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offered me a shade of blue

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In retrospect, Marta thinks she should have put the pieces together better--No, Be honest, woman, she scolds herself--she should have put the pieces together, period, and not have opened her mouth before she had. It’s a lesson she’s had to learn over and over in her life: thinking about the person, not just the situation. From how sick she feels to have hurt him, she hopes to God it sticks this time.

"I'm sorry," she says to where Aaron is leaning on the window sill, his back to her and the rest of their room, the flowers he'd brought her, the bed they've been sharing for months now even if they've done nothing more than sleep in it. He shrugs easily, as though it's not a problem. Before, she might have left it at that, let herself believe that he wasn't hiding in plain sight. She'd seen his eyes as he'd stepped away, though; and he doesn't turn around now. She thinks it could be a sign of her growing emotional intelligence that she doesn't allow herself to pretend like that but rather goes to join him at the window.

"It’s no big, Doc," he says in that easy voice she's heard him use whenever he needs to get them through something dangerous, the one that does such a good job of masking his uncertainties. She'd thought they'd gotten past the point of him reflexively using it with her--the last Outcome remnant in his life--about the same time she'd gotten past the automatic reaction she had to pretend that seeing him with a gun in his hand didn't sometimes trigger a dozen different screaming nightmares. She promises herself she is going to think long and hard about how utterly fucking stupid she is for all her education and degrees and honors, but later, because now she is going to get herself together and fix this. "I hope I--" Aaron glances at her sidelong, quick and flickering, and then goes back to looking out the window, Hong Kong spread out below them. He sighs and finishes, "I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable or unsaf--"

"Don't," Marta snaps, and so much for keeping it together. "Don’t you dare apologize for this." She stops and takes a long, shaky breath, and another, and at least gets her voice back into some kind of a normal range. "You didn't do anything that we both haven’t been thinking about for months now, and you have never made me feel unsafe. Never."

Aaron still doesn't look at her, but he relaxes fractionally and she takes it as a sign, one good enough that she settles herself against the edge of the window, not quite leaning next to him but close enough that he knows she's not ignoring him. The unspoken parts between them are still the hardest even if they've come light years from the awkward silences that swooped down on them once they'd started to believe they'd made it far enough off the grid for the adrenaline to fade.

"I didn't mean that the way it came out," Marta says quietly. It’s a pathetic excuse--no less pathetic for being true--but the only way they've lasted this long is to be up-front with each other. "It honestly never occurred to me that you hadn't ever--"

"Like I said, Doc," Aaron says. "It's not a big deal--I'm... I can see where me not knowing what the hell I'm doing isn't really what I'm supposed to be leading with, but I figured you deserved to know. It's okay that you don't want to have to deal with that--"

"Aaron," Marta says. He's turned toward her a little, enough that she can hush him with two fingers on his mouth. She doesn't know which of them is more surprised, because she is not someone who touches easily and he figured that out early on. She does know it's harder than she expects to move her hand away from the warmth of his skin, the unexpected softness of his lips. "That’s not what I meant either."

He looks at her for an endless few seconds and she reaches out again, cupping his face in her palm and stroking her thumb carefully over his cheekbone. He allows the caress but doesn’t react beyond a tightening of his jaw, and Marta presses on. "I was surprised, that’s all," she says. "It doesn’t matter--truly, it doesn’t, and I’m so sorry I made you think otherwise."

Aaron holds himself so still Marta isn’t sure he’s even breathing, but then he swallows hard and turns his face into her hand, pressing a kiss to her palm before he takes her hand in both of his, holding it gently, as though she might shatter if he’s not careful.

"Do you want this?" His voice is steady, but low and hoarse, and she can read in his eyes how difficult this is for him to say. "Me."

"Very much," Marta says without hesitation and at least this time she’s gotten it right. His hands tighten on hers briefly, and then he’s drawing her closer, until they’re all but breathing the same air. At the last second, he hesitates and Marta can’t even begin to name all the things she sees in his eyes. "Very much," she repeats in a whisper and leans forward the final fraction of an inch.

The kiss is quick--which she expects--but hard and urgent, not light at all--which she doesn’t--and she finds herself holding tight to his hand, her heart pounding and what feels like no air at all in her lungs.

"Marta," Aaron murmurs against her mouth, her temple, her jaw. "Marta, God," and hearing him say that leaves her shaking and unguarded. He's always called her Doc or Shearing or whatever alias she might be going by, almost never Marta; it's unexpectedly intimate, far beyond the physical. She returns it as best she can, touching his face, combing through the short, soft hair at the base of his skull, answering him with a yes or a please every time he says her name.

