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Nebula pins her against a wall in a filthy alleyway behind a market stall on some trading outpost moon that Gamora didn't even bother to learn the name of, and Gamora's first thought, as her back thumps against the rickety planks of the wall and her breath leaves her body, is that in the old days she would have been ashamed of such a failure. In the old days, she would have been ashamed to be taken unawares like this, Nebula's strong sure body holding her in place, Nebula's gun pressed up against the underside of her chin.

Now, though, all she can feel is relief.

"You're alive," Gamora says. Nebula's grin is wide and dark.

"Did you think you had outlived me?"

"I hoped that I hadn't."

Nebula pushes the gun upwards a little, grinding it against Gamora's chin. It will leave a mark, a muzzle-shaped bruise, dark green and black against her skin. Gamora feels excitement at the idea, and knows she will check the mirror at her next opportunity.

Assuming she lives, of course.

"Perhaps I will grant your wish," Nebula murmurs. She's close, by necessity, her body holding Gamora's body against the wall by the barest inch. She has to use all of her strength to keep Gamora from moving.

This planet is hot, humid, disagreeable, and she's hotter where she's pressed against Nebula, starting to sweat through her clothes.

"If you wanted to kill me, why wait? You could've done it when I made planetfall." Gamora should be ashamed of that, too, that Nebula has been tracking her for who knows how long without Gamora realising it. She turns it around, though, makes it a weapon, just as she was taught. "Why wait to get me in this intimate position?"

Nebula's expression darkens. "I waited until you wandered from your little team," she says. "I waited to catch you alone."

Playing a hunch, Gamora moves, shoving her body up against Nebula's, giving back the same hard pressure that Nebula is giving her. "Killing does not require privacy," she says. A simple fact, one they both know from long practice. "Fucking, on the other hand – "

A flash of surprise crosses Nebula's face. Counterintuitively, each cybernetic enhancement she received always made her expressions more discernable, not less; perhaps a coincidence, perhaps Nebula trying to compensate for the coldness of her appearance. And this is a topic that they have rarely spoken of, one that rarely had cause to be mentioned: the slow, impersonal fucks that they shared, for years, in the lodgings that Thanos provided for them and their siblings. She and Nebula were teenagers together, fumbling and learning one another in the dark, and later they were adults striving for some stolen warmth in each others' arms, and though they were never friends they were sisters, bringing each other pleasure and pain in equal measure.

They competed bitterly, during their training, threw each other to the wolves – literally and figuratively – and Gamora's body remembers what it feels like to fight her, the desperate violent scrabbling as they tried their best to kill one another for Thanos's pleasure.

But her body remembers the other sort of contact, too, the kiss of Nebula's lips to her sex and the twist of Nebula's fingers inside of her. Gamora feels her body becoming aroused, hormones and neurotransmitters flooding her system to give her the strength she requires, heartbeat and breathing picking up to fill her blood with oxygen, every nerve ending alive and sensitive to the world around her. But she doesn't know, yet, whether she will be required to kill or asked to fuck. She licks her lips in anticipation, readying herself to push back against whatever pressure Nebula will bring to bear on her.

"You think I came all this way to have your body?" She sneers, and her free arm – which she was using to brace across Gamora's chest and hold her still – shifts upwards so that she can take hold of Gamora's hair instead. It hurts, bright and sharp where Nebula tugs, but it's nowhere near as secure as the arm-bar was. Nebula has chosen humiliation over control, and that tells Gamora what she needs to know.

"I think that much is obvious," she replies. She's panting, her breath is coming very quickly now, her body ready for Nebula's attack, in whatever form it's going to take. "The question is, what are you going to do with it now that you have it in your grasp?"

She makes use of what little leverage she has to force her leg between Nebula's knees, pushing up hard to make Nebula ride the hard muscle of her thigh. Nebula hisses and grips her hair harder, but she drives herself down against Gamora, pleasuring herself.

"Is this what you're reduced to? One of the greatest warriors in the galaxy, begging for her life, offering her body in exchange?"

