready to launch into a particularly lengthy and, yes, well-rehearsed diatribe about all the ways she hates him and all the ways in which he makes everyone's life a living hell but then he is there, he is close and lord his eyes are blue.
His eyebrows raise at her sudden silence, not used to her being at a loss for words – she's not used to it herself, which makes it especially off-putting for it to happen now, of all times.
"Something on your mind Augustine?"
Grace has to wrest control of this situation back from him if it's the last thing she does. She moves to the right to step around him but he matches her; she moves to the left and he does the same. "Oh, very mature." She scowls.
It seems the only option she has left is to push past him, but that would involve some form of bodily contact with the one person she's been avoiding such a thing with at any cost. Figuring it's worth the risk to stop the situation escalating out of her control, she steps forward into him with the full intention of slipping past once he's distracted.
Only it seems to be her that's distracted. Because once she's up against him she can't move, can't bring herself to shift even the tiniest amount. It feels too good to be completely wrapped up in another person's body heat, to share their space and it's been too long since it happened last. It wouldn't matter if it was one of the grunts from the Armor Bay, (though, granted, they'd be preferable) her body wants to enjoy the contact and there's little she can do about it.
She turns her head from his triumphant face – not your body, her mind notes, for fuck's sake! – and his hand comes up to grip her jaw, hard, turning her back.
Suffering such a damn torrent of confusion, hatred and, goddammit, arousal, she doesn't see what's coming next. And then his lips are on hers, she sees and she can't fucking move.
When she doesn't move he only presses harder, hand still on her jaw, the other moving to grip her ass hard through her lab coat and drag her that quarter-inch further into his body. Her hands remain resolutely by her sides until his tongue sneaks out and runs along her bottom lip.
Fight or flight, her still-detached mind prompts.
She chooses fight, because he's not going to have this over her as well. Her hands come up to grip hard at his shoulders, nails digging into the skin exposed by his tank and curling in tight. When his tongue reaches for her mouth once more she bites it, just a little too hard, and he chuckles, using her movement to deepen the kiss through any amount of pain she might have inspired in him.
A base part of her relishes the discovery that all of her night-time fantasies were correct. This might have been inevitable (was it ever) but it was never going to be gentle and for all her reservations and protestations, this thrills her.
There's something self-punishing about it, she finds (and hell if she isn't an expert at that, why else would she smoke when the dangers are well established and better alternatives exist?).
It's a hell of a length to go to to confirm that Quaritch is merciless in pursuit of his goals.
As he pounds her into the wall of her deserted lab, she knows this goal is no different.
There are a hundred men on the base she could get this from (several that she has). Half of them scientists, worshipping her every breath. Half of them soldiers. Other soldiers, lesser soldiers.
But why would she take those when she could have the best?
She watches more carefully, now, as he prowls around Hell's Gate, knowing himself to be lord and master of everyone and everything there. So goddamn pleased with himself; Mr Big Stuff, respected and feared by all.
Before all this she thought he was overcompensating for something. Now she knows he's not. Good lord is he not.
She tries not to think about whether it's blindly obvious to everyone how their relationship has changed. She thinks it might be, but then they're just as antagonistic with each other as they ever have been. She still hates him, hates him, from the top of her head right down to the soles of her feet, and knows he feels much the same.
He sees her as a military conquest and she sees him as an oddity worthy of further study.
Whether that study happens in his office, over his desk; in the back of the Armor Bay up against the legs of an AMP suit (she knew they'd be good for something); in the lab or the damn shooting range? That is of complete inconsequence to her.
He gives her what she needs. Doesn't mean she has to like the bastard.