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He is already at your house when you get home. You'd known he would be, though you never discuss where or when. There are two things guaranteed to bring him to your bed, and this mission was two for two.

Not that you haven't been guilty of the same thing.

It's nearly eleven, and as far as you know he left the base before eight. You wonder how long he's been waiting but you know you won't ask. You also wonder why, if you knew he'd be here, you didn't come home earlier.

You drop your coat and your bag on one of the stools in the kitchen. He is nearby, on your couch, pretending to watch television and definitely drinking your beer.

"There's Chinese in the fridge," he says without turning around. You don't really like Chinese, except ...

"It's shrimp fried rice."

Except for shrimp fried rice.

But you're not hungry anyway. One of your alien teammates has recently discovered brownies. Worse, he's discovered how much you like them.

You pour yourself a glass of wine and join him on the couch. You can pretend to watch television just as well as he can. So you sit in silence, not paying attention to a college basketball game between two teams you don't recognize. You never really talk much, here. You do more talking (laughing, smiling) on duty, these days.

He will have left his truck on the other side of the park by your house: you know this without ever having had to ask. The rules remain unstated, but the biggest one is: Nobody knows. Ever.

It started after Baal, both too soon and not soon enough after Baal. He'd been in the infirmary for weeks and then, four days after he'd gone home, he showed up at your door just after midnight. You could tell he hadn't been sleeping, hadn't been taking the pills you knew Janet had given him. ("Sleep is too familiar," he would tell you at some point later, after you had already memorized the planes of his back, the angles of his hips.) You took him in, no questions, and pretended to be asleep when he left before dawn.

And the next night? The next night it was you at his door, you coaxing him into a restless unconsciousness in his own bed, you leaving before morning. You'd known it would be, all along. Hadn't you?

The television is too low to hear, and it doesn't matter. You rest your head on his shoulder in a now-familiar gesture and feel him move minutely as he speaks.

"Corso had a thing for you," he says.

"Corso wanted me on his side."

"And he had a thing for you."

You feel no need to respond to this. It's not about jealousy: it's about what you can't have.

"He propositioned you?"

"More or less." You fiddle with the stem of the wine glass in your hands. "He asked if I had someone back home."

He breathes deeply, takes a long swig from the bottle. "And you said something ... suitably noncommittal."

It's a good guess. He knows you too well, but at the same time not well enough. You close your eyes, wishing all of this could be so much simpler than it is. You can still see the light and motion of the screen behind your lids. He moves his head just enough to lean it lightly against yours.

"I didn't lie to him," you say.

"Nothing to lie about. Is there?"

You don't respond to this, either.

On the television, the ball flies into the crowd and two opposing players slam out of bounds.

On the couch, your CO wraps his hand around your thumb.

"Want you," he says. It is almost a whisper. He always needs to ask permission, still, and you try not to wonder why this always makes you feel worse about what you're going to do. What the two of you are going to do. Because there's no question about that, is there?

At least he doesn't apologize anymore, afterwards.

"I'm not going anywhere," you say. It's hardly romantic, but you cannot think about that.

He puts his bottle on the side table; reaches for your glass and sets that aside, too. And then he lifts your leg, starts undressing you slowly from the floor up: shoes, then socks, then jeans. Maybe still making sure you're real, even now.

After Nurrti, after a brush with death that was too close even for you, he was at your house every night for a week. You'd whisper "I'm okay, I'm okay," over and over as he touched you, inside and out. And then, later, he'd hold you so close in his sleep that you almost couldn't breathe, but you didn't mind.

He'd still be gone in the morning. Mornings are too real for the two of you.

He undresses you now, touches every inch of your body slowly, possessively, and you let him. You don't mind: you've done the same. He has the usual male obsession with breasts, but he also loves your hands and your feet. A toe in his mouth, then a thumb; one nipple, then the other.

Finally he tosses his own clothes aside and settles between your spread thighs. His hardness rubs against your softness as he moves over you, his eyes holding yours. It's dangerous, this connection. You know this, but tonight you don't care even though you also know it will one day be your downfall. And so, wiggling a bit to squeeze one hand between your skin and his, you lead him to your depths knowing he won't be able to hold back. He drives into you, claiming you, marking you though he has no right and you can never truly be his.

"I wasn't ready for that," he complains breathlessly.

"It sure feels like you're ready."

He grunts. "Wrap your legs around me." You obey without question, though you'll hate yourself later for your passivity. It's a habit that's difficult to overcome, following his orders. Even now.

Somehow he manages to stand, taking you with him, and carry you into the kitchen. The tiles are cold as he sets you down, the island counter just the right height and your body still impaled on his. How he manages these maneuvers you'll never truly understand; he is, you know by now, surprisingly creative. Some days you wish you'd never learned that.

His lips settle on your neck and you pretend not to hear him say your name. His movement inside you is slow, stretching out the moment: time is not something you and he have in abundance. And then his forehead touches yours, his eyes still closed.

This is a different man than the one you see during the day. Less guarded, but also more guarded. Less inclined to use humor as a defense, but also less inclined to say anything at all. And you? You are less quick to smile, probably a lot colder. Less honest about most things, more honest about one thing. Here is where you must remain detached: there, with the uniforms marking the space between you, the territory is more familiar, less treacherous.

And the sex? The sex is always good, though not as good as it could be. It's good, but it's always controlled, which is the way it has to be.

You don't want to admit to yourself that the control, the detachment, are getting harder to maintain every time.

He's stopped moving, and his breath is warm and a little sour on your face.

"Corso was nothing," you say.

"I know. They always are."

But you also both know that he's nothing, too. Because that's the way it has to be. And somewhere inside, buried where you're not likely to find it, is the knowledge that none of this has anything to do with Corso, not really. You weren't attracted to him, you never were in any real danger: he's just a convenient excuse. And you always have to have an excuse. Don't you?

And suddenly, as he picks up his slow rhythm again, you're angry. Furious. At your life, for demanding one justification after another. At your job that you love but that requires you to lie to yourself and to him and to give up so much. Most of all, maybe, at him, for making you want to say the one thing you never can say.

So when his hand splays across your stomach, his thumb pressing lower, you push it away.

"No," you say. "I don't want to." It's a lie, but it isn't. He tries to look into your eyes, but you stop him by clasping his head with both hands and claiming his lips with your own.

You rarely kiss, you and him. It takes him by surprise and throws his passion into full gear. And as he jackhammers into you, so forcefully and so fast that you have to put both of your hands on the tile behind you just to stay upright, you're surprised to feel the prickling heat low in your belly that signals an oncoming climax. But he gets there first, with one last long, deep thrust, and you've lost your chance.

Somehow this doesn't add to your anger, but dissipates it.

You pull each other close, as you always do, after. Hands and arms and your own legs grasping, tugging, squeezing. And you stay that way, silent but for your breathing, until he slides out of you without meaning to.

You wish it didn't make you feel so empty, so much like an irrevocable loss; you like to think of yourself as a strong woman, an independent woman. You don't like that you feel more complete when he's inside you, this man you should not need but do.

This is not the way it's supposed to be. But it is the way it has to be.

No crying: that is also one of the rules.

You know it's a mistake, but you say it anyway. "Stay."

You feel him shaking his head as he holds you. "No," he says into your hair. "It's too much."

And it is. It's far, far too much.

And it always will be.