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Trail Blazers

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Vers was kicked back with her feet on her desk. She was bored. Unbelievably, to the bone bored. At first, she had loved her life on Pal-Mar. The wide expanse of desert, the open skies. It was beautiful, rugged and peaceful. Now she resented that peace. It made for boring long days. Days where she felt more like a prisoner than a lawman. It had been a little over a year and she hadn't known any other life than this.

 

She awoke in the medical centre of Pal-Mar, her body charred and reeking of fuel and ozone. The medics had stood around her bedside, stony-faced looking at monitors and writing notes in their datapads. They had parted as Vers blinked her aching eyes and she had caught sight of him. He was leaning against the glass wall, his sleeves rolled up to the elbow eyes on his shoes. As if he had sensed her looking at him he looked up and smirked. She remembered her body trying to pull in air and choking on the tubes in her throat. He had straightened slightly but had not moved from his place as the medics swarmed her again. That was her first memory. His eyes staring into her.

 

From there it was nothing but pedagogy and desk duty. They had told her she had been found during a rescue mission on a border planet. The Skrulls had shot her down. They had promised her the memories would come back. Except they didn't. Nothing came back. It all just became more muddled as she tried to sort out what was reality from nightmare. She stretched her neck feeling the tug of her hair as it caught in the ridges of her implant. She wasn't used to it. There must have been a time when she felt at one with her body, at peace with her purpose. That had been lost when the Skrulls had shot her down.

 

Vers balanced her chair on its back legs, she reached her hand behind her head and flung her stylus like a dart towards the soft stone panel of the ceiling. The heft of her throw knocked her chair off balance and she began to fall. Her body instinctively tried to catch itself as the chair slipped beneath her. Her body clattered against the inertia as she was caught mid-fall in a gravity beam. It knocked the breath out of her lungs. She coughed once as the dust of the precinct was kicked up by the field holding her chair in place.

 

"I see you are working hard," her Commander's voice chided her from the doorway. Movement was hard inside the field but she could shift her eyes so Yon-Rogg was an aching shadow on her periphery. He walked closer to her, maintaining her hovered position with the magnitron gauntlet that fit slimly to his wrist. They weren't standard issue among the force, it spoke to his influence he was even allowed to have them.

 

He released the field as he drew closer, grabbing the back of her chair as it started to fall again. He pushed her upright so her hands had to catch the desk. He came around her chair to lean against her desk.

 

"I could work harder if you would let me out of here," she looked at him through gold blonde eyelashes. She could tell he was fighting to hold back a laugh, his tongue caressed his eye tooth as his eyes turned skyward. The laughed died as he saw the four styli impaling the stone.

 

"And what is that?" He asked turning his head so he could see them better.

 

"Target practice," she shrugged. Yon-Rogg took a deep breath. She could feel the lesson coming on.

 

"I know this feels like a punishment, Vers-"

 

"That's because you are punishing me," she interrupted, her hands fiddling with the fifth stylus on her desk. Yon-Rogg sighed. He reached for the slim black cylinder and removed it from her grasp. Her eyes followed it instead of looking at him.

 

"Taking the time to heal, to re-learn who you are is not a punishment," he drummed the stylus against his hand in a slow deliberate rhythm. This wasn't the first time they had had this conversation.

 

"Why give me these if you don't want me to use them?" She lifted her fists looking at him with such hope and conviction he had to swallow the desire to relieve her from desk duty.

 

"Once you've learned to control your powers again, once you no longer fight against your circumstance and allow yourself to heal then you can join us." She lowered her fists as he squeezed her shoulder. He pushed away from the desk and began to walk to his office.

 

"Why are you back, anyway?" She called to his retreating form.

 

"We realized we left you without a keeper," he turned to smile at her, his eyes glancing towards the ceiling. "Who knows what damage you could cause with no one to mind you."

 

He tucked his hands in his pockets and walked back to his office, a small swagger in his step. Vers stuck out her tongue just as a stylus came loose and plummeted towards her. She snatched it deftly from the air and turned back to her desk, an unending scroll of unfinished reports cascading down her tablet.

 


 

The Kree's network of colonized planets was vast. They worked together with the native populations to improve industry and technology on the planet's surface while providing protection from the ever looming Skrull threat. It was a harmonious symbiotic relationship. The Kree empire was the vast and undulating force for good in the universe and each planet beneath their care attached themselves to the body of knowledge and civilization the Kree brought with them to every planet.

 

There were times though when disputes would arise and that was when the Supreme Intelligence would send one of their Internal Regulation Starforce to intercede, negotiate and if necessary extract certain Kree dignitaries and consularies from the red zone. Each unit of Starforce was given a small planet within the stretch of the Pama System so they would be poised to jump to any location on their side of the galaxy. It was customary for them to provide certain services to their host planets by way of peacemaking and serving judiciary roles as necessary. On a small planet like Pal-Mar, it was very rarely necessary.

 

Hence Vers' continued and unending boredom. Though they weren't encouraged to socialize with the locals, Vers often found herself wandering the streets late at night. Dropping into places of ill repute. Making unlikely friends. On the rare occasion, there was something planetside for them to intercede in these connections had been beyond useful. She was the only Starforce member the locals would talk to. On the edges of the Pama star system, they had more people of mixed breeding or foreigners than other Kree planets. People made bitter by their cultures rejection of them since birth. Vers could sympathize with their anger and resentment. Though she never spoke it aloud to Yon-Rogg or the others she knew it simmered below the surface and kept them at a distance from 'the Meddler'.

 

Dawn was just breaking as Vers settled up at the bar. She had been playing Krylorian Scaruband all night. Her back ached from being hunched over her tiles. The last round had started over an hour ago. Her opponents had slowly dropped away, leaving only her, the bar owner Ish-Al and the stranger across from her. He was bundled up in the faded heat of the desert. Even his hands were covered with thin knitted gloves. The small flashes of skin had looked fleshy enough. Usually, only reptilians hid their bodies so thoroughly from the elements and from the stares of other patrons. All she knew was by his voice he was a man and he had run out of money in the final round and had laid a holographic package of jaru root tobacco on the table. Vers' eyes had gone wide when she saw it. A forbidden delicacy anywhere in the Pama system, but especially hard to come by here.

 

She had won the packet, shaken the stranger's hand and stepped into the cool dawn air ready to face the day.

 

She leaned against the faded stone of Ish-Al's bar and placed the small tightly rolled cigar between her lips. She ignited one finger so it burnt white-blue in the dawn and touched it to the dry end of the tobacco. She pulled in the rich sweet smoke. It tasted forbidden and delicious on her tongue. She would have to shower thoroughly before going to the precinct. Yon-Rogg was a watchdog for her filthier habits. Watching the beautiful pink of sunrise and feeling the calming power of the herb already weaving between her muscles, Vers found it hard to care.

 

"I thought you were quitting." His voice close to her ear made her jump. She inhaled the hot smoke too fast making her choke. She didn't know how she hadn't heard him approach, he was dressed in training gear and was flushed. He must have been running. Unless he stopped when he saw her leaning against the building, enjoying her little slice of oblivion.

 

"It's my last one," she protested bringing the sparking red ember to her lips one more time. She was near the end almost to the filter. He raised his eyebrows at her. "If you don't believe me, check me."

 

She held her arms out, her stance widening slightly, challenging him to frisk her. He stepped into her, plucking the dwindling ash from her lips and putting it between his own. He didn't draw breath to reignite the flame, instead he let it suffocate as it hung tantalizingly within her reach. She wet her lips as she looked into his gilded eyes. She hated how her heart raced a little when he paid attention to her. She grit her teeth trying to picture the way he smirked when he lectured her. He moved his hands beneath her oversized jacket. The back of his hand was warm through her shirt as he expertly ran it down her sides. His fingers quickly fished through her pockets. She arched her eyebrows at him. He brushed two fingers of each hand down her arms. Pausing at her cuffs to circle them around her wrists, his fingers brushing the sensitive skin there. He ducked down in front of her his hands patting down her legs. He stood back and his eyes searched her face.

 

"Satisfied?" She asked him flashing her eyes at him.

 

"Never," he said pulling the butt from between his lips. He stepped forward snaking his hand around her waist. His palm traveled her spine for a moment before finding the crinkling plastic pouch tucked into the waistband of her pants. He produced it from inside her jacket. Tucking the dead end into the packet before crumpling the whole thing in his hand.

 

"These are illegal. Your position doesn't give you special permissions."

 

"They only hurt me, why should they be illegal?" She asked rolling her eyes.

 

"They hurt your body, they produce litter and they foul up the air. What is there to recommend them?" He asked

 

"They make me feel good, Yon" she breathed at him, her body waking to how close he was to her. To the way she could smell his sweat. She wet her lips again, Yon-Rogg's eyes followed her tongue as he readied his retort.

 

Above them in the silence of dawn was the bang of a ship entering the atmosphere; it was coming in too hot to land. It appeared in the sky for only a moment before there was the hiss and pop of a jump and it was gone. There was something though, streaking through the sky cutting a fast path through the air. It hit the ground so hard they felt a small tremble in the soles of their feet. They ripped their gaze from where it had been locked on the skyline and both took off running towards the smoke of impact.

Chapter Text

Vers' lungs were burning as she tried to pull in air in the cold purple light of dawn. The smoke that had filled her with such lethargic desire moments before the crash was clinging to the spongey interior of her lungs like flakes of metal. Yon-Rogg was paces ahead of her. He was dressed and primed for running. Her stiff clothes, full of smoke and sweat from a long night and her heavy boots made Vers' feel like an anchor holding him back.

 

The main road barely warranted the title, it contained almost no trade and was home to barely five businesses including their office. With so little to block their line of sight they could clearly see the smoking crash site in the distance. They ran for it.

 

Yon-Rogg reached the deep furrow in the soil first. He was breathing heavy his body bent over. Vers skidded beside him, immediately she bent forward ready to heave onto the earth.

 

"You are woefully out of shape," Yon-Rogg panted. "Your vices are holding you back."

 

"You are no better," Vers batted him away. The dust and smoke in the air made it hard to draw breath against the fire in her lungs. Yon-Rogg patted her shoulder before pushing himself up using her back as support. He walked to the edge of the heaved up dirt and peered down into the hole. Vers watched his posture harden and his fists clench. She felt an answering tension in her stomach. Whatever had fallen it wasn't good.

 

"Stay there," he reached his hand back holding out his palm. His eyes were locked on the object in the ground. Vers pushed to straighten and stumbled slightly as she took a step towards the hole. She bumped passed Yon-Rogg to stand beside him. He tried to catch her shoulder but it was too late.

