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The local Spire of All loomed before Yon-Rogg, its lines graceful and familiar even though its color was strange, black and slick and wet-looking. That was the native stone of the out flung colony Yon-Rogg and Carol had chosen for this deception—this attempted deception, foolish in every particular, and yet here Yon-Rogg was at Carol’s side, about to attempt it.

“I thought you’d be happier,” Carol said, looking at him and not the architecture. “Bringing me in? This has got to be some kind of major coup, right?”

“Perhaps if I hadn’t been the one to lose you,” Yon-Rogg said sourly. “Twice.”

Carol didn’t try to contain her smirk. She never had. Always so pleased with herself, Yon-Rogg had thought, her arrogance a liability—until she’d bested him at last with a single casual blast of her fist, unimpressed, effortless, and Yon-Rogg had realized he’d never really known her at all. He still didn’t.

Carol’s gaze had turned ahead, to the spire. She took a deep breath in through her nose, out through her mouth, like he’d taught her. He ought to have been comforted that she was taking this venture seriously enough to be nervous about it. Instead he found himself unnerved. “We needn’t—”

“No, we do need. If we want to squeeze that information out the Supreme Intelligence, she has to let me in first.” Yon-Rogg couldn’t help but flinch at her gendering of the Supreme Intelligence, like he would a misspelling in an official empire communiqué. He shouldn’t know how she thought of the supreme being. He shouldn’t have the memory of her in his ear, voice quavering, describing how the supreme being appeared to her.

None of which was relevant to the current situation. “I don’t like it.”

Carol’s smirk returned, brightening with genuine humor. “So you’ve said.” She lifted her chin a little higher and strode toward the spire—slowly, so he could catch up and then pull ahead without visibly hurrying. Much.

The attendant at the door obviously recognized them both. “Commander,” she said, giving him a bow that she aborted halfway as she remembered his rank had been stripped. She straightened and eyed Carol’s restraints warily—as she should, because Carol could break out of those enforced titanium cuffs in less than ten seconds. She’d destroyed a previous set just so they could be sure. “Citizen?” the attendant said, turning to Yon-Rogg again, her hand resting uneasily on her blaster.

She was young, probably barely out of the academy, stuck with a dull rookie detail. “Citizen,” he said, inclining his head. “I’ve brought the Supreme Intelligence a gift.”

Carol smiled awkwardly at the attendant. There was a reason Yon-Rogg had never sent her undercover; she was no actor, as he’d learned quite early in their acquaintance, which meant those nerves were real. His misgivings deepened. He said, “She’d like to pledge herself to the empire. I realize this is irregular, so perhaps you could just let your superiors know we’re here.” Yon-Rogg had no interest in terrorizing the attendant—nor in getting her blamed for whatever came after, if he could help it.

The attendant gave him another wary once-over and disappeared inside. Far above, the spire blocked out the light of the planet’s rust-colored sun. It was noticeably cooler there in the spire’s black shadow.

The attendant returned. “Come with me,” she said.

So far from Hala, the empire’s offices were minimally staffed. This spire was served by half a dozen citizens at most, which was of course why Yon-Rogg and Carol had chosen it—to minimize collateral damage, Carol had said. To minimize risk, Yon-Rogg had privately determined. And here was the spire’s communicant, surely only a few years older than the door attendant. She wore the appropriate robs, blues and greens falling fluidly from her shoulders all the way to the floor, and her red hair was cut close to her skull. There was none of the attendant’s respectful wariness about this one. The sight of Carol in her spire barely gave her pause before she moved on to Yon-Rogg, whom she looked on with undisguised loathing.

“It’s a ruse,” she said to no one in particular—to the air, if the direction of her gaze meant anything. “This is the Skrull-loving alien. And her pet,” she added, as an afterthought. She met Yon-Rogg’s gaze flatly, her lip curling. “Execute them.”