The room they have is small; it takes only a few steps back from the window before the bed is pressing against her legs. Marta slides her hands up under his t-shirt, the old, worn cotton no less soft than the skin under her palms and fingertips. Aaron lets go of her long enough to let her strip him of the shirt; she takes advantage of the break to map the curve of his jaw and throat with her own mouth, kissing and tasting her way down the strong column of his neck. He stands still and pliant under hands, only breathing out a low, helpless noise when she scrapes her teeth over the tendon between his neck and shoulder and groaning outright when she bites not quite gently at his collarbone, but he catches her hands at the waistband of the battered jeans he's been wearing since Manila.

"Marta," Aaron says again, ragged and breathless and beautiful. He turns her hands over and drops a kiss on each palm, and Marta jumps at the soft, electric brush of his tongue against her skin. "I--you first. I'm not going to last long."

Marta nods silently--words have always been easy for her but she doesn't have anything in her brain now but him, the way he sounds and tastes and feels against her. She raises her arms to let him slide her tank over her head, all the air in her lungs bleeding out at the slow, tortuous paths he traces over her shoulders and along her spine. He fumbles twice with the button on her khakis, but gets it on the next try and anything she might have said about the third time being the charm is lost in the rush of standing all but naked in front of him.

"Show me," Aaron says, his eyes desperate, as though he thinks she might possibly be able to say no to him. "Show me what you like."

Marta nods again, drawing him closer, wrapping her arms around his neck and licking into his mouth. "I like this," she whispers, and he opens for her, following her lead, kissing her long and slow, because they're here now and there's no need to rush. He moves with her when she gets onto the bed, kneeling up so she can keep kissing him.

"Let me," Marta says against his mouth, tugging open his jeans. Aaron shudders once but doesn't stop her as she pushes the denim down over his hips, just steps out of them and crawls onto the bed with her. She pulls him close and kisses him again, intending it to be quick, but his mouth is gorgeous against hers, hot and eager, and she loses herself in him, kneeling on the bed and pressed close, his hands on her hips, fingers touching at the small of her back, hers moving restlessly on him, hips and thighs and ass.

Being seen as awkward or uncoordinated is something Marta dislikes intensely, but she barely thinks about what they must look like, so unwilling is she to stop kissing him while she gets them settled exactly how she wants them: Aaron half-sprawled out on his back, his shoulders and head against the wall at the head of the bed and his arms wrapped around Marta from behind, holding her steady even as his breathing goes uneven and shallow.

"Like this," Marta says, bringing his hands up to her breasts. He’s solid and warm behind her, and she knows the strength in his hands, but his touch is delicate and precise, easy, smooth strokes that skim over her skin, again and again. Her breath stutters out in a rush, and then, when his thumb brushes over her nipple--lightly, so lightly she should barely be able to feel it except that she’s almost shaking in anticipation--she can’t help arching up into it. "More," she says through gritted teeth, turning her head into the curve of his throat. He swallows hard, his throat working against her mouth; it’s all the warning she gets before he works her nipples more roughly, pinching and rolling each one in turn, the calluses on his fingers scraping almost too intensely against her.

"What else?" Aaron asks, his voice hoarse and low. "Show me what else you--" He breaks off with a groan as Marta grabs one hand and pushes it down under the plain cotton bikinis she’s still wearing. She’s already wet and slick; it takes no effort for him to slide two fingers up inside her, and Marta is practically there just from that first thrust.

"Here," Marta gasps, moving his hand so he can feel her clitoris and breathing out in a harsh whimper when he doesn’t do anything but flex his finger against her. "Aaron--don't--I need--"

"If I just did this--" He holds her still, his free arm across her waist so she can’t rock against him. "Would you lose it?"

"Yes," Marta grits out, her mouth still against the skin of his throat, salty and damp and rough with stubble, more stimulus for her already overloaded senses. "Yes."

"I want to--" Aaron murmurs, soft and wondering. "Would you let me see that?"

"Next time," Marta breathes, and he shudders against her as though he hadn’t thought that far out, but his hand is moving on her; hard, fast strokes, unrelenting and fierce, rocketing her so far past any shred of control that she barely has time to breathe before she’s climaxing, a long crashing wave of intensity that wrings her out and leaves her shaking.