Gamora smiles slowly. Their faces are close together, Nebula's breath mingling with hers, and she can see the moment when Nebula's confidence falters. "You're not going to kill me," she says. "You would've done it by now." She shoves up again with her thigh, and above her Nebula's body relaxes just a fraction, just for a moment, before she tenses again and shoves Gamora hard against the ramshackle wall. It rattles ominously against her.

"Maybe I'm just taking my time," she growls.

Stretching upwards, Gamora manages to get her teeth on Nebula's neck and scrapes them down along the tendon. "Take all the time you need," she breathes, laughing.

Nebula snarls and grabs her by the shoulders, hauling her away from the wall – perhaps intending to pin her to the ground instead, get more control over her. But Gamora takes the opportunity that she's been given and wrests Nebula's body around until she's the one on the bottom, the one pinned to the dirt-pack ground and held still. Nebula's gun clatters to the ground behind them, unimportant; nothing more than a prop for playacting. She struggles violently, trying to throw Gamora off, but Gamora gets her knees on Nebula's thighs and her hands on Nebula's wrists and keeps her from the control she craves.

"Now what, sister?" Nebula asks, when it's clear that Gamora's not going to let her up anytime soon. "You going to fuck me here in the dirt, thirty lengths from the market, where any of your little friends could walk in on us?" Gamora hesitates, and her grip must slacken slightly, because Nebula pushes up as hard as she can, trying to break her hold. Gamora grimaces and pushes her down again, but the image lingers with her: the looks on their faces – Quill, Drax, Groot, even Rocket – if they saw her in such a position. If they knew the depravities to which she, in her former life, became accustomed. She can't bear the thought of it, the four of them seeing her for what she really is.

"What will you tell them, I wonder," Nebula continues. She bares her teeth. "That you couldn't resist a roll in the filth with a fellow servant of Thanos?"

That is what it would look like to them, Gamora knows. Filth. Abandon. Beings without honour or dignity. But that's not what it would feel like. She's sure of it, because she remembers, all too well, what it felt like the last time she did this with Nebula, not long before they were shipped off to work for Ronan. Like a small and insufficient measure of freedom; like joy torn from despair.

"Maybe I'll tell them that I miss my sister," Gamora breathes. They're not the words she meant to speak, but, as she realises with a shock, they're true nonetheless.

That is, undoubtedly, why they make Nebula bellow with rage and thrash beneath her like a trapped snake.

Moving as quickly as she can, Gamora pushes herself to her feet and backs up a few steps. Nebula pulls herself up more slowly, a look of pure loathing on her face. "Behind that corner," she growls, pointing with her chin.

Gamora turns her back on Nebula and walks into the little niche that Nebula's pointing at. It's shielded from the alleyway, so that even if anyone came along this way, they wouldn't see the two of them. As a part of the building, it's much more solid than the makeshift wall had been, and more likely to stand up to their abuse. It's as much as she can ask for, and more than she thought Nebula would be willing to give.

It's also a perfect place to dump a body, of course.

Once they're hidden from view, Nebula pushes her, hard, so that her face and hands thud against the unforgiving stone. Nebula puts her in a wrist lock, twisting her arm up behind her to the point of pain and well beyond, stopping just short of breaking her bones.

If Gamora were anyone else, anyone without her cybernetic enhancements, the arm would already be broken. Nebula knows, has always known, just how hard to push her, how to make her hurt without damaging her permanently. Gamora bites her lip and doesn't cry out in pain.

As she unfastens Gamora's pants, Nebula says, "Thanos taught us to compete with one another. Betray one another. Kill one another without remorse, if need be." Her fingers slide down into Gamora's sex, slipping among the four long nubs there but refusing to press down on any of them yet. "But this, this we taught ourselves."

Now there is real pressure, Nebula's fingers rubbing against her, playing her like an instrument. Gamora is wet and dripping, pleasure singing up her nerves, pain singing down from the place where Nebula is twisting her arm, and there's nothing about it that isn't perfect.