“Wait!” Carol cried, as the sights of laser rifles were set smoothly on her and Yon-Rogg. “I don’t mean you any harm. Any of you,” she added, pleadingly. Convincingly, because she meant it. Sincere to a fault. “I’ve come to pledge my allegiance. I regret the things I did. I know now the Kree empire could never have become what it is without the Supreme Intelligence.”

The communicant gazed implacably upon her. The blankness of the communicant’s expression was almost soothing in its familiarity, as smooth and unyielding as the spire she served in. The first communicant Yon-Rogg had ever spoken with, when he was young and unformed, had assessed all his strengths and flaws at a glance with that same cool detachment.

Perhaps the communicant noticed Carol’s failure to identify precisely which actions she regretted, or perhaps what followed was the custom on this colony, still barely half-civilized. Perhaps it was simply cruelty that made the communicant say, “You’ll pledge fealty?”

Carol glanced at Yon-Rogg—for reassurance, perhaps, but her gaze was gone before he could have given it, supposing he had any, which he didn’t. Fealty? Here? Flushed with indignation, Yon-Rogg was already composing his scathing report to whatever incompetent regional administrator was responsible before he remembered he no longer had anyone to send it to.

“I don’t know what means,” Carol said carefully.

“Your pledge is worthless,” the communicant said. “Only your actions have any value now—not that they’re worth much. I’m the Supreme Intelligence’s intermediary in this colony, and if you want your chance to grovel before the it, you’ll need to earn it.”

“Tell me what to do,” Carol said.

“Your pet traitor knows,” the communicant said, looking Yon-Rogg in the eye.

“Fealty’s a barbaric custom,” Yon-Rogg said. “Popular in a culture that propagated throughout this region a few hundred years ago, before we liberated it from such backward views. Our communicant here wants you to yield your whole self to her. Sexually,” he added. For all that C-53 was apparently filthy with innuendo, judging from Carol’s frequent jokes—for all that, sometimes she needed things spelled out to her.

“Not to me. As if I’d touch her. She’ll yield to you.”

“She will—”

“Fine,” Carol interrupted.

Not, he’d been going to say. Carol met his gaze steadily. “Carol—”

“I thought her name was Vers,” the communicant said. “That was the name you served under, wasn’t it?”

Carol lifted her chin. “That’s right.”

“Vers,” the communicant repeated, relishing the word as if the sound of it were something she could taste, as if just saying it stamped the word indelibly across Carol’s forehead. Yon-Rogg had been mistaken; this person could be no true intermediary for the Supreme Intelligence. A muscle jumped in Carol’s jaw, and for the first time, there was a trace of a smile on the communicant’s lips. “He’ll remove your suit now.”

Carol met Yon-Rogg’s gaze impassively. She shrugged. “It’s fine. I’m proving I mean what I say. Right?” Carol said, addressing the communicant, who inclined her head, gaze sharp. “So do it.” When Yon-Rogg hesitated still—if this were a battlefield, he’d be dead by now—Carol said tightly, “Commander. Do it.”

They’d planned for any number of eventualities, most of them involving either getting shot at, shocked, or having to break out of the Supreme Intelligence’s hold in creative ways. They hadn’t planned for anything like this, but there was a challenge in Carol’s eyes. She’d not appreciate his—squeamishness, if that’s what he felt, this pit in his stomach.

But he’d not earned the rank of Starforce commander by refusing to do the unsavory. He rotated Carol’s wrist in its cuff so that he could access her control panel. With a couple of swipes of his thumb, the structure of her suit relaxed so that the Kree greens and blacks hung loose on her frame, revealing the hidden zippers and catches beneath. He only had to pull down here, unhook clasps there, and the whole suit fell away. Carol stepped out of it, gaze fixed on a seam in the gleaming black stone and apparently paying no one in the room any attention at all—not to Yon-Rogg or communicant or the other three officers of the spire who’d gathered to watch. The attendant wasn’t among them; presumably she’d returned to the door.

Yon-Rogg folded the suit and placed it on the polished stone floor, out of the way, knowing well he was stalling. When he rose, Carol was looking straight at him, utterly bare except for those damned titanium cuffs. “Well?” he demanded, flicking his gaze to the communicant.