 

In front of her, plowed into the dirt, was a armour suit. The body of whoever had been wearing it was pulverized into the ground. Their skin bursting in places with thick congealed blood. It could have been any colour under the char and smoke.

 

Yon-Rogg moved the comm to his mouth, the beep as he connected to the medical centre. His words sounded far away. They echoed as Vers' mind reeled trying to determine she was seeing.

 


 

Vers was sitting slightly stunned at her desk. She was aware her body was slightly swiveling against the jostling of her legs. She should have slept last night. Her squad needed her and she was a staring zombie. She had seen bodies before, she had walked a war worn path, there were probably even horrors locked away in her memory from the Kree-Skrull war that would make what she just saw pale in comparison. Vers had never seen something dug half way into the earth, shattered beyond shape. When she closed her eyes it was all she could see.

 

She had to pull herself together. It was only her and the commander planetside right now. She had a role to play. That role began in the morgue at the medical centre. She forced herself to stand on creaking limbs. She walked to the door just as her commander came through it. She nearly knocked into him as she passed, her mind a blur of half formed ideas, focussed on getting to the med centre. When she didn't look at him, he reached out and caught her elbow. The movement shook her out it.

 

"I sent you home," he said looking down at her clothes and her unfocused eyes.

 

"We have a case," she blinked up at him before letting her eyes rest on her arm. He let her go.

 

"I am calling back the others they will take care of it. Go home, get some sleep." His words were said in his usual manner. Patient beyond reproach, cool, soft spoken. She hated the way he treated her as if he was made of glass.

 

"No. You can't."

 

"You will find I can, Vers." Now his words had edge. She was always pushing, always overstepping. She knew that, but she also knew she was more ready than he gave her credit for.

 

"This should be my case. You can't keep me on desk duty forever." She squared up to him, silently pleading he would accept her potential.

 

"I keep you on desk duty because you refuse to look after yourself. You are brash, you rush into things, you never stop to think of how your actions might effect the team." He stepped into her space, enumerating her sins.

 

"That's because you don't treat me like one of the team." She clenched her fists in front of her, willing him to see her determination. Instead Yon-Rogg sniffed her.

 

"You smell like smoke and drink, you don't sleep because sleeping means being alone in here," he tapped his two fingers against her temple. "That isn't someone I can trust."

 

He walked away from her leaving Vers brimming with frustration.

 

"Why don't you do something about it then, Commander? Let me go. Get me the hell off this planet, send me far away from Starforce. You say you can't trust, but how am I any different than a prisoner?" Yon-Rogg paused as he walked away. His shoulders were tense and Vers' wondered if she had well and truly overstepped this time. Yon-Rogg looked at his shoes. His jaw moved soundlessly as if he was sending a prayer up to some unseen diety. He turned to her.

 

"You want this case, Vers?" She nodded vigorously. "Then commit yourself to your training. Stay at home after your shifts. Form yourself into someone worthy of the Starforce insignia."

 

Vers clenched her teeth. She was furious that he couldn't see how ready she was, but more than that she was determined to prove him wrong. To make him eat his words.

 

"The rest of the team is due to return in five cycles. You have that long to prove to me you are ready to be a member of this team. Deal?"

 

"Deal." Vers nodded her blood rushing with purpose.

 


 

The suit was Kree. They knew that for sure. It had been what made Vers' blood run cold as she looked into the impact zone. It was standard issue Starforce. The kind Yon-Rogg wore when he was off planet, the same as would be worn by his team. The same as Vers would wear when he decided she was ready. The body inside though, that was a different matter. They must have been dead or unconscious when they were jettisoned from the craft. If they had engaged shielding there was a chance they might have survived. Or at the very least they would be more - intact was the only word that came to Vers' mind.

 

She was always uncomfortable in the medical centre. It reminded her of her first long days on Pal-Mar. They were painful and foggy. Standing at the periphery of them was Yon-Rogg. She had awoken many nights her body feeling like it was burning up and he would be collapsed in the chair at her bedside. Head in his hand, half way between awake and asleep. She would wake him trying to sit up or trying to breath. His firm hands pushing her back into the mattress, his voice swimming above her telling her to stay calm. He would roll up his sleeves and press the call button for the nurse. She would be sedated again. It repeated over and over again until she came to associate him with the deep helplessness of sedation, as if seeing his yellow eyes looking down at her with concern were the harbringer of oblivion. She resented and feared him in those early days. Being back in the sterile blue and white halls made it all seem like yesterday. As they wound their way together down into the morgue beneath the building Vers couldn't help but wonder how close she had come to ending up there.

 

"Are you okay?" Her commander's voice broke through her reminiscing, she could feel the way her jaw was clenching. She tried to relax. He had paused outside the steel door leading to the medical examiner.

 

"Of course, why wouldn't I be?" She flexed her hands not looking at him.

 

"No one would think less of you if you waited out here." His voice was aggravatingly soft.

 

"I would," she answered pushing the door open and stepping around him.

 

The room was cold. It was so rarely cold in the desert, outside of the early dawn hours, Vers shivered against it. Her skin prickling with the artificial breeze. The room smelled of antiseptic and metal. Vers realized as she walked deeper into the room the metallic smell in the air was blood. The body had been stripped of its suit; it lay like an exoskeleton on its own gurney. The farthest table held the pulp of the suit's former occupant. A drain in the sloping metal table was allowing the blood to drip down to a bucket below. Vers' forced her feet to walk towards the medic working over top the body. They were covered entirely in white hazmat gear so only smallest sliver of their skin was showing. Vers could see their dark purple eyes ringed with black eyelashes.

 

"Commander, Vers" the low sultry voice greeted them. Her eyes flicking up from her work. Vers could feel Yon-Rogg behind her, following her with similar hesitation. He had paused to look at the suit.

 

"Do we have the DNA? Are they Kree?" He asked. The Medic's attention turned to the datapad behind her.

 

"Hard to answer that," she sighed using a glove covered knuckle to scroll down a report.

 

"Why?" Yon-Rogg turned from the suit and reached for the pad. The medic handed it over to him. Her eyes holding his for a second too long. Vers looked between the two taking her eyes off the victim for a moment. Yon-Rogg seemed unphased as he immediately began scrolling through the report.

 

"It mutated during the analysis?" He asked in disbelief.

 

"I have genetic markers for Kree, Xanadarian, Krylorian, Shi'Ar, even A'askavariian. Almost like a system purge."

 

"Do you think it could be Skrull?" Yon-Rogg looked up from the datapad, his tone cold and serious.

 

"He doesn't look green," Vers interjected looking at the mottled pink flesh.

 

"He doesn't look like much of anything. Every bone is shattered, including the skull." The medic took her datapad back from Yon-Rogg who moved to bend over the body. "I am going to run all the usual surface swabs then I will put the skull in for cleaning. See what I can find."

 

"Let us know when you have results. This is going to stretch our resources, but I don't want to involve Hala until it is completely necessary."

 

At the mention of the Kree homeworld Vers perked up. It held a certain fascination for her. She knew she must have seen it at one point but it was lost to her memories. As if he sensed her interest Yon-Rogg turned his gold eyes on her, their gaze meeting over the body between them.

 

"We should go," he said. Vers straightened.

 

They were walking back to the surface, Yon-Rogg was silent as he walked. Vers had her hands tucked into her jacket pockets, her eyes glancing to his profile.

 

"You know she likes you?" She asked at last, her lips quirking at the corner.

 

"I don't know who you mean," he answered her, keeping his eyes ahead.

 

"The medic, she likes you." Vers bumped him with her elbow as they walked. Yon-Rogg chewed his lip to keep himself from smiling.

 

"We have an entirely professional relationship" he answered inclining his head so he could look at her as they walked.

 

"You should ask her out," Vers waggled her eyebrows at him. He breathed out a laugh.

 

"I am not going to do that," he shook his head at her.

 

"Why not Commander? It wouldn't hurt to get a life. It's lonely out here."

 

"Are you lonely, Vers?" He paused walking so he could look at her properly. She wasn't sure if he was laughing at her. She started walking faster.

 

"We aren't talking about me. We are talking about you. Why not? Do you think she is too young for you?"

 

"She is not too young for me," Yon-Rogg shook his head as if he couldn't believe they were having this conversation.

 

"So you have thought about it?" She turned her head to look back at him, smiling wickedly.

 

"Vers," his voice held a half hearted warning.

 

They walked in silence for a while longer, each lost in thought about the case. Neither ready with any opinions they wanted to share.

 

They returned to the precinct. Vers moved to her desk and Yon-Rogg kept walking to his office in the back. He paused before he went in, leaning on the door frame looking at the back of Vers as she worked.

 

"How old do you think I am?" He asked at last. Vers spit out a laugh, she looked over her shoulder at him.

 

"Don't worry you look good for your age." She flashed him another wicked grin before returning to the screen in front of her.

Chapter Text

She pounded on his door just as the sun began to rise. He answered it after a moment of shuffling. He wore sweats and runners, but his shirt was slung over his shoulder and a toothbrush was trapped between his cheek and his teeth. He held the door half open and looked her up and down slowly. She knew she looked like hell in a track suit, but sleep had evaded her, the small suite in the dormitory closing in around her. She had paced for a while, but when the sun was up she decided to make Yon-Rogg take responsibility for her.

 

Now she was in his hallway, seeing the stubble on his chin and his hair rumpled from sleep she wondered if this was too much of an invasion. After a tense moment when their eyes took each other in he stepped back and nodded his head. She stepped into his apartment. It was not much different than her own. Maybe a little larger, but not much. He walked to kitchen and spit into the sink. He ran the tap for a second before ducking his head and drinking from the faucet. He rinsed his mouth and spat again. She watched him fascinated by the small ticks of movement beneath his skin. He hadn't said anything. It was like she was not even there. He reached into the fridge unit and pulled out a bottle of water. He cracked the seal at its wide mouth and dropped a caf-tab into it. She watched the muscles in his arm as he shook the bottle, thumb holding the cap. The light pink tint spread through the bottle. He gripped the neck passing the bottle to her across the counter. She took it and he walked back towards the bathroom.