When she can think again, Aaron is still with her, still holding her. So beautiful, he’s whispering. Gorgeous and thank you, and Marta smiles as she turns over in his arms.

"I think I’m supposed to be saying that," she says, dropping her head down to kiss his mouth, the curve of his jaw, the fine lines at the corner of his eye that she wishes came from laughter but knows didn’t. "In fact, I’m fairly sure of it."

"You don’t--"

"Aaron," Marta says, rolling off him--and she's hasn’t even caught her breath; the heavy satin slide of his skin against hers shouldn't be as distracting as it is--so she can extricate herself from her underwear. "We are not having this conversation, not now."

"Anybody ever tell you you've got a real bossy streak?" Aaron mutters, but there's no heat, no resentment in his voice and he doesn't try to stop her when she starts working his boxers off his hips. If Marta had been harboring any doubts--not that she had, not at all--they'd be trickling away with the little half-smile that he can't hide, never mind how much of an effort he's making to lie still as she strips away the last of his clothes and leans up on one elbow to see what she has. She can't just look, of course, not when his clavicle is right there, so easy to trace, so simple to follow it to the sternum, his ribs, to skim over skin and muscle to the point of his hip, to follow along the same path with her mouth.

"Can I--can I call something for next time, too?" Aaron gasps, his hands curled into fists, the sheets crumpled and bunched under them. Marta jerks away from him, afraid that she's crossed some kind of a line, but he meets her eyes easily enough, even if the half-smile is gone. "If you, if you keep--doing that, this is all gonna end, and I--fuck, I want to be inside you--"

He’s reaching for her by the end, kissing her with the focus she’s learned to know so well, the absolute concentration he has when he will not entertain any thought but success. Being the center of all that, the focal point, is electrifying and heady and a challenge she doesn’t hesitate to accept, licking into his mouth, kissing him back just as fiercely, just as single-mindedly, until her lungs are screaming and she has to pull away to breathe.

"So," Marta says, trying--and failing--to sound offhand. "You’re calling everything for next time?" She can’t help tracing her thumb across his lower lip; he doesn’t stop her, only breathes out a small, needy sound and closes his eyes.

"Rubber--" Aaron says, low and strained. "In my, in my jeans. Please."

"Yes," Marta breathes, reaching for where she’d dropped his jeans, feeling wildly for the proper pocket, irrationally loath to take her eyes off him. "Okay, yes, yes--"

With a singular focus of her own, Marta manages to find the condom and tear the packet open, no matter that her hands are wanting to shake. He reaches for it, but lies back when she shakes her head and lets her put it on him without any comment. He’s back to digging his hands into the mattress by the time she’s finished; she can see the pulse pounding under his jaw.

"I’m not touching you," Marta says. "Or--or tasting you--" She breaks off with a hiss as he comes up off his back in a controlled rush, rolling her under him and settling himself between her legs. "I’m not, but I want to--"

"Next time," Aaron says, pushing into her just far enough that she wants to growl at the tease of it all. She wraps her legs around him instead, drawing him in deeper and he makes another low, helpless sound. "Next time--it’ll be fucking awesome--"

"So is this time," Marta whispers, arching up unto him. It takes a few tries to find the right rhythm, but then they’re there, moving together, Aaron driving deep into her, the muscles in his back and shoulders--trapezius and deltoids and latissimus dorsi her brain whispers--flexing and relaxing under her hands with every thrust.

"God, please, keep talking," Aaron gasps. "I want to hear you, your voice, you."

It’s not something she’s ever felt comfortable with, but it’s little enough to ask, and when she turns her head so she can whisper So good, you feel so good, he shudders against her and she realizes it’s easier--and better--than she ever imagined it might be. "Yes, like that, again--"

Every breath he takes rasps in and out; he’s moving more quickly, less control, less finesse, and when she catches the lobe of his ear between her teeth, telling him, "So good, I’ve wanted this, wanted it for months now," he chokes out a low, desperate cry and slams back into her one final time.

Aaron stays braced over her for endless minutes; she smoothes her palms over his back, presses kisses against his face and neck and shoulders, wherever she can reach, coaxing him back to her and indulging in his solid strength at the same time. He finally sighs out a long, shaky breath and turns his head to kiss her back, slow and sweet, no rush now, no hurry, nowhere to be but here.