“You might want to remove some of your clothes,” the communicant said.

There wasn’t even a glimmer of expression on Carol’s face as she watched Yon-Rogg climb out of his own uniform. There was no question of taking off only some of his clothes; he and Carol both wore only the one item, as the communicant surely knew. And so, soon he too stood bare in a chamber that seemed suddenly much draftier than it had a moment ago. He took a deep breath, reminded himself of what they’d come here for, and looked to the communicant for further instruction.

The communicant looked him over, from his hairline to his toes. She didn’t pause anywhere on the journey down; there was no prurience in her gaze, only cool disdain. “You don’t need my instruction, Yon-Rogg,” she said. The use of his name felt like a slap, like how it sometimes sounded in the Supreme Intelligence’s own mouth. A worthy avatar after all, Yon-Rogg thought, with a bitterness that surprised him. “You’ve studied us. You know what we require, here on Slohn. Fuck her.”

Carol sucked in her breath at the words, but she met Yon-Rogg’s gaze, ever steady. Yon-Rogg steeled himself. He stepped in close, until he could feel the heat of her. She burned like a star, now that her power was fully unleashed, and in other circumstances it’d have been a welcome contrast to the chill air. “Carol—” he began, uselessly.

“Vers,” she said. “That’s the name the Kree gave me.”

“That’s the name I gave you,” he bit out. Rather than suffer her reaction to that, he closed his hands over her hips. He let his palms rest on the simmering heat of her, on the deceptive softness of her skin. “I’m to do whatever I wish to her, correct?” he asked, his eyes fixed on the fall of Carol’s hair on her shoulder. “It’s been some time since I studied the practices of your culture.”

“As long as you fuck her,” the communicant said.

Carol didn’t move as Yon-Rogg’s hand swept along her hipbone. He brushed across the thatch of hair at the V of her legs and wondered: would she prefer that he do this quickly, to ease the humiliation? Slowly, to ease any discomfort?

Carol waited quietly, giving no sign at all, so Yon-Rogg did what he wanted, or anyway what he least disliked the prospect of: he leaned close enough to slide his hand between her legs and brush his thumb over her bulb. Or not a bulb, exactly; it was more of a trench, soft and slick but equally sensitive, judging by the minute shift of Carol’s weight. It seemed to run lengthwise between her legs, and Yon-Rogg abruptly wished he’d ever given even a cursory glance to the popular forms of genitalia on C-53. No doubt Minn-Erva, always a student of such things, would have known exactly how to proceed. Yon-Rogg could only hope the warm, wet trench led to a proper abyss he could sink into.

“Better on the floor, I think,” he said. He took Carol’s elbow and helped her down.

She hissed when she landed. “Cold,” she said, at his alarm.

There was nothing he could do about that. “Lie back,” he said. “Spread your knees.” She did that, too, lying flat on her back and looking up to the faraway ceiling, her cuffed hands resting on her belly. She had a set to her mouth that Yon-Rogg realized he recognized: it was how she looked when there was some joke she desperately wanted to make but had decided to spare him from.

There was some part of this she thought was funny. She was absurd. She was less perturbed by all this than he was.

All right, then. With an effort of will, Yon-Rogg shut out the communicant, the onlookers, and he went looking for that trench he’d touched before. A soft tongue was poking up—pink, just like the rest of her. Of course it was pink, with only the faintest blue tinge, and yet it suited her. He thumbed carefully along it. Carol squirmed minutely—unhappily, Yon-Rogg guessed, and so he moved along, tracing the little tongue with his thumb while he watched her face for direction. And then he found what he was looking for and breathed a sigh of relief: her abyss, sunk like a mine shaft to the very molten core of her.

She was wet there, too, and Yon-Rogg chose to interpret that as he would in a Kree woman: encouragement, however unlikely it seemed.