 

She opened the bottle and drank the sweet liquid. She hated the taste, it was like the smell of burnt sugar disguising itself between a bitter citrus tinge. She didn't remember what flavour it was meant to be replicating, but she felt the buzz of the caf hitting her system. This was one vice she rarely partook in. She had no problem staying awake. She could see a sliver of him through the doorways, and hear the running of water. He was shaving. She tried not to watch him and focus on downing her drink, but she found her eyes drifting to him over and over. Every once in a while she would catch a hint of gold and know she had been caught. She had no where to look in the small place. Anywhere her eyes landed seemed like an intrusion. Standing here like this, stepping inside someone else's intimate space made her wonder if before the accident she had someone. Someone who wondered where she was, who shared her space, who mourned her absence. She didn't know if she wanted this fear to be true or not. She couldn't remember if she missed love, what it would feel like. She was lost in thought, the last half of her drink shifting side to side as a traitorous blush crept up her neck.

 

Her Commander came out freshly shaven, pulling his shirt over his head. He had small pin pricks of blue near his jaw. He smeared them slightly as the fabric brushed passed. He grabbed the bottle from her hands and drained the last of it.

 

"You have-" Vers gestured to the smear of blood against his jaw. Yon-Rogg reached but he didn't catch it, raising his eyebrows at her. Vers shook her head stepped into him. She reached up and smoothed the blood away with her thumb. It stained the pad of her thumb blue. Yon's eyes followed her hand as she brought it to her lips and sucked the stain away. Vers froze, tongue against her skin, she had done it without thinking. The air was tense. She stepped back and he cleared his throat. She smiled a tight awkward smile. He set the bottle aside and walked towards the door. She followed him.

 

Her lungs burnt with the exercise, but her body wasn't as weak when it was not fighting against smoke and liquor. Yon-Rogg was a few paces ahead of her, she focused on his steady pace to keep her going. They both turned from main street. They were heading to the crash site. It was nonsensical. There was nothing there for them, everything but the deep hole had been cleaned up or catalogued. It was haunting them both. The mystery. The chance it was a Starforce member.

 

As the crater came into view sweat was dripping down Vers body and her lungs were burning. She stopped beside it. Her body ached, but her mind was consumed by clarity. She lay down on the ground, dust meeting sweat, her body aligned with the way they were driven into the Earth. She heard Yon-Rogg's feet continue for a few paces before slowing. She stared at the sky, holding her thumb up trying to imagine the ship breaking through the atmosphere. A shadow fell across her.

 

"What are you doing?" Yon-Rogg looked down at her his eyebrows creased.

 

"It came in too hot for the ship to have jumped, but we know it used a jump point to exit our atmosphere." She drew an arc with her thumb across the sky, her chin following it. Her back arched so she could look behind her. He stepped over her leg so he was standing between het feet. She wondered if the small shift of heat she felt as he looked down at her, like the fine point of stylus drawing down her body to where her pelvis tilted and her shirt rode up, was the path his gaze was taking.

 

"Even if we searched our jump-point logs, they could have easily switched course immediately. Worry about it once we have the report on the body. It will tell us more than the path of the ship." He reached his hand down and she grudgingly took it. He pulled her to her feet. She was so close to him she could smell his sweat again, tinged beneath was the scent of earth from her clothes and a hint of his cologne. She thought it was more seductive when paired with heated skin and the sting of salt. She tried not to picture other situations when a woman would be close enough to breathe in the this smell. He turned her shoulders, shaking her from her revery. He dusted her off, brushing her roughly. He gave a small shove between her shoulder blades at the center of her spine.

 

They continued their run.



Vers sat at her desk, stylus clenched between her teeth. She had showered and changed, but she still felt the vibrant heat of the exercise beneath her skin. Was this what her Commander felt all the time? No wonder he was so efficient. She was scanning through the jumo-point logs, calculating which ones would have been accessible at that point in Pal-Mar's orbit.

 

Her stomach rumbled. She reached sightlessly into the drawer beside her desk and reached around until she heard the crinkle of a ration pack. When she had first come to they had fed her only through a tube. In those early weeks Vers had dreamed of a real solid meal. When they finally brought her a tray her mouth watered and she was desperate to sink her teeth into whatever they brought. However once she began to eat her stomach protested so violently she had been sick. It was like she had never had food before and her stomach had no way to break it down or digest it so it had expelled it derisively from her system. From that point she had stuck to ration packs. Flavourless vitamin meal that stuck in her throat. Another pleasure in life robbed from her.

 

Yon-Rogg walked passed her as she continued to scroll, his eyes on the datapad. The crunch of the dark crisp cracker made him lift his head. Other Starforce members only ate them on long missions when they were stuck in the field.

 

"What are you eating?" He asked. Vers continued to force the meal down her throat, drowing it into mush with a swig of water.

 

"Lunch," she answered her eyes staying on the scrolling list of manifests in front of her. Although not many ships broke the Pal-Mar atmosphere, their jump points were still highly trafficked.

 

"Do you still not know how to feed yourself?" He asked. He sounded incredulous as if the mystery illness of her stomach should have fixed itself by now.

 

"Knowing how and being able to keep it down are separate actions," she answered eyes on the screen, the last sawdust mouthful swallowed.

 

She heard him exhale and keep walking. She thought he must be done criticizing her when his shadow came across her screen again. He leaned against her desk knife in one hand and small golden fruit in the other. She looked at the fruit and her eyes slowly moved up his body to meet his eyes, she arched an eyebrow at him. He smiled the small regretful smile he seemed to save for her as he drew the knife through the fruit. He held one small half up to her. The rind was the colour of his eyes and the inside was jellied and clear, a galaxy of pinprick seeds swirling inside. He handed her one half.

 

"I don't like to admit this, Vers," he said bringing the fruit to his mouth. He sucked slightly as he bit it in half, she heard the soft pull of it against his lips. He swallowed leaving a slight sheen on his fingers. "I may have neglected you, since bringing you back."

 

Vers gave him a significant look as she brought his peace offering to her mouth. She knew he was watching her from the corner of his eye. She moved her foot slowly under her desk to reassure her self the round garbage bin was there, should her stomach rebel. She tried to bite it as gracefully as he had, but she felt the juice slide down her fingers to her wrist as the flesh burst in her mouth. After a year of nothing but wafer thin vitamin meal the tart taste was like starburst against her tongue. She nearly coughed against the sweetness of it while her mouth immediately began to water. The seeds like sugar moved across her tongue and the soft jelly was wonderfully wet. He let out his short breath of a laugh and popped the other half in his mouth.

 

"We will take it slow, okay?" He said gripping her shoulder before pushing away from the desk. She nodded, the side of her thumb checking her lips for the tiny grain like seeds. Her eyes returned to the scrolling manifests, her stomach calm and her mouth eager to take more food. She set it in front of her every once in a while her eyes drifting to the bitten glistening flesh as she tried to focus on data rather than the warm glow beneath her skin.

 


 

The knock came late at night. Yon-Rogg paused in his kitchen. He was cleaning away the small remenants of his dinner. He glanced quickly to the stove to check the small portion left in the pan. He didn't want to let Vers in if he had nothing to feed her. She was his responsibility. He had been neglectful because he knew how powerful she could be, but it was no excuse for the last year. He would work harder to be there for her now. He left the towel over his shoulder.

 

To his surprise he opened the door to find a slim blue skinned woman waiting in the door.

 

"Commander," she greeted him in a low purr. "I hope it is not too late."

 

He realized he had never seen Lai-Rah without her gear before, but he would have recognized the eyes and the voice anywhere. He pulled the towel from his shoulder and gestured for her to come in. Her dark hair was so black it shone blue in the low light. She was dressed in a white wrap dress, the fabric so thin in the places it was fitted her blue skin was a shadow beneath. She was almost as tall as him, but her body was thin. She moved with grace that was hidden by the volumes of her hazmat suit.

 

"I didn't expect you to deliver it personally," he said closing the door behind her. She glanced over her shoulder as she moved about the small interior. It was spartan and not particularly cozy. He wasn't meant to spend much time here.

 

"I thought the report could benefit from context" she answered, smiling over her shoulder as she admired the thin glass plaques on the wall. They were trifles from his career, military graduation, his acceptance to Starforce. Things that didn't belong in his office, but he had trouble packing away. He felt uncomfortable with her here, he had a vague recollection of her family on Hala and though they were far from his own sphere they were high enough he should show her better courtesy than wondering around his standard issue flat.

 

"Let me look," he reached for the datapad she had clutched under her arm. She passed it to him, their hands brushing. He ducked his head to flip through the screens, trying to shrug off his conversation with Vers. It had seemed so ridiculous at the time, but now she was hovering over his shoulder as he looked at the spectral analysis and scans of the scattered skull he wondered if maybe Vers had been right. His attention was drawn away from his personal thoughts as he began to see patterns emerging in the data. He furrowed his brow. He handed the pad back to her.

 

"You're right, I need context." His mind rejected the results. They were sickening to picture and had far reaching implications. He wanted to be told he had misunderstood.

 

"This part is the easy part; a Kree-Skrull hybrid." She looked at him with her intense violet eyes. It was a dramatic statement.

 

"Do you think it's- " he swallowed searching for the right word. "Biological?"

 

"I would hope not, Commander." She leaned in close to him. She smelled of expensive perfume, but beneath was the indelible scent of preservative. A good reminder that she was dedicated to her job. Her being here proved that, nothing else. If she was more open, more feminine than Vers was used to it was because she came from a different world. There were expectations to be met among families like theirs; continuing the line, making alliances, keeping allies. Lai-Rah would know those pressures as well as he did. Yon-Rogg could hide behind his military career. It might not be as easy for her.

 

"Of course, intermarriage and interbreeding are controversial enough. The last thing the Opposition on Hala needs to learn of is a family line remaining from before the Separation. That could effect border planets, including Pal-Mar"

 

There had been a time, a millenia ago when the Skrulls had moved among his people, tampering with their bloodlines through deception. It was believed these traitorous families had died out long before the rise of the Supreme Intelligence. If that was not true it could mean a cultural witch hunt.

 

"It goes deeper than that." Lai-Rah put her hand against his arm.

 

Yon-Rogg thought of Vers' words again, he cleared his throat. He should be pleased he could potentially mate a woman of his same caste, intelligent and accomplished with excellent breeding. He found the thought left him cold. She looked up at him from beneath inky lashes. "Something I left out of my report."

 

He stepped away from her, returning to his kitchen. She followed him slowly. She was very beautiful, his father would like her. Unbidden the picture of Vers meeting his family rose to his mind. He squashed it. An impossible thing even if he had her interest. Their connection was a matter of highly classified Starforce record. Top Secret. Though he thought of Lai-Rah's standing in the Medical Centre. Did she know?