"Good?" Aaron murmurs, bringing her with him as he turns and eases down on his side. He brushes the hair back off her face and keeps her close and it’s the most relaxed Marta thinks she’s ever seen him. It’s definitely good, she thinks, allowing herself to settle into him, to breathe the same air and let time slip away. When he finally slides out of her, she’s gotten to where she’s on an even enough keel that she can make her way to the tiny bathroom and clean up a bit, but still finds it easy enough to press close to him once she comes back to the bed. Their bed, she thinks with no small amount of smug satisfaction. Truly, their bed now. Aaron settles her comfortably against him with a not-quite-there smile that looks to be equal parts pleased and surprised, and she knows a few seconds of regret. It’s not even that he’s someone who touches more easily than she does, it’s that he’s been touched so little there’s no way to even tell what his natural baseline might be. At the very least, she can bring a little equilibrium to that, she decides.

His heart is steady and sure under her ear but before it can lull her too deeply, he says, "I never wanted to have that pulled apart, analyzed for physiological responses, blood workups, residual sperm counts."

Marta wishes she could honestly tell him otherwise, but he’s right and the both know it, so she just nods a little, and after a few more minutes tilts her head back to ask, "And before?"

"Too stupid to find my own dick, let alone figure out what to do with it around a girl."

Marta can’t help tensing at that, and Aaron sighs. "Come on, Doc--the test results were all right there in my file."

Marta sits up, pushing her hair back off her face with quick, jerky motions she can’t seem to control. "Intelligence tests are problematic at best, even when administered in the proper testing conditions and evaluated by trained facilitators. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery only barely qualifies as scrap paper, let alone a meaningful diagnostic tool."

"It wasn’t the first time that assessment was made," Aaron says, his jaw tight.

"Proper testing conditions and competent, not overworked staff," Marta snaps. "Please do not ask me to believe that the state of Nevada spent the money needed for actual evaluations for the children in its custody." She stops and takes a deep breath. "Inadequate nutrition, fear, uncertainty--it’s so simple for that to be evaluated instead of actual intelligence and then... It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Aaron only looks at her, his disbelief patent for all that he’s not saying anything outright. "I'm not saying the genomic manipulations didn’t make a difference," Marta says, more calmly. "I’m just pointing out that the metric used to calculate the baseline was flawed, and people who should have known better were happy to perpetuate that flaw in order to inflate their results." She draws her legs up so she can put her head down on her knees, more drained than she has any right to be. A few heartbeats later, Aaron lays his hand, warm and solid, on the back of her neck; surprisingly enough, Marta doesn’t feel the need to shrug it off or move away, simply sits and lets him be with her, lets herself be with him. When she finally picks her head up and looks at him, it’s to see the crooked half-smile that she knows is real and true.

"Don’t be running down your work just to--"

"Oh, I’m not," Marta assures him, and knows her own smile is a little sharper than it usually is. "I designed the virus, the delivery mechanism. I have clean, empirical data detailing exactly how well that mechanism functioned. Pure and simple, no need to adjust my baseline to look better."

Aaron snorts a little at that, and too late, Marta remembers—again—that her clean, empirical data isn’t just a block of test results to be parsed and manipulated. All he says, though, is, "Maybe the next ‘mechanism’ could do its job without the fever spikes and convulsions?"

"It’s already on the list," Marta says. If he wants to play it lightly, she will, but it’s going to take a very long time before the memories of watching over him during the night she’d set the virus--her virus—loose fade into something not out of a Dali-esque nightmare. He shifts a little, an invitation, and one that she surprises herself and takes, fitting herself against him again and letting the tension drain out of her muscles.

"This okay?" Aaron asks, curling one arm around her.

"It’s not so different than how we’ve been sleeping the last few months," Marta says.

"We usually have more clothes involved though." Aaron traces his hand down the length of her arm, one long stroke, and then again. Marta murmurs wordless satisfaction. "Not that I’m complaining,” he adds. He keeps stroking her arm with the same easy rhythm, there and strong and warm against her, the last thing she knows before she slides completely into sleep. He gets like this occasionally: something will trigger him and he trips over into a state where he's alert and hyper-aware of their surroundings, unable to stand down, sometimes for days. Given how thoroughly things between them have shifted, Marta isn’t surprised to find him like that both times she wakes during the night and expects it to continue well into the next day. When she opens her eyes to the gray, filtered light of a cloudy dawn, though, he’s curled around her, heavy and relaxed and breathing easily. She turns her head and watches him for a few minutes, but then lets herself relax and slide back under, too.