Into this reverie came the bored voice of the communicant. “She’s not some hothouse blossom. Do you intend to collect her fealty, or—”

“Is patience not an element of fealty?” Yon-Rogg demanded, as if he had any clear memory of what fealty meant to these people. Carol was trembling now, just slightly, as he skirted the edges of her abyss with a finger. “Be still,” he warned, and was rewarded when she bit her lip, clearly trying not to laugh. Then he was rewarded again as wetness welled up from her like a spring. He tried a newly-slick finger along her trench, and that, too, seemed to bring pleasure now instead of discomfort. She was finding it harder to keep still.

He pressed a finger into her. When that met with no resistance or protest, he tried two, fucking them into her and out again, making sure that in this, at least, she wasn’t too alien. Her muffled gasps were familiar, too, recognizably the sounds of sex; they were—save him—they were exciting. If the communicant had hoped Yon-Rogg would be humiliated by being unable to perform, she was mistaken.

Behind him, someone coughed. He could delay no longer. He stroked Carol’s hip to get her attention, to warn her. She met his gaze steadily. There was no trace of a smile on her lips now, but no horror, either, and that was surely the best he could hope for. He settled between her legs, a hand planted by Carol’s hip and the other guiding himself to her. Cool air blew across his shoulders and his bare arse, bringing up goosebumps. Yon-Rogg took a deep breath and pushed slowly in.

She was shockingly hot inside. For an instant he had a vision of thrusting into the power core itself and frying to a cinder; the next moment, Carol shoved back against him, all muscle and living heat and startling strength, giving him no room to think of anything else. He bottomed out, and they gasped together, in sync.

After a few awkward moments he found a rhythm, made more difficult by the stone floor under his knees and the ongoing struggle not to bash his chin against Carol’s cuffs, until finally she noticed the trouble and lifted them over her head. Yon-Rogg got a single clear look at her breasts and then closed his eyes, fixing his focus on her slick heat and her harsh breath, now a counterpoint to his, even if he’d have thought she’d be louder than this—giving direction, commentary, praise, absurd observation, anything.

(Not that he’d ever thought about any such thing at all.)

Finally, mercifully, he felt heat coiling in his gut. “Do you pledge fealty?” he asked, out of the obscure conviction that some kind of ceremony must be involved here. Surely getting fucked by an ally while sprawled on an unforgiving stone floor did not suffice. Surely this could not be counted submission when they’d all seen her practically order him to the task.

“Uh huh,” Carol said—an unassailable argument. At the bottom of a thrust he paused just long enough to press a kiss to her shoulder. It was pointless, a liberty, and possibly it nullified the entire point of the whole humiliating charade, and he could not help it. Perhaps the farce had some grain of reason to it after all, because it felt as though he pledged himself to Carol again with every thrust.

On the next one he came.

He heaved a breath, two, and by the third he’d lost all ability to ignore their audience. Whatever sparks of incidental pleasure he’d managed to feel were snuffed out. He pulled out slowly and sat back on his heels, a new chill brushing against his flushed skin. Carol was struggling into a seated position. The next moment she pushed to her feet, and Yon-Rogg hastily followed suit on legs still shaky with exertion.

The communicant looked at them flatly, deeply unimpressed. Her gaze passed over Carol quickly and onto Yon-Rogg. There was no hint of yielding there, no suggestion that she’d been placated by this display. “And what do you pledge fealty to, Vers?” she asked, still looking at Yon-Rogg. Yon-Rogg was abruptly sure she had no intention of allowing them access to the Supreme Intelligence.

Carol seemed to have come to the same conclusion. “Me, mostly,” she said, and yanked her cuffs apart. Before anyone had even had a chance to raise their laser spear, Carol had blown the ends off the cuffs and shot a photon blast six inches forward of the communicant’s feet. She swept up her suit and Yon-Rogg’s in one fluid motion and said, “Time to go!”

All Yon-Rogg’s weapons were in the suit hanging over Carol’s arm, and so he ran, letting Carol cover them both. He ran past the door attendant—damn it, she probably would get blamed for this—and out onto the plaza, mostly empty at this time day. There was hardly anyone at all to stare at his cock and his knees, sore and red from hitting against the floor.

“Going up,” Carol called, and that was all the warning he got before he was lifted into the air by his armpits.

It was not Yon-Rogg’s first flight powered only by Carol’s own arcane energies; it was, however, the first such flight he’d taken naked. He carefully did not think about the spectacle they made. Carol flew them over more official government buildings of that same black stone, past a market built of canvas stalls, and on out into the desert. Black cliffs stretched in either direction, and on the flats, purple vegetation grew so tall and featureless it might have been more spires.

Carol landed them with impressive precision on a stone bluff overlooking a sluggish river. “Well, fuck,” she said, handing him his suit. “So much for that. Do not tell me I told you so.”

Yon-Rogg eyed the finger she’d thrust in his face and closed his mouth on those very words. He tried again. “I don’t think subterfuge is our strength.”

“Maybe yours,” Carol said, shrugging.

Yon-Rogg didn’t know if she was implying something about him—something about his skill at deception, perhaps—or something about her. Rather than try and discern which it was, he began climbing back into his suit. He’d only gotten it up to his hips when Carol caught his hand. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Pardon?”

Her mouth twisted. She met his gaze steadily and said, “You probably didn’t wake up this morning planning to have sex with me.”

That frank gaze was not dissimilar to being caught in the crosshairs of a laser rifle. “Nor you, me,” Yon-Rogg said.

Carol made a face. “I’d have picked different circumstances, at least.”

“You’d—different—” Yon-Rogg stopped, mystified.

Carol squinted at him. “Come on, I’ve always been hot for teacher. Are you telling me you didn’t know?” Without giving him time to work through exactly what hot for teacher meant, she said, “What do you think all the flirting was for?”

“Flirting?”

Carol’s eyebrows rose. “Buddy, I don’t tell that many dick jokes to guys I don’t want to fuck.”

“Oh,” Yon-Rogg said faintly. After a moment, Carol took a step closer, then two. She was still utterly nude, and she’d managed to lose most of what remained of the cuffs. All she had left were two metal rings around her wrists. Moving slowly, she framed his face in her hands and kissed him. She put her lips on his, a closed-mouth kiss, and then she paused. She waited, and then just when she was done waiting and beginning to pull away, he caught her hip—her bare hip, skin still smooth under his fingers—and kissed her back.

She smiled against his mouth. “Figured you’d catch up sooner or later.”

“But—” He pulled far enough back to look her in the eye. “But are you all right?”

Again, the grimace. “I mean, doing it for an audience isn’t my thing, but—” She shrugged. “I really wanted it to work. I knew I could blast us out of there if I needed to. And I trusted you.”

Yon-Rogg took that in. “I’m not doing that again,” he said.

“Yeah, I think do a live porno isn’t really a working espionage tactic going forward. Or, uh, did you mean the fucking part?”

She was standing very close. Yon-Rogg was just now noticing the chill sweeping across the bluff, but even from inches away, her supercharged body heat was palpable. He’d barely have had to move to touch her rosy-brown nipples. He hadn’t even brought her to release. “I didn’t mean that part.”

Her smile was as brilliant as the sun glinting off Hala’s own spire. “You know, there are bunks back on the ship. We could try one out.”

Six years he’d known her before the second incident on Earth, six months since, and still she surprised him, effortlessly. “Wouldn’t you prefer this expansive vista? This all-natural terrain and open air?” Vers had had little patience with the confines of space; it’d been a popular subject for teasing within the squad, back when she’d been in it.

“Next time I’m sleeping with you, it’s going to be on a mattress.” She paused. “Or at least against a wall. I want to get my hands on your dick. Ribbed for my pleasure—I could get used to that.”

Yon-Rogg took a moment to process this. It hadn’t occurred to him until that very moment to wonder what male genitalia was like on C-53. Carol caught the look on his face and snuck another kiss: a reassurance. Somehow, obscurely, he was reassured. “Come on, put on your suit so I can fly us to the ship.”

And as was becoming habit, Yon-Rogg obeyed.

[end]