This is why we survived, Gamora thinks, but doesn't say; this is why we lived while the others died.

"I always preferred your lessons to Thanos's," Gamora says aloud, bucking against Nebula's hand to get the pressure she wants, rutting herself wantonly against her fingers.

Nebula laughs, and gives her what she needs. "And I yours, sister." With that, she twists Gamora's arm up a little further, sending a bright bloom of pain through Gamora's body. Her enhancements dull the pain immediately, almost as soon as it begins, but then Nebula twists again, and again, jerking her arm with just enough force to keep the pain fresh inside of her, another sharp wave of pain on every thrust.

Her other hand starts moving faster, too, as she pinches each of Gamora's nubs between her fingers in turn, rubbing slowly up and down them until they're wet and engorged, leaking into her hand, until every stroke makes Gamora want to writhe and moan. Here, too, she knows the right balance of force and comfort, her touch always just shying away from Gamora's breaking point.

"Please," Gamora says, forehead pressed to the cool, rough stone of the building, "please, Nebula, please, sister – "

Nebula has always liked it when she begs. Now is no exception, if Gamora is to judge by the guttural, snarling moan that escapes from behind Nebula's teeth, the breath of it tickling Gamora's ear.

Nebula pushes her arm harder, and strokes her sex faster, and then Nebula's lips land on the back of Gamora's neck, surprisingly soft and hesitant in contrast to the cold, familiar certainty of her hands. Gamora can't bite back a groan as she comes, colours and lights flashing in front of her eyes and down her limbs, her ejaculate spattering the dirty grey wall. Nebula keeps stroking for a minute or two, drawing out the sensations, until Gamora is trembling with the aftershocks that roll through her. Then Nebula lets go, and steps back, so that all Gamora can feel is the cold stone beneath her hands and the damp air at her back. When Nebula releases her arm it's enough to make her groan again, the sudden absence of pain its own kind of intense physical pleasure.

It lasts only for a moment before Nebula is on her again, spinning her around, pressing up against her front to front.

"Don't move," she says warningly, that same slow rage still boiling beneath the surface of her words. Then, contradictorily, she says, "Get on your knees."

Gamora doesn't say anything, just slides gracefully down until she's trapped between the stone wall and the hard, muscled surface of Nebula's thighs. She's kneeling in a puddle of what she hopes is water and her pants are still open and loose around her hips but she doesn't take any time to worry about those things; instead, she looks up to meet Nebula's black eyes, and without looking away, unfastens her clothing.

The inner catch of Nebula's trousers always pinches her finger when she does this. It does so now, drawing a tiny bead of blood. She wipes it away on Nebula's bare skin, dark green against light blue. Her fingers ghost over the shining metal where Nebula's pelvis was augmented a few years ago, a legacy of the time Gamora threw her off a cliff.

She likes it, that protrusion of gleaming silver; she likes the memory, too, the triumph of throwing Nebula down into the canyon, the pride when she had come crawling back up out of it. Nebula survives; she's dependable that way.

Nebula's hands fist again in Gamora's hair, and now Gamora notices the slight slowness of the left, the way it doesn't grip as quickly or as tightly as the right. Her new limb, Gamora thinks, acquired without Thanos's help, probably self-installed. A small weakness, and one to remember for the future.

Now she obeys Nebula's hands, though, the hard pull that draws her face down between Nebula's legs. The heat of her body tells Gamora how badly she wants it, how much she's been craving it, perhaps since the first moment she set eyes on Gamora on this wretched, desolate moon. She doesn't waste any time, opening her mouth and allowing the slight sucking pull of Nebula's hole to tug her tongue inside.

She lips and sucks, fucking into Nebula with her tongue, bracing her hands on Nebula's knees and not bothering to put any finesse into the job. Nebula's never particularly cared for finesse, anyway. Instead she just pushes in, greedy, mouth and nose and tongue and chin, and lets Nebula fuck her face.