 

"Are you considering military influence? The shapeshifting would be invaluable, even though it violates our ethics." He found his one side was pressed against the fridge.

 

"It's possible. What I left out was the source of the Kree strain." She leaned into him and he caught her shoulders holding her at arms length. "At the moment it doesn't seem relevant, but it could be revealed later to some- upset."

 

"And what is the source?" He asked his voice low as he tried to balance the invitation in her eyes with the implication of her words.

 

"You." She raised her eyebrows at him. Yon-Rogg felt cold. It was certainly not outside possibility. If the source was Kree military. His DNA was on file. The body had been in Starforce uniform, but how could he prove it was beyond his control? What would become of his unit? Who would look after Vers if he was removed?

 

Yon-Rogg swallowed thickly, making the only deal he could in that moment. He pulled Lai close, and kissed her.

Chapter Text

The woman in the white dress passed Vers in the lobby, she walked with a sway Vers didn't know how to shake out of her own hips. A sort of side to side shifting of weight that would make every step just slightly harder than it needed to be. She watched her walk and wondered what she was doing here. This was the Precinct's dormitory and everyone else was off planet except her. And Yon. Yon-Rogg was still here. Vers tried to make herself smile. There was an expectation that Starforce members were courteous to Kree on their border planets, and if she was here to see Yon she was important.

 

"Vers," The woman greeted her and Vers recognized the voice of the Medic.

 

"Lai-Rah," She was genuinely surprised that beneath all the hazmat suit was so much - swivel. The Medic paused to look at her then look over her shoulder.

 

"I guess you live here too," Lai-Rah had an unreadable look in her eyes and Vers' didn't know what to do with her face.

 

"Yes, being Starforce and all," She looked awkwardly side to side trying not to notice the way Lai-Rah's dress clung in places. She had never considered the Medic might be beautiful as well as skilled. She felt awkward now for goading Yon into admitting an attraction to her, she seemed more real now she was standing on the ground floor of their dormitory.

 

"I delivered the report to the Commander in person, in case he could benefit fron my expertise." The Medic smiled a self-satisfied smile and Vers felt her heartbeat increase. They had the report.

 

Lai-Rah was taken aback as Vers took off suddenly towards the stairs, waving over her shoulder and calling out her parting words.

 


 

Yon-Rogg was leaning against the counter. He had released Lai-Rah with a small shove, their mouths parting with a sharp breath. She had laughed at him, one finger crooked around the fastening of his shirt. He felt like something was crawling across his skin as he looked at her. She was lovely. She was Kree. She had everything to recommend her, but he only felt the small twist of rage in his stomach that she was not who he wanted her to be.

 

Now she was gone, but the hard pit in his stomach remained. He wondered if he had been carrying it around for the last year and just not realized it. There was no reason he should feel this way he argued with himself. He was free to do as he pleased, whatever bargain Lai-Rah was trying to strike she knew she held all the cards above him. He was hurting no one. He was unattached.

 

Except he wasn't. He was married to his duty as Starforce Commander. He was responsible to his team. To all of them equally, he repeated. Except there was only one wry smile coming to mind at that moment. He reached for the report he had purchased with his compliancy. He had just opened it again when there was a new pounding at his door. He froze. He didn't want to open it but the pounding continued. He lifted his comm to his mouth.

 

"Just come in, it's open."

 

His voice growled through the comm, so low Vers barely heard it above her knocking. She pushed her head against the release and the door swung open. She managed to control her smile as she walked purposefully in the room, but it was breaking beneath the calm she tried to school inside. It had been so long since she felt the rush of purpose. He didn't look up at her from the datapad.

 

"Are they Starforce?" She blurted out moving to him quickly. Yon-Rogg put down the datapad with a sigh and moved to his fridge unit.

 

"Inconclusive," he said shuffling things about. She picked up the datapad where he left it and began scrolling through the report. Yon-Rogg removed a pale yellow square of cheese. He reached for a pack of ration wafers from the cupboard.

 

"How can it be inconclusive?" He passed her a small stacked cracker. She took it and bit into it without pausing in her scrolling. She was absorbed in the report, chewing the soft square of buttery cheese, she hummed appreciatively. Yon-Rogg smiled as he made another stack.

 

"We are a small planet, Vers. It takes patience." She looked about and he handed her another stack. He saw the spectral graphs jumping across the screen. "Do you know-"

 

"Kree-Skrull Hybrid," she answered the stack she had braced in her teeth. He raised his eyebrows surprised by how quickly she had understood the report. There was something so endearing about how wild she was. He imagined how this scene must look from the outside, her leaning against the counter eyes on the screen half a cracker in her mouth. Him across from her, towel on one shoulder, handing her stacks of food like she was his pet.

 

"Vers, I know you don't want to hear this-" he had to get her to drop this case. Let it disappear in the desert as it was meant to. If they didn't it could mean losing everything.

 

"Did they run DNA?" She looked up at him. He felt his blood run cold.

 

"What?" He said straightening fron where he had been leaning against the counter. He stepped closer to her invading the small space between them, she had to tuck the datapad against her chest to make room for him.

 

"Did they run the DNA? There could be a match in our rec-" on instinct Yon-Rogg popped the last bit wafer and cheese in her slightly open mouth. She stopped talking clenching the prized morsel between her teeth. Yon-Rogg leaned into her, putting his hands on either side of the counter, he wanted to unsettle her. Make her nervous. Make her forget what she was pushing for so he could make her let go of this.

 

"Vers, I know you have lost - most of who you were including our history. And I am trying to be patient with you," he was close to her. Wrapped around her as he spoke of the pain she kept buried. He leaned into her ear. "I am asking you to let this go."

 

He heard her swallow, there was a brief moment when the heat between their bodies rose and he knew he should step away. He didn't. He stayed there his mouth next to her ear for a moment longer. He felt the impact of the datapad hitting his chest. He straightened to brace his hands against it and stop it falling. He could see the hard line of her mouth and the fire behind her eyes.

 

"What if it was me in the sand?" She asked her voice tight.

 

"It's not. You are here." He put down the datapad, ready to reach for her again if she would let him.

 

"Barely, Yon." She pushed passed him, the rage spilling off her in hot waves.

 

"Vers," he turned to follow her path as she left him. She held up a crude gesture over her shoulder and slammed out of the flat.

 

"Das't" he muttered hanging his head and rubbing his temples.

 


 

Ish-Al's bar was quiet at this hour. There was only two of them in the bar when Vers entered. Ish-Al's tall bulky form leaning against the counter, his blue skin burned by the hot Pal-Mar sun so it appeared in blotchy patches of different colours and wrinkled over his fading muscles. He was cleaning glasses not talking to the man at the bar. He was the same man Vers had won the packet off of only one night before.

 

"We thought you'd died," Ish-Al called across the bar as she walked in. He smiled a crooked smile. The man who had been slumped over his drink turned to look at her. "I thought I might not be able to make rent without your contributions."

 

"It looks like you had company enough," Vers nodded at the man. Ish-Al rolled his eyes.

 

"You don't need to buy liquor when you bring your own pleasure." He angrily tossed his rag at the man who watched them both with slightly bleary eyes.

 

Vers looked the man up and down. He was no more than a cheap trick dealer, stuck in a dried up town until he could barter transport.

 

"How long has he been here?" Vers asked quietly leaning over the bar. Ish-Al made a dismissive gesture.

 

"Leave him, tell me what fell."

 

"You know I can't," she gave him a dry smile and he laughed a low conspiratorial laugh.

 

"I will pay for my gossip," he placed a single shot glass on the bar top. He poured a splattering showy drag of whisky into the glass. Vers laughed and snatched it up. She shot it back, coughing against the burn. She put the glass down and tapped the rim again.
Ish-Al poured.

 

"What do you know of Kree history?" She asked, slogging back another shot. Ish-Al laughed, putting the bottle aside.

 

"Is that a clue, Little Miss Starforce?"

 

"Yon," she savoured the name with a hint of disgust. "Thinks I can't understand this case, because I have forgotten my history."

 

Ish-Al poured her another shot.

 

"I am sure you know enough," he shrugged and she nodded emphatically as she swallowed the shot.

 

"I was shot down by the Skrulls. I know there is a war. That doesn't mean we stop searching for the truth." She slammed her fist on the bar emphatically rousing the man briefly before he slumped forward again.

 

"To the truth," Ish-Al poured them both a shot and they clinked chipped and foggy glasses. Vers hummed against the tingle growing behind her lips. She knew she should stop, that she had to show Yon he was wrong about her dedication, but she couldn't sleep in her small quarters where when she closed her eyes she was always surrounded by smoke and blood. Now those dreams were of falling to the earth, of being buried alive in the desert.

 


 

She left earlier than she would have before, her limbs languid and her body tired. She was counting it as a victory. As she approached the dormitory she saw a familiar lean figure waiting outside. He looked up as she approached. He looked like he wanted to say something.

 

"I don't want to hear it, Yon" she held up her hand, reaching for the door. He leaned into her sniffing her hair.

 

"Is one disagreement all it takes, Vers?" He muttered to her, anger constricting his voice.

 

"I was getting a history lesson, since you didn't want to give me one," she smiled at him before she walked into the lobby. He grit his teeth. Something caught his eye over her shoulder.

 

"Vers, who is that?" He asked going very still. She paused in the doorway looking into the dark.

 

"I don't see anyone," she said before stumbling into the building. Yon-Rogg waited a moment longer sure he had seen something before catching the door and following her in.

Chapter Text

There was a knock at her door at an ungodly hour. Vers rolled on her back and considered ignoring it. She had made a good start in changing herself but like everything she touched it quickly evaporated when she was angry. She boiled everything away to steam except her flaws which were stuck like grease to her bones.

 

She was lying on her floor, body slightly wedged under her low table. She didn't have a clear memory of why she had fallen asleep here other than being pressed in the small space had made her sweating body feel safe. Almost as if she were being held.

 

The knocking continued to batter against her fuzzy head. Her comm was discarded on the table and Yon's voice drifted down to her from above.

 

"I can open this door." His voice was so calm. A warning wrapped in frustration and a hint of concern that made something forgotten catch in her chest. A longing for someone who would kick down a door for her. Someone she thought might exist somewhere out there.

 

"Vers, I am going to count to three then I will use the override code." Vers forced herself upright the static in her head flowing down her body and ending in her stomach. "One....Two.."

 

His voice grew quieter as she made her way with shuffling steps towards the door.

 

"Three," there was beeping as he keyed in the override. The door wooshed open and Vers was leaning on the door jamb looking at him from beneath raised eyebrows.

 

Her gold hair was mussed and skin had the flushed creases of sleep. She wore only a white tank top and her basics. He looked her up and down. She turned and walked into the suite. He saw her back, red pressure marks. Ribbed and warm from sleep. He reached out and brushed a finger along the mark. She froze.
"Why were you sleeping on the floor?"

 

"I wasn't," she didnt look at him as she kept walking to her kitchenette. Her voice was deeper, the effects of just waking up. It seeped down lower into his spine than he would have liked.

 

"Then is your bed tiled?" He followed her in another few precious steps into her space.

 

"Are you asking to see it?" She gave him a wicked grin.

 

"Vers, I am your commanding officer." He wasn't sure if he was reminding her or himself.

 

"Who broke into my suite before sunrise."

 

"You weren't answering. Starforce is never off the clock. I could consider it a dereliction of duty." Yon-Rogg glanced around him at the chaos in the small quarters. "Speaking of derelict-"

 

Vers began sorting through piles of clothes that were strewn over the furniture. She did not have a lot, but what she owned seemed to be exploded all over the front room.

 

"So this is a bunk inspection," she said shimmying into a pair of crumpled sweats.

 

"I am here because I think you need an outlet for your frustrations that isn't readily available at Ish-Al's." She raised her eyebrows at him again and he forced himself to banish the thought of her legs disapearing beneath the loose fabric of her training gear.

 

"And that had to be before sunrise?"

 

"It gets hot in the desert. You will thank me later."


She hit the ground hard.


The sand was still warm from the day before as it enveloped her shoulder. It clung to the sweat that was growing in the creases and hollows of her body. Yon-Rogg reached down and gave her his hand.

 

It was cool compared to the sand. He pulled her up, their feet digging into the soft shifting ground. Small sticks and bracken from long gone plant life scraped against the soles of her feet.

 

They were both barefoot with their pants rolled up. They stood on a bed of sand hidden in an abandoned stone quarry. The wind had blown the sand into the bowl of orange stone.

 

"This is supposed to help my frustration?" She asked knocking the grit away.

 

"If you could land a hit the value might be more evident," he said readjusting his stance. She tried to mirror him, but her balance was thrown off by the slipping of her feet.

 

"What am I supposed to do? Come find you whenever I can't sleep?"

 

"I am your commanding officer. I am here to make you the best version of yourself." He answered dropping his stance and walking to her.

He stepped behind and adjusted her, putting his hands over her fists and stepping his leg between hers to widen her stance. He felt her focus turn inwards. She could be taught he admitted, even if teaching her meant shutting out a piece of himself he had only just discovered. It was, he argued as he made her straighten her spine, a frivolous useless part. It did not serve as anything but distraction.

 

He stepped in front of her and reset his stance.

 

"What if it's the middle of the night?" She asked eyebrows waggling. He tried not to laugh.

 

"You can come to me," she swung at him and he ducked. She slid on the sand, but repositioned to swing again. He caught her arm in a tight grip, knocking her feet out from under her.

 

"What if you have company?" She asked through gritted teeth.

 

"Why would I have company?" He asked before the memory of kissing Lai-Rah forced itself unbidden into his mind. Surely, things wouldn't go that far? And there was no way Vers could have known.

Except she did know Lai-Rah was at his place. That was how she knew he had the report. His grip softened as the thought distracted him. Vers saw her opportunity, slipping from his grip and knocking him to the ground with her shoulder. She ended up splayed half way on top of him as the ground shifted below her.

 

"Good distraction. Does it feel good?"

She felt rather than heard his amusement as her head was on his chest, her chest against his stomach as he breathed out sharply. The closest Yon-Rogg ever came to laughing.

 

His heart was beating hard. That was Vers' next thought, the thrum against her ear. It made something in her tighten and she pushed away as quickly as possible. He gave her a significant look.

 

"Soldiers aren't shy," he struck like a viper. He rolled her beneath him. He pushed her hard into the warm sand, hands pinning her arms and thighs controlling her legs. "If you have the advantage do everything you can to keep it."

 

She wet her lips as she looked up at him. The sand was sharp where it touched her skin but he was warm and solid. He annoyed her so much, but being with him was the only time she felt like she was really on Pal-Mar instead of in some strange dusty purgatory.

 

He held her eyes for a second longer before he moved away from her. She sat up, the orange sand staining her white tank.

 

"Why are you teaching me this now?"

 

"I may not always be here, Vers. You were right. You need to learn to stand on your own two feet." His voice sounded distant as his eyes scanned the ridge above them. The purple and red dawn was beginning to bleed into the blue of morning. She didn't like the way he sounded so certain.

 

"And you are going to teach me that by knocking me down over and over again?" She flicked sand at his lap.

 

"Only because I know you will get back up." He answered, placing his hand on her shoulder. He shoved her backwards as he pushed himself back to his feet.

Chapter Text

The Kree did not signify between men and women when it came to their warrior class. Vers understood it was not necessarily that way beyond the boundaries of Starforce. She had no way of knowing for sure outside of little hints said by Minn-Erva. They were never said to her directly, of course, they were comments made over her head to the others. Vers might as well have been gum on Minn-Erva's shoe. Or a bug bite that just wouldn't heal so every once in a while she would pick at Vers.

 

It was hard not to feel lonely. It was different being friends with women than with men. Or at least Vers thought it must be. Less needed to be explained. There was a short hand, an emotional code that could not quite be replicated. A softness even if the women themselves weren't soft. Vers found she ached for it.

 

She did not go back to her place after her lesson in the dunes. She had clothes in her locker as clean as the ones on her floor. Instead she headed to the precinct showers. They were nicer than the single piece formed stall in her suite. The labyrinth of white tile walls curved off each other in partial barriers. There was technically a barrier between the two sides, but it only came up so high. There was an unspoken rule you didn't get too in each other's space. Bron-Char was permanently banished to the opposite wall because the partition was low enough he could rest his chin on it, if he stood on his tip toes.

 

Vers walked in towel wrapped around her. She picked her spot and threw her towel onto the wall. The water came out cold at first and she jumped a bit. All over her body broke into goose bumps. She tried to breathe through it, force herself to stay under the spray in a bizarre test of fortitude. Just as the water started to heat and the small cuts in her skin being thrown in the sand over and over again started to burn, she heard footsteps.

 

Yon-Rogg paused at the entrance to the shower. He could hear water running. Vers.

 

He briefly considered retreating, but the idea of pulling clean clothes over his sweat covered skin was unappealing. He shook his head, the mere hesitation to share the space with her was a sign of trouble. He needed to get his head on straight and that started by not running away from her.

 

Vers froze as she realized who it must be. She was suddenly very aware of the feeling of water against her skin. She scrunched her eyes closed and shook her head. There was no reason it should be different that her commander was on the other side of the wall. Judging by the sound of the water he had chosen a spot far away from her.

 

They showered in silence, each keenly aware of the falling of water, the sound of it being slicked off skin and the specific padding of barefeet on tile. Vers stood useless under the water feeling too awkward to rub the soap over her body, to feel her own skin. Washing her hair felt equally intimate. So she stood with her hands wrapped around the back of her neck, arms flattening her breasts to her chest trying not to picture who was on the otherside of the wall. She would just wait him out.

 

Yon-Rogg had underestimated the effect being so close to her would have. He faced the wall, back to her side of the room, but he felt her like a tingle along his spine. He kept the water cold telling himself he was working on his perseverance. He just had to wait her out.

 

"So, why were they in a Starforce uniform?" Her voice echoed in the tiled room and Yon-Rogg stiffened. Of course, Vers would use this as an opportunity to push her case.

 

"Now is not the time, Vers." He started to reach for his shaving kit, but his mind was elsewhere. He could hear the water pouring off her body and suddenly shaving didn't seem like a good idea. Or any task that required focus.

 

"Do you have something better to do?" She asked a small thread of challenge in her voice.

 

"I consider showering a sufficient task on its own." He was getting water in his mouth and he hated raising his voice to be heard.

 

"I am getting no where with the jump points," she ignored the finality of his tone. At least talking made her feel less awkward. She began washing the sand out of her hair. She heard Yon-Rogg sigh and turn off the water.

 

The smell of moragu blossoms filled the steamy shower. Normally when he came across it this scent was faded from the day or buried beneath a bar room haze. His stomach tightened as it rose fresh from the other side. She was insistent on talking and he was getting tired of having to strain to hear her through the echo. He turned off his shower and gave in.

 

There was the sound of footsteps and the shower head opposite hers sprung to life. She smiled to herself. Yon-Rogg had obviously given in trying to ignore her postulating. As if punishment for the little spark of victory, shampoo ran into her eyes. She hissed at the sting and reached blindly for her towel.

 

Instead, she grasped a warm, wet hand wrapped around a leather shaving kit. For a second she froze and her stomach dropped.

 

Yon-Rogg had reached to place his kit on the top of the partition wall when Vers' slim hand grasped his. Her skin was wonderfully wet and soft. Her palm was flat against his hand and he felt the up tick of her pulse fluttering against his fingertips. He resisted the urge to release the leather and turn his palm to press against hers.

 

"I still need that hand," Yon-Rogg's voice crept all the way down her spine. Instinctively she tilted her hips against the tingle of excitement she was feeling. The soap still stung but it was a galaxy away from her thoughts at that moment.

 

"Sorry, sorry. I was reaching for my towel. I got soap in my eyes." She thought she might have heard Yon laugh as she released his hand and grabbed her towel. She wiped the water and little bit of suds from the corner of her eye. She turned to face away from him feeling the water from her hair run down her back and over the curve of her before winding down her legs. She had never before been so aware of its movement over her body.

 

"Are you alright?" He asked after a moment of silence.

 

"I think I will survive. When it comes to personal tragedies crashing in a war zone and losing all my memories is first followed by getting soap in my eye."

 

"If we hurry maybe they can save the eye," Yon-Rogg answered his voice full of mock concern. Vers laughed. He smiled and looked down at the tiles. Where the partition was lifted from the floor water and soap from her shower was running towards him mixing with his own.

 

The cold water had numbed his skin, but was ceasing to be effective in cooling other parts of him. He hoped she finished soon he needed space if even the flickering of shadow across the tile was enough raise his desire.

 


 

When Yon-Rogg finally emerged from beneath the frigid spray he was stiff and his skin ached. It was a good reminder, he told himself, penance for dishonourable conduct. He was a Commander first, a warrior second and a man third. If his body insisted on putting those things out of order then his body would be schooled.

 

He walked through the empty precinct and thought it was a good thing the team was due back in a couple cycles. It would be good to have distraction. Vers seemed unaffected by their isolation. He supposed she was used to it.

 

As he walked passed her desk he saw her running through orbit patterns of Pal-Mar, common trade routes overlayed the map and she was running a sequence, lines highlighted and calculatations streaming down one side. When she saw him she smiled wickedly and raised her eyebrows. His face went blank as he considered the possibility she knew why he had emerged so much later than her.

 

"I don't like that look," he said pausing by her desk. He noticed the way her wet hair speckled her shirt, leaving small rings of transparency.

 

"You have company," she answered him, nodding her head to his office.

 

Yon-Rogg looked at the frosted panes of glass that separated his office from the bull pen. There was distorted through the frames the sliding silhouetted of a woman.

 

"I am sure she is here on business," he said firmly before walking with a quick pace to his office.

 

"I didn't know you could wear a dress like that for 'business'," Vers muttered to herself as Yon-Rogg hurried to his office. This was a good thing she scolded the hard pit in her stomach. He deserved happiness. He was beyond her reach anyway. Somehow the thought did nothing to comfort her.

 

Yon-Rogg opened the door to his office and Lai-Rah turned around, a lovely beguiling look in her lavender eyes. A sheath of blush coloured silk wrapped around her thin frame. His office already smelled of citrus oils and airy florals. Nothing had the right to smell so good in the desert heat. It seemed wasteful.

 

Probably not the effect she was going for, he thought ruefully.

 

"I kept you waiting, Lai-Rah. I apologize." He smiled at her and came around his desk. He made a show of shifting datapads, a subtle hint to be quick. He gestured to the seat in front of him.

 

"I came by unannounced, Yon-Rogg. It is me who should apologize." Lai-Rah sat down, she crossed her legs and leaned forward. It was a generous view. Yon-Rogg was out of practice with this way of talking. The words felt like they were catching on his teeth.

 

"Now we have both been suitably contrite, how can I assist you?" He considered sitting down, but thought better of it.

 

"I feel like perhaps we left things on an unfulfilled note last night," she looked at him from beneath her long inky lashes. Yon-Rogg picked up a stylus and rolled it between his fingers.

 

"I don't think that is a conversation for here," he said not quite looking at her.

 

Lai-Rah glanced over her shoulder to the near empty office behind her. Vers was nothing more than an unmoving splotch behind the glass. She raised her eyebrows at him. Yon-Rogg wondered if she noticed they were both fresh from the showers. He tightened his grip on the stylus. He didn't want her to get the wrong idea.

 

"I understand," she smiled at him. "We could discuss the case if you prefer."

 

"Is there more?" He looked at her directly for the first time since they had come across from each other.

 

"Spectral analysis of swabs from the suit came back. Your victim's been on Hala recently,"

 

"Where on Hala?"

 

"It's a whole planet, I couldn't possibly be that specific." Lai-Rah crooked her head at him. Her smile seemed to be trying to will him to ask the right questions.

 

"What makes you think it is Hala?"

 

"No planet's nitrogen content matches another's. Not when you get down to the smallest fractions. I received swabs back matching Hala's nitrogen signature."

 

"Where was the sample collected from?"

 

"Mud in his boot, unlikely to be a false positive from the suit."

 

Yon-Rogg nodded. This changed things.

 

Lai-Rah stood and walked around the desk. Just as she was close enough to brush the collar of his shirt Vers threw open the door. Everyone froze.

 

"Sorry, sorry," Vers let go of the door one hand raised in apology the other covering her eyes. "Commander, the comm has been going off. Minn-Erva is hailing you.

 

"I will leave you, Commander," Lai-Rah purred his rank. It sounded more intimate than when she said his name.

 

Vers stepped aside to let her out, hand still in front of her eyes. As Lai-Rah wafted passed she split her fingers so she could wink at him from behind her hand. Yon-Rogg walked part of the way to the door ostensibly to bid Lai-Rah farewell.

 

"I know what you are doing. Stop it." He said through his teeth, whispering so his voice wouldn't carry.

 

"I don't know what you mean, Commander," Vers whispered back. She dropped her tone to almost the smooth pitch of Lai-Rah's voice. She was laughing at him, but it sent a lick of something dark and forbidden down his body.

 

"I find that hard to believe," he shot back returning to his screen. As Vers said he had a missed hail. The light shifted from green to amber. He punched through.

 

"Commander," Minn-Erva greeted him. She looked relieved. He felt a stab of guilt he had made her wait.

 

"What's your status?" He pulled up their transport logs as he spoke. "Why have you been planetbound for sixteen hours?"

 

"We stopped for fuel. This station planet is showing signs of civil unrest. I authorized an extended stop in order to follow up," she spoke with complete confidence but he knew the look in her eyes well. This was also her apology for disobeying orders.

 

"I understand. Good instinct. The matter here has been downgraded based on further information. Take your time and make daily reports."

 

"Understood," Minn-Erva terminated the link and Yon-Rogg could feel Vers gaze burning a hole in his back.

 

"Yes, Vers?" He didn't turn to look at her.

 

"Why did you lie to them?" She was tense.

 

"I didn't lie. It's the truth. Our department won't be pursuing the matter. There is no reason for them to ignore a more pressing situation."

 

"Yon, one of our own fell from the sky. How can we not pursue it?"

 

"We don't know that," he answered turning the stylus over and over between his fingers.

 

"How can we know when you won't even look at it."

 

"I said you could look into it for five cycles, Vers. You have that time, don't waste it fighting me."

 

"What did your medic say? Does she think you should drop it?"

 

"Don't make this personal." His voice had a warning edge. A dark streak that said "do not cross".

 

"Then stop being a coward," she said swallowing hard against his betrayal of everything he taught her to stand for.

 

He should dress her down. He should show her her place and remind her that his empathy did not give her hold over him. Except it did. And he let her storm from the room, while his eyes were pulled to the datapad that held the damming report.

 

 


 

Vers packed up her work and threw it over her shoulder. She couldn't stay in the same air as Yon.

 

She went to Ish-Al's and threw her things down on the bar.

 

"What will you have?," Ish-Al asked barely glancing at her. Vers swallowed looking at the amber bottles behind him.

 

"Nothing. Just let me sit here," she pushed her credit chip across the bar to him. He glanced down at it and back up at her again.

 

"A word if advice, Miss Starforce," he slid the small silver chip back to her with a single finger. "Never pay for company. Especially not when your heart aches."

 

"My heart doesn't ache," she protested. He gave her a significant look over the stacks of glasses. "It's just I know Yon is letting his judgement be clouded and I'm-"

 

She didn't have the word for what Yon was making her feel. Frustrated. Pathetic. Left behind.

 

"Disappointed?" Ish-Al offered. Vers latched onto the feeling. Yes. That was it.

 

"I just thought he cared."

 

"About you or about the job?"

 

"What's the difference?" She asked slumping against the stool back. Ish-Al looked at her up and down.

 

"Don't let Starforce take away your identity."

 

"I don't know who I am without them. Or with them," Vers trailed off staring at the datapad in front of her. Her fingers traced meaningless circles in the bar top.

 

"For starters, you are flesh and blood. No, amount of training will make that turn to stone," Ish-Al gave her arm an affectionate squeeze and went about his business.

 

Vers looked at the sun through the dirty windows and thought she would rather be stone.

Chapter Text

Yon-Rogg hated coming here. Not just because it was usually loud and dirty. Or because as a high ranking Starforce he drew dirty looks. It was because if he was walking into Ish-Al's it meant he had failed her again. There was a reason his morning run took him past the doors. He could see then if she was stumbling out without sleeping.

 

Tonight he was here because she hadn't returned to the precinct. Nor had she come back to the dormitory. That meant she was probably here. It was a quiet night. Trade on Pal-Mar moved in waves. There were times when the capital city all but dried up. Now was one of those times. A blessing when trying to keep a body falling from the sky under wraps.

 

"I don't think I carry your brand, Commander," the blue-skinned man leaned on the bar when he came close enough to be heard. Yon-Rogg had never had trouble with Ish-Al before. He might not like that he indulged Vers' vice night after night but it was not like anyone on Pal-Mar could turn away a paying customer.

 

"Is she here?" Yon-Rogg asked. The man nodded his head down the bar where Vers was leaned forward head on her arms.

 

Yon-Rogg walked down the bar to her, taking the seat next to her. She really could sleep anywhere but her own bed he thought. He watched her for a moment, her face relaxed and an aura of peace around her in the dingy bar. It was like the carousing of patrons was dimmed when he was near her and the world was warmer and softer. A little ways away a man in a pile of rags was equally slumped over and Yon-Rogg considered him with suspicion. Yon leaned in close so he was hovering just above her. He drew in a breath through his nose trying to detect the sour smell of liquor.

 

"I'm not drunk, just tired," her groggy whisper rose between their two bodies and Yon-Rogg froze. He should move but he gave in to temptation and turned his head so his mouth all but brushed her ear. This felt like their own world, no one who would care could see them.

 

"Most people go to bed when they are tired," he whispered to her. It was so she could hear him, he told himself, over the noise of the other patrons.

 

Vers shifted, she rolled her shoulders so she was turned almost towards him, his lips now over her cheek.

 

"Most people weren't here for so long that by the time they got tired bed seemed too far away." She raised an eyebrow at him and he thought for a moment her eyes dipped to his mouth.

 

He could kiss her. The realization came too fast for him to wrap it as something else. His body arched over her, his back blocking the view of onlookers, he could turn his head and take her warm sleep softened lips. He had to swallow the idea and take a step back.

 

Vers stretched her arms in front of her and arched her back, she hummed as her stiff muscles stretched. She was like a sun-warmed feline. As she sat up rolling her head and her hands gripping and rubbing into sore muscles. Yon-Rogg wondered what sounds he could draw out of her if he pushed the heels of his hands between her shoulder blades or run his thumbs along the tight muscles in her neck. The image rose in his mind of her above him and his hand curled around the curve of her throat. The dark evocative sensation of feeling the thin skin bob as she swallowed against the palm of his hand.

 

He was losing all sense. He had to step away from her. These thoughts did not feel like his own. His eyes scanned the bar. This place was affecting him.

 

"We should leave," he said stepping back. The space was already helping. The driving tightness in his chest already easing.

 

"No one will see you here," Vers assured him. Her eyes following his over the faces in the crowd. "They are mostly new recruits from the transporters guild. They refuel here on the way to Basic."

 

"There is nothing to keep us here. Let's go," he turned to leave and she scoffed.

 

"I came here because I am mad at you. I'm not going to leave just because you said to," she crossed her arms and looked at him over the back of her barstool.

 

"You really want to sleep in a bar?" He asked her. He felt the condescension in his voice. He hated it but he was frustrated by her insistence on clinging to this place. He stepped closer to her again so he could whisper, luckily the madness of a moment ago didn't return. The spell was broken.

 

"Who said I would be sleeping?" She grinned wickedly at him.

 

"I thought we were agreed you would take out your frustration in other ways," he eyed her warily.

 

"We agreed that I would come to you. You are here. Let me take out my frustrations."

 

"How do you plan on doing that?"

 

Vers stood on the rungs of her barstool and reached over the bar. She fished beneath the edge of the counter and produced a small black lacquer box. She also snagged a half-drained bottle of whiskey.

 

"Let me beat you at Scaruband," she wiggled her eyebrows at him as she came back over the bar.

 

"You assume you can beat me?" He asked he knew he was smiling at her. Encouraging her.

 

"I will make you a deal, Hotshot. For every stack won the other person has to answer a question. If you refuse, you drink." She tilted the half-filled bottle to illustrate her point. There was a lot of refusal left in the bottle.

 

"You assume you have any secrets I care to know," Yon-Rogg was sorely tempted by the offer but it was a dangerous game with Vers.

 

"Really, Commander," Vers purred like Lai-Rah again. "Everyone has secrets. Besides you won't be the one asking questions."

 

She knew he couldn't resist a challenge. They were similar in that way. Always pushing.

 

They found a dark corner with a table. Scaruband was a game played with glass tiles spread out in rows. It was ultimately a game of numbers, a shifting board of equations and pattern matching. The tiles, when stacked correctly, would flash green indicating a point won. If it was incorrect they would turn red and the top tile would need to be removed. The players had to be able to think in three dimensions, both directions horizontally across the grid and vertically at the tiles beneath. It was Krylorian Scaruband because these tiles beneath the scuffed and scratched glass had moving erotic pictures. Naked men and women twining around each other. The game Vers was told originated in Krylorian pleasure houses, where the pictures served as both titillation and distraction.

 

She unpacked the box and began laying the tiles out. She snuck a glance at Yon-Rogg, who upon seeing the tiles swept his eyes skyward and let out a small laugh.

 

"You didn't specify it was Krylorian," he said tongue caressing his eye tooth.

 

"What's wrong? Worried you might be distracted?" She teased him as she dealt the tiles remaining in the box between their two hands.

 

For a while, there was only the clink and scuff of tiles being placed. Until Vers played a woman reclining on a pillow the number, in the corner the number twenty-seven glowed. The stack flashed green and went dark, not before the woman came to life for a moment writhing alone in pleasure.

 

"Well played," Yon-Rogg conceded and Vers could barely look at him as she took the stack. Normally, the pictures just amused her. There was something about Yon considering each tile that made a blush want to creep up her neck.

 

"Did you keep the Jaru Root?"

 

"That's what has been plaguing you?" Yon-Rogg raised his eyebrows at her.

 

"I am starting easy on you. And no answering with a question."

 

"Your contraband is in lockup at the precinct." He gave her a significant look. A warning that told her she was not allowed to rescue it from destruction.

 

She nodded, a little disappointed he hadn't kept it. She found the picture of the stoic Commander breathing in the forbidden smoke of the jaru root, feeling its effects, a deeply compelling one.

 

He won the next stack. A woman with her legs crossed behind the head of a crouching figure. The way the woman threw back her head, her mouth a perfect 'o' Vers was glad the tiles made no sound.

 

"What are your nightmares?" Yon-Rogg looked at her with his gold eyes. Eyes that used to frighten her but now that had changed. She swallowed and glanced at the bottle. She couldn't refuse his first question. It would make her look like a coward. She closed her eyes.

 

"They are always the same; smoke and everything hurts. I am covered in blood and there is someone coming towards me," Vers' forehead creased as she tried to explain something that was mostly sensation. "I know there is someone I need to help but I don't know who or where. I think it's something to do with my past."

 

Yon-Rogg considered her answer. When she opened her eyes again she didn't want to look at him.

 

"Doubt," Yon-Rogg answered, at last, his voice low and intimate. She could feel it winding around her heart. "Is an incredibly powerful and insidious thing. It will haunt you and hold you back. I don't think these dreams are your fears or your past. I think it is you doubting your ability to face the present."

 

Vers bit her lip and nodded. He knew she heard his words but he wondered if she was ready to give herself fully to Starforce. If perhaps her past was another mystery she didn't know how to let go of.

 

Their game continued. It had been years since he played Scaruband. It was popular at the academy and in barracks for obvious reasons. It encouraged logical, quick thinking. It forced you to stay one step ahead of your opponent. To constantly be reading their looks and their behaviour. It was an excellent tool for sharpening skills. And if someone had a Krylorian set then it was extra thrilling. He could read Vers, he could tell when her odds were good or bad. The idea though of her carefully considering the tiles, deciding between different bodies extracting pleasure from each other, it was a challenge for him to stay focused.

 

Their questions had been edging between the personal and the impersonal.

 

'How did you know you wanted to join Starforce?', his father was in Starforce.

 

'Have you ever cheated at cards?', shortcuts to winning aren't cheating.

 

'Where did you lose your virginity?', he drank instead.

 

'Do you know what really happened to Bron-Char's Xandarian Melodica?', she drank.

 

She played two women, their lower halves knotted together but their torsos twisted away from each other. She looked at their identical faces turned away from each other, it reminded her of someone. The stack flashed green and the women bobbed lusciously back and forth.

 

"Are you going to marry Lai-Rah?" The question came out before she could think better of it. Yon-Rogg made a choking sound. She tried to laugh and smile as if the answer didn't mean anything.

 

"I barely know her," he answered.

 

"That barely counts as an answer," she said.

 

"I admit, marriage in our caste is different than it is in other places. Places like here. The respect I have for her professional abilities and our similar family backgrounds would be enough on Hala."

 

"I feel like there is a 'but'," Vers said her eyebrows arching.

 

"But it's not enough for me. Not anymore," he reached for the bottle putting it to his lips and drinking a healthy shot of burning liquor. It wasn't a no and it wasn't a yes because he did not yet know what it was Lai-Rah wanted. What her silence and his ability to stay on Pal-Mar would cost.

 

The burn of the whiskey was reminding him how long it had been since he had drunk alcohol. He looked at Vers through a softer focus. Her hand would reach up from time to time and move over the inhibitor in her neck. This life must be overwhelmingly strange for her.

 

The next stack was his to take. A man lying atop a woman, her legs wrapped around his waist. It was, compared to the others, absurdly domestic.

 

"Are you jealous of Lai-Rah?" He asked. It seemed fitting revenge for her last question. Vers laughed.

 

"That would be like a fish being jealous of a bird. We aren't the same species." She hid behind a smile her eyes on her tiles. There was sadness though behind that smile. He cursed his question, it never occurred to him she wouldn't find herself attractive.

 

"Which are you? The bird or the fish?" He took a drink from the dwindling bottle.

 

"Have you ever seen me fly, Commander?" She asked stealing the bottle from him.

 

Her tongue darted out and touched the rim of the bottle before she put it to her lips. It had been instinctive, an unintentional habit, but Yon-Rogg's throat constricted and his tongue pressed into the roof of his mouth. It made the sharing of the bottle infinitely more intimate. Her question doused the heat in him. He had always known more than she thought.

 

She won the next stack. The tiles were beginning to dwindle in front of them. Her winning tile was one of the most provocative in the game. A woman kneeling behind a man. As it flashed green she bucked her hips and he bared his teeth.

 

"Tell me the real reason you won't let me pursue this case," Vers looked him dead in the eye, like a snake she struck grabbing the bottle from the table so he couldn't avoid the question. Yon-Rogg ran a hand over his jaw. Stubble gritted into his skin. It was getting late and the patrons of the bar had all quieted down or left.

 

"There is so much to explain. History you have lost."

 

"Try."

 

"There was a time known as the Subjugation. When the Skrulls ruled over the Kree. We were slaves to them, chattel. They mixed freely with us through their face changing. They mixed their bloodlines with ours in an attempt to overwhelm us at our most genetic level. When we rose up, broke our chains, the Separation began. This was many generations ago, but those of mixed bloodlines were stomped out. Intermarriage became an act of treason against the state. It was an incredibly violent time." Yon-Rogg paused as he saw Vers blanche. It was not easy to recount the deaths of Kree families at the hands of other Krees.

 

"But the Supremor-"

 

"Did not yet exist. We came under the influence and protection of the Supremor in the turmoil that followed. It freed of us of our chaos and our grief. It rebuilt us."

 

"The body that fell from the sky. They were a Kree-Skull hybrid."

 

"Yes," now was the time to admit his secret. Even with the heat of the whisky in his blood his tongue rebelled. "And there was DNA."

 

"Whose?"

 

"Someone on our team," Yon-Rogg licked his lips.

 

"Do you think one of the mixed bloodlines survived?" Vers mind was racing. All their team was accounted for so they could not be the soldier in the sand.

 

"Possibly. Which could make life very difficult for them and dangerous, if the Accusers were to learn of it. The other option is that our Empire created the hybrid and they were destroyed. Either by intention or by accident."

 

"So you are trying to protect us?" Vers felt like she was shaking but her hands were surprisingly steady as she straightened her stacks.

 

"I am always trying to protect you." He played his next tile. There was only one row left.

 

Vers nodded, the fear took root in her heart that it was her DNA. She had been found in Skrull territory after all. What if this Starforce member had been her sibling? She could be closer to discovering her past.

 

"Then we need to find out why they came to Pal-Mar," Vers played one last tile and the entire row flashed green, clearing the board. It was a man and a woman lying head to toe their lips pressing against the flesh of the other.

Chapter Text

Pal-Mar's capital was called Semit, it was the unassuming collection of streets that Vers had called home for the last year. By now she could walk back to the dormitories with her eyes closed. Usually, though she walked with her head craned back looking at the stars.

 

When their game had finished Yon had insisted they leave. Vers' head was spinning with what he had told her she barely resisted as he packed away the tiles. She had carried the box and the bottle curled tight to her chest as she walked back to the bar. She felt like she was lost in a fog of possibilities.

 

She caught Ish-Al's eye as she placed first the tiles and then the bottle on the bar top. She reached in her pocket for her chip, but she felt a hand trap her arm to her side. Yon-Rogg had caught up with her and she could feel him just behind her. He reached over the bar passing his chip to Ish-Al's waiting hands. For a brief moment, his hand trapping her hand and his other arm stretched outwards she was encircled in his arms. She froze and wondered if he even noticed how close they were.

 

Ish-Al gave her a significant look and she blushed as the topic of her sulking came back full force. She wondered how it must look to Ish-Al, one minute she was bemoaning her Commander's lack of faith in her and next he had his hand wrapped around her wrist and was paying for their drinks.

 

She had asked Ish-Al that afternoon, as she tried to muddle through her small collection of notes if he had ever done something entirely against his character because a woman asked him to. He had looked at her with raised eyebrows and said he thought it would depend on the woman. Most women, he said, were as alike to one another as a bird and a fish.

 

Vers had thought of Lai-Rah. She could not ignore that Yon's thoughts and actions had changed after her involvement in the case started. Before that, he had pushed with Vers. Now if felt they were pushing against each other.

 

"Why? Does your commander have a woman?" Ish-Al had asked in his gruff straight forward way. Vers shrugged.

 

"I don't know. One of the medics has been around a lot. Lai-Rah. I am sure she has never come here," she grinned at him. Ish-Al had grunted and went about his chores.

 

"Sensible women rarely do."

 

"Hey, I take that personally," she had laughed. The way she felt now was anything but sensible. She felt like she was on the edge of changing her life and cracking something important.

 

She felt even more certain after what Yon-Rogg had told her.

 

He stepped away from her once Ish-Al handed back his chip. Where he had been pressed against her felt cold. She followed him out into the night.

 

Semit was different during the day than it was at night. The blistering heat was replaced with a bone-shaking cold and the sky that was flat and blue during the day became deep and black with thick swirls of pinprick stars. The only place to find warmth was buried deep in the sand. As was her habit Vers turned her eyes skyward as she walked. She knew the route as well by the rooves of buildings and smattering of streetlights as she did with her eyes towards the horizon. She wrapped her arms around herself, palms trying to rub heat into her goosebump-covered arms.

 

"Cold?" Yon-Rogg's voice drifted from somewhere behind her. Vers jumped. She had made this journey alone so many times she almost forgot he was there.

 

"No," she responded through clenched teeth. It was her own fault she had forgotten a jacket and the walk back to the dormitories was short. Cold was a state of being that didn't apply, she refused to admit it.

 

"Lies are more effective when they can be heard over your teeth chattering," he was staying an easy six paces behind her so she couldn't shove him.

 

Instead, she let her annoyance and rage filter through her, she felt her hands begin to glow. It already felt better. This time when she moved them over her skin it burnt like heaven. When her hands shifted to other places wherever they left felt one thousand times more bereft.

 

"Vers, stop that," Yon-Rogg jogged the few and caught her shoulders. She stopped and let him throw his jacket around her shoulders. The warmth seeped into all the places the heat of her hands had abandoned.

 

"I was taking care of it," she insisted.

 

"Surviving the desert is about moderation and control." Yon-Rogg fell into pace beside her. Vers laughed.

 

"It's only two blocks to the dorms." When Yon-Rogg wasn't looking she scanned him with her eyes taking in the signs he was cold.

 

"And somehow in that time, you managed to expose your powers and drop your body temperature."

 

"Are my powers a secret?" She raised her eyebrows.

 

"We could all benefit from exercising caution," he said diplomatically.

 

"That's because something is going on and you won't look into it."

 

"I told you Vers, it could damage the team."

 

"What's the point of the team if we serve ourselves before we serve justice?"

 

He had no answer for her. He was betraying his own principles by being selfish. She was right to call him a coward. He had found many fears in the last four cycles. Things he would have denied frightening him before; losing his position as commander, leaving Pal-Mar, never seeing Vers again.

 

In the dark cold night when they were the only two under the glow of the streetlights, he didn't want to deny his feelings for her. Not to himself, not when the gap between them would soon widen beyond his control because he could no longer deny that she was right. The body in the sand was one of their own and they hadn't even found his name.

 

Their silence continued as the dormitory loomed closer. The night had an air of raw finality. As if the shifting of the wind would uncover something new and impossible in the sand.

 

Yon-Rogg stuck by her side when they entered the lobby when they should have parted he followed her like a shadow. She didn't glance back at him, as if doing so would cause him to flicker and vanish.

 

She stopped at her door and turned to him. He was very close and she was suddenly aware of the difference in their height. Everything about Yon-Rogg was slightly larger than her.

 

"Your jacket," Vers began to shrug it off her shoulders, feeling the spell of protection begin to evaporate. His hands caught the lapels pulling it back around her, her hands trapped close to her chest beneath the soft leather.

 

"You have one question left," he murmured to her and her mind went blank for a second. She had never asked her winning question. Her mind too consumed by what he had revealed to her. A question that was worth an entire row of tiles. She felt her back hit the door with a soft thump. She had not even realized she had been letting herself drift backward.

 

"Do you want to come in?" She closed her eyes as she said it. She didn't know what she was inviting him in for, but it was the first question that leaped to mind. He froze and she squeezed her eyes tighter. If he let go of the jacket her hands could reach for the lock and she could escape into her shame.

 

When his hands did release her it was not with the sting of disgust she had expected. His fingertips pressed into her sternum traveling up the hard valley of bone between her breasts to the soft flesh above. Vers kept her eyes closed scared to even breathe into the sensation. The small step he took closer to her robbed her of even more air. His hands spread over her neck for a moment, pausing over the thundering of her heart. Then he was cupping her face. She could feel every small breath he took, the hesitation in his fingers. His one hand dropped to her shoulder, a heavy weight pushing her into the door. His other thumb stretched to trace her lips over and over again. Vers was only capable of small pants of air. When her lips parted slightly his thumb followed to trace the small dampness of her inner lip. Her hands reached for him knotting into his shirt below his ribs. He was so solid, a warm anchor against the madness that had taken hold of her when she invited him in.

 

"I didn't mean to- if you don't want-" Vers could barely make sense of what her mind was telling her.

 

"Open the door, Vers" his voice was barely more than a growl, his head ducked close to hers she could practically feel the movement of his lips against hers. She unclenched a hand and reached blindly for the scanner.

 

When the door wooshed open Yon-Rogg's hands catching her was the only thing stopping her from falling backward into the suite.

 

He stepped with her into the apartment his lips finding her temple, the soft spot at her ear, then her jaw. He caught the tip of her nose and her other cheek. Small reverent kisses that burned with the promise of so much more to come.

 

"Oh dear, it seems my timing was poor," a smooth cultured accent broke through the haze of desire that enveloped them.

 

Yon-Rogg reacted immediately, he turned them so Vers was behind him, his one arm wrapped around her so she was pressed against his back.

 

"Who are you?" He growled. A tall man stood silhouetted in the half-light. Vers tried to get a good look at him over Yon's shoulder.

 

"Please don't let me stop you," he pressed a humble hand to his chest. "I have been quite enjoying this dynamic. I am fine to wait if you'd like to finish."

 

Vers felt Yon-Rogg tense, she managed to break his grip and step out from behind him.

 

She recognized the voice, but the man in front of her was so changed she could barely believe it.

Chapter Text

The man had an impossibly charming smile. It was entirely disarming to look directly at him. Vers wondered if that was why he had been hiding beneath the rags at Ish-Al's bar, barely speaking beyond a few rounded syllables.

 

"Vers," Yon-Rogg reached for her elbow to pull her back behind him. She dodged him giving him a significant look over her shoulder.

 

"Don't worry yourself. I am not here to hurt the lady. I have grown quite attached to her over the last few days. Although I didn't expect to find her attached to you tonight." The man smiled again and wiggled his eyebrows. If possible, Yon-Rogg grew tenser.

 

"Do you know him?" He asked her. He refused to even look directly at the invader in case he found himself pulled under the same spell as Vers.

 

"He has been hanging around Ish-Al's," Vers looked at the stranger up and down appreciatively. "He doesn't normally look like this."

 

"I admit I have a bit of a flair for the dramatic. Staves off the boredom, you see. Drama and getting too involved in the problems of others, it's what I live for."

 

"Why are you here?" Yon-Rogg wanted to lock Vers in her room so she would stop looking at the man with such abject fascination. She seemed to be drifting closer to him and short of throwing her over his shoulder Yon-Rogg had no way of stopping her.

 

"A little bit of the first, a lot of the second." The man sauntered towards Vers and scooped up her hand. To Yon-Rogg's continued annoyance she let him. "I thought I might find you amenable."

 

He gave a small wink and kissed the back of her hand. There was a hum and Vers felt her stomach drop away as she was lifted off the ground. Turning in the gravity field was impossible. Talking was equally difficult. The stranger's blue eyes widened and followed her path upward.

 

Yon-Rogg was already stalking towards them the slim gauntlet glowing green against his wrist. As he drew closer he reached for Vers' ankle so he could pull her back. As his hand closed around her, her other leg fought against the field and kicked slowly toward him. He dodged her and swung her back. He released the field and she fell to the ground with a thump. The stranger looked amused.

 

"Jealousy is a poor look on you, Commander" he had a smile like a fox. "Not to mention it ruins the mood."

 

"You are trespassing on Starforce property. I suggest you be a bit more forthcoming about your reasons."

 

"You see, I had not counted on you being here, Commander. Although I admit it may be the slightest bit my fault. As I watched you come up the street I was struck by what a lovely couple you made. And fate. Well, fate has a hard time denying me." He smiled his charming smile again. Even as the rage built in Yon-Rogg it seemed to ebb away. There was something subtly dangerous about the intruder, some forces that moved around him that were beyond easy explanation.

 

"I am done with this," Vers had stood up from the tangle of limbs on the floor. She shook out her shoulders from Yon's jacket letting it fall to the ground. She walked between the two men, fists ignited. She held one bent at the elbow warning Yon to stay back, the other she held beneath the nose of the stranger. "You said you were looking for me, so talk."

 

"I see why you like her, she is even more vital than I realized." The man's voice was full of excitement. As if he enjoyed courting the danger posed by the two surprised Starforce members. "The problem is, my lovely bundle of Starfire, while I have decided to trust you, I have not decided to trust him. So you see I may have ruined your evening for nothing. My apologies."

 

He made to step away from her, but Vers closed her fist around the lapel of his coat. The smell of burning cloth rose up from where her hand clenched the fabric.

 

"I wish you wouldn't. I am very fond of this coat." He wrapped his hand around her fist. Vers' eyