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Equal and Opposite Forces

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The planet was on the disputed borders of Kree space, long abandoned except for a Kree listening post (sometimes staffed, sometimes not) on the other side of the world.

On this side, it was night. Ancient buildings stood against the stars and the two thin shells of moon, with sand sifting around their foundations. They were made of something like basalt, built to last. Other parts of the planet were slagged to glittering craters from long-ago wars, but here only time—eons—had eroded them, worn some to rubble, eradicated all vestiges of whoever used to live here except for the buildings themselves.

It was a stark, lonely place, but it was well chosen for a rendezvous. Carol hid her small ship in a cavernous building with a partly collapsed roof, and walked quietly between the buildings. She could have flown, but she wanted to get the lay of the land, and check for ambushes.

Yon-Rogg was waiting for her where he said he'd be, inside the bombed-out shell of an ancient building on the outskirts of town.

He whirled around, raising his blaster and shield in a stance she knew well; he had taught it to her. Carol brought up a hand with light dancing around it. They looked at each other for a moment, lit by the glow of their weapons and the crescent moons. She let hers fall first; it wasn't as if his weapons could really hurt her. He dropped his guard a second later.

"You're two days late." His voice rasped; he sounded tired.

"Excuse me if the buses don't always run on time out in the suburbs like this."

The Earth reference clearly went over his head. He frowned in puzzled bafflement.

"Never mind." She was tired too, enough that baiting him wasn't as fun as it sometimes could be. It hadn't been easy, running Hala's defensive perimeter to get here. Going without sleep was no longer the problem it had once been, but she did need to rest, and eat—just not as often as she used to. "What do you have for me?"

"Codes to the Supreme Intelligence computer mainframe."

Her fingers twitched. "How in the hell did you get that?"

"I have ways." There was tired amusement there, laced with dark cynicism. "You want it or not?"

She took a step closer. There was blood on him, she realized suddenly. Someone else's, perhaps. But it was blue, dark enough to blend with his armor.

"You've been fighting," she said.

"You smell like smoke, so I assume you have too."

Did she? She had stopped noticing it. The life support in her ship had conked out a couple of jumps ago, nothing she couldn't deal with, but it was part of why she was so tired.

"You've never told me why you're doing this," she said.

"Because I enjoy clandestine meetings on backwater holes in the middle of nowhere."

"Touché." She decided to forego the excessive caution—if this was a trap, he'd had more than enough time to spring it—and strolled over with a hand held out. "The codes?"

It startled her all over again, every time she got this close to him, to be reminded that she had to tip her chin up to look him in the eyes. At some point she had started thinking of herself as taller. But then, every time, she hit this moment when she remembered that for all the changes in her, one thing that hadn't changed was her height. She still had to look up.

One of these times, she thought, she ought to get herself a pair of boots with built-up soles, just to see the look on his face when he had that little revelation instead.

"What are you smiling about?" he asked softly. He was very close. His breath was sour: weariness, too much fighting, not enough food and rest. His armored flightsuit was scarred with the marks of recent fighting, and she wondered idly how he planned to explain that back on Hala, and who he'd killed to get this.

"What, valuable data codes aren't enough reason to smile?" she asked instead.

He laid the data chip in her hand, and closed his gloved fingers over hers. His eyes were on her, hot and hungry and gold, glinting like a cat's in the moonlight. It was just dark enough that she could see the broad strokes of his expressions, but not the nuances.

Oh, okay, she thought, heard beating a little faster, so we're still doing this, are we.

She slipped her hand out of his, tucked the data chip safely into the storage pocket in her sleeve, and then unsealed her flightsuit with a quick flick of her fingers down the front. The suit was all she had on; she unsealed it past her navel, down to her crotch. Yon-Rogg's gaze followed her hand down, and he ran a thumb across the strip that sealed his trousers, between the armor plates on the thighs.

It wasn't comfortable to have sex this way, and maybe that was the point.

She stepped forward, and he moved for something that might have been intended to be a kiss. She turned her head to the side instead, and after the slightest hesitation he went with it, ducking his head to press his open mouth to her neck instead. Teeth raked over her impermeable skin: a hard bite, not gentle, dimpling the skin without breaking it.

She shivered and wrapped her hands around his hipbones, jerked him between her spread thighs and into her, without preamble or hesitation. Advantage no. 5009 to being superhumanly resilient: no need for foreplay. She didn't want anything of the sort; this was raw fucking, an explosive release of tension, and as he drove into her she realized how much she had needed this.

She didn't have to unseal her suit all the way; she could have just undone the crotch strip like he had. But she liked to feel him against the narrow stripe of her bare chest and stomach, and she liked even more than he couldn't touch her there—couldn't run his hands over her breasts—unless she let him, and so far, she hadn't felt like it.

Instead he cupped his hands under her ass, smacking her solidly against him with every thrust. She all but threw him backward, slamming him into the wall. The hands that could smash moons gripped his shoulders, as he thrust into her, his breath hard and ragged against her neck.

*

Back on Hala, they used to fuck in the gym on some nights when she couldn't sleep. It had never been planned; it had just happened. There was always a fine line between sparring and fucking with them.

Strangely enough, she could no longer remember the first time. It either hadn't made that much of an impression on her, or it had all flowed together in a long run of sleepless nights. Her memories, especially of the first couple of years on Hala, were ... uncertain, blurring with her Earth memories until she was no longer entirely sure what had happened where.

But one time that did stand out was the night she'd asked him something that had been nagging at her.

"Did we do this before?" she had asked him, as he zip-sealed his trousers and she fastened her tunic and twitched her ponytail back into place. She didn't have to explain what before meant. For her, then, there was only now and before.

He'd hesitated briefly and then said, "No. We didn't."

It occurred to her much, much later that all he had to do was lie, and she would never have questioned it. But he hadn't.

*

He used to be careful with her back then, she realized now because he hadn't been entirely sure how fragile human women were, how much his blood had changed in her.

They weren't careful now. There was nothing careful in this thing between them. There was no furniture to break here, unlike the last place, which had been a saloon-like building on a long-abandoned moon. Instead there was the sand—it got everywhere, inside her half-detached uniform, grating on skin—and there were the walls, sturdy enough to stand up to near-superhuman sex.

She left scratches and bites; he would have, if his teeth were capable of breaking her skin these days. It was startling, the metal tang of blood on her tongue. There was, she knew, more copper in Kree blood than in human blood, and almost no iron; the compound that carried oxygen in Kree blood was copper-based and not iron-based. Yet it tasted the same, like she'd licked a copper penny.

*

Another difference, back on Hala: he had always made sure she finished, but he didn't always come himself. Only some of the time. Sometimes she had thought it was a control thing, that he preferred not to allow himself that kind of release; sometimes she'd thought he just didn't find her attractive, that those trysts were the squad leader taking care of his people in whatever way he felt was best.

Here, though—there was no question for her that he barely held himself back. It wasn't that he was entirely unconcerned with her pleasure, but she could tell he was losing himself in it, in a way he never used to back on Hala.

But then, she did too.

Maybe what hadn't worked then, even beyond the lies, the manipulation, was that they had never taken enough of the fight into the fucking.

*

Afterward, they panted in something that was more relief than afterglow as, separately, they resealed their clothes. She had torn one of his armor plates half off, she noticed. He was favoring his wrist.

"Are you hurt?" she asked.

"Not badly," he gasped out, breath still coming in deep gulps. Sweat glistened on his face.

She dropped to sit on the sand-covered floor, leaning against the wall. Her knees were still wobbly. After a minute, he did likewise, sitting against the opposite wall.

"I didn't get any readings for a vehicle," she said. "Is it shielded?"

He shook his head. "I flew here."

"In your armor?"

A brief nod.

Carol blew out her breath. "My ship's near here. Come and get cleaned up, anyway."

"Are you saying I'm a mess?"

"So is my ship, at the moment. It's a good thing this planet has breathable air, I'll just say that."

After a moment, he hoisted himself up with visible stiffness.

*

She let him have the first shower because, as she had pointed out, he really needed it, and she needed time to patch a few things in the power and life support systems so they could have both light and heat.

"So you're saying I get a cold shower."

"I'll warm up the tank for you," Carol offered cheerfully, holding up a glowing hand. "Just to be nice."

She was in a good enough mood to do it, too. The patches took less time than she had expected; she could have done it in space, but she had a rendezvous to make, and it was easier on the ground.

When she came back into the ship, the main cabin smelled like her strawberry body wash. Yon-Rogg was sitting at the fold-down table in the main part of the cabin, with the medkit open on the table. He was clean-shaven, his hair scruffy and damp, and bare to the waist. Her bites and scratches were visible; bruises too. His elbow rested on the table, hand lying limply with the palm up.

"How much of that was me?" she asked.

He looked up, gave her a brief, tired smile. "Not all of it."

"Ah."

She sat down across from him. He hissed a little as she took his wrist in her hands. It was a bad break, mottled blue and green with deep bruising. Broken in at least three places. Even for Kree, this would take a little while to heal.

"Was this me?" she asked.

The smile turned into a slight smirk. "Yes. That was you."

Carol reached for the pressure wrap and box of analgesic patches in the med kit.

"I can do this," he said. His hand twitched a little, not quite a serious attempt to pull away, and he hissed in pain again.

"I know," Carol said.

He didn't try to escape again, just watched with a strange intensity in his eyes as she carefully pressed the patch to the inside of the wrist, dabbed antiseptic, wrapped the bandage to hold it in place. With Kree healing, by morning it would have begun to knit, but it must hurt like hell now.

"I didn't mean to do this," she said.

Yon-Rogg blew out a breath. "Don't be stupid. I didn't tell you to stop."

It bothered her, though. It bothered her because she kept forgetting, when she was in space for long periods of time, that other people weren't like her. She lost track of her own boundaries, forgot what she could withstand and others couldn't.

She disliked that he had been more careful with her, back in the old days, than she was with him. It upset her sense of balance, of who was right and wrong.

"There," she said, patting the ends of the bandage into place. "Good as new. I hope you left me some hot water."

"Can't you make as much as you want?"

"It's the principle of the thing."

*

This double life was taking a toll on him. It wasn't just the physical danger and fear of discovery, she suspected. It was the betrayal, the fact that he was turning his own moral compass inside out, driving a knife into the Supreme Intelligence's exposed underbelly.

She had never been sure why he was doing this. The easy answer would be that he did it for her, but that wasn't it, or at least not entirely. And she wouldn't want it to be. She didn't want to be someone's reason for betraying their principles. She'd rather believe that he had run headlong into two conflicting moral frameworks, and chose hers because it was the better one.

That was an answer she could accept.

*

She came out of the shower with her wet hair piled up on top of her head, holding it in place with both incandescent hands while it dried. One of the many unexpected perks of her new powers: never need a hair dryer again.

While she was cleaning up, Yon-Rogg had dug into her stored rations, heated a couple of meal packs, laid them out on the table: one on each side. His was mostly gone and he was holding the spoon awkwardly with his off hand—the unwrapped one—and scraping the spoon around the edges of the meal tray, eating more with dogged determination than enjoyment. He looked as if his tiredness was catching up with him, between the shower and the warmth of the cabin, although he glanced up fast enough when she came out of the shower—and then just looked at her for a minute; she hadn't bothered taking clothes in with her.

"Like there's anything here you haven't seen," she said, getting down a clean T-shirt and a pair of bikini briefs. It was warm enough by now in the cabin that she didn't need anything else. She ran hot these days.

He grunted and went back to scraping the bottom of the meal tray.

She wondered how long it had been since he'd been anywhere he didn't have to watch his back. Or did he think of her ship that way? Perhaps it was just that you could only be so tired before something gave.

Carol swung a bare leg over the opposite stool and sat down. "Dinner this time, huh?" she remarked, snapping the attached spoon off the side of the meal tray. "Maybe flowers next time." Or was it flowers she meant? She had one of those disconcerting moments when she wasn't sure whether she was thinking of an Earth or a Hala custom.

Yon-Rogg snorted. He got up and put his meal tray into the recycler. He staggered a little; he really was tired.

"Stay the night," she said. "You need to do some armor repairs anyway. Easier to do it in the morning after you catch some sleep."

"And wake up in a Skrull prison cell? No thanks."

"You think I couldn't drag you off to a Skrull cell if I wanted to?"

There was a brief silence in which they looked at each other, and then he said, "You don't owe me—for this." He raised the wrapped wrist slightly.

She could almost have gotten offended at that, all the more because there was at least a little truth in it. "Good thing you recognize that, because you're right, I don't. So long as we've got that clear."

"Clear," he said, a quarter smile twitching the corner of his mouth.

*

They had fucked on the gym floor on Hala, but they hadn't lain curled together afterward. They had never slept in the same bed.

Now they jostled awkwardly on her narrow bunk, getting settled, with the cabin lights dim around them. It seemed to make the most sense to give him the outside spot, so he could hang his wrapped arm over the side to reduce the chances of bumping or squashing it in the night. She wasn't sure how she felt about having someone else between her and the exit, especially him. But she could go right through him if she had to. And there was something ... comforting, about having another body to lean against. He was very warm, making her realize he'd been running a little cool when they fucked in the ruins. Kree body temperature was more variable than the human norm. Tired, run-down Kree felt cooler. He was warm now because he was fed and drowsing and his body was healing itself.

With more room, they could have maintained a plausibly deniable space between them, but there was no room in the narrow bunk. Her body was pressed to the length of his, skin against skin. She felt the rise and fall of his breathing, felt the tension in him that slowly began to ebb.

It was some little while later, although she could tell from his breathing that he was still awake, when he said abruptly, "May I ask something?"

Carol snorted. "What's with the politeness all of a sudden? You can ask. I don't have to answer."

"I know you're planning a strike, you and your Skrull friends. I'm not stupid."

"Mmm," she said noncommittally.

"And the more intel you have, the more precisely you can target it. Your enemy is the Supreme Intelligence, not the people of Hala."

She wasn't sure how to answer. Finally she said, "That's not a question."

"No," he said, after a moment. "I suppose it wasn't."

He started to settle back.

"Yon-Rogg," she said, propping herself up on an elbow.

She rarely used his name; she wasn't sure why. It was enough to catch his attention; he turned his head, short hair tickling her collarbone.

She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the bruised corner of his mouth.

It was an answer to the extent that his question had been a question.

She lay down again, and laid her arm across his hip, seeking a place to put her hand that didn't rest on a bruise. She settled for splaying her hand across his thigh.

His breathing grew steady in the dark. After a while, hers did too.