"This is how I want them to see you," Nebula groans, above her. Her hands are still tight in Gamora's hair, pulling cruelly. "This is what I want them to know of you."

Gamora shivers, but doesn't stop the movements of her mouth. She lets Nebula's words wrap around her hot and tight, like a bond, like a brand.

"On your knees for me, debauched, ugly. That is what I would choose for them to see. Your true self." Nebula's thighs are shaking, a contrast to her steady, confident words, and her hands are moving, restless against Gamora's scalp. Gamora redoubles her efforts, pushing her long tongue into Nebula's body and stroking her from the inside out.

"They would know, then, that you are my sister," Nebula breathes, hard and possessive. Gamora looks up and sees Nebula looking down, heat behind her eyes. She cannot help but whine as Nebula's eyes shutter closed, as she groans and shoves her hips forward. "Not their sister. Mine. Always mine."

Gamora closes her eyes too, then, and as Nebula begins to shake and clench around her she knows it to be true: knows that she will always belong to Nebula in a way that no other can ever touch. As Nebula will always belong to her. She hopes, desperately, that Nebula will be the one to kill her, eventually, or that she will be the one to kill Nebula. They owe that much to each other.

Nebula's orgasms – if that's what they are – always last a long time, a couple of minutes, like a seizure or a stroke taking over her body. It frightened Gamora, the first time she made Nebula come, and she held her desperately in the small, hard cot in her sleeping place, hoping that she wouldn't die.

Now, it's as familiar as her own pleasure, and Gamora uses her mouth to ease Nebula through it, to make it last as long as she can. It occurs to her, as it always does, that she could easily kill Nebula in this moment, drive a knife into her belly or a gun into her mouth and end her. She doesn't, because she doesn't have to yet, and because Nebula always arouses her curiosity: she can't help but want to know what Nebula will do next.

When the moment is over, Nebula hauls her up by her hair, and Gamora goes willingly. As soon as they're face to face again Gamora grabs her by the neck and forces their mouths together, letting Nebula taste herself on Gamora's lips. It's as close to a kiss as they ever really come, this exchange of intimate fluids, this sensation of opening wide before one another. Nebula opens greedily beneath her onslaught, and licks the bitter flavour of her sex from Gamora's mouth.

She does up the fastenings on Nebula's clothing, and Nebula does up the fastenings on hers, an old caretaking habit that they never left behind them when they grew up. The closure on Nebula's pants pinches her finger again, tearing loose a new drop of blood.

Nebula grabs her suddenly by the wrist. She raises the bloody finger to her mouth and sucks it hard, then bites at the wound to make it give up more blood. Gamora pulls in a breath through her nose and surrenders herself to the sensation, Nebula's mouth sucking and pulling the same way her sex does, bringing bits and pieces of Gamora into herself.

Gamora has no illusions that she'll ever get those pieces back.

"Tell your pilot to stop leaving ion trails everywhere he goes," Nebula says, when she pulls her mouth away. She doesn't look up or make eye contact. "You're far too easy to track. It's boring."

"I'll tell him," Gamora agrees. "And you – you will get in touch if you need anything. If you need help."

Now Nebula does look up, her eyes dark, a playful smile on her lips. "What could I ever need from you?" she asks, mockingly.

"Fashion advice, borrow a serving of protein powder," Gamora says, offering the smile back to her. Nebula barks a single laugh, shakes her head, and turns to go.

As she walks into the alleyway, about to disappear among the trash and chaos of walls and doors, Gamora calls out to her.

"Don't be a stranger," she says. Nebula hesitates, just for a moment, pausing in mid-stride before continuing.

"Wouldn't know how," she calls back, and Gamora can't tell if that's a laugh or a threat in her voice. Either way. Same thing.

Gamora brushes the mud from her knees – to little avail – and sets out to find her new team. If they notice her filthy clothes and her fresh bruises, they say nothing about it, so Gamora gets to hide the incident from them, cradling the memory to herself like a precious gem.

Nebula's alive, she thinks, and I am alive. We are both alive in the universe together.

For now, that will have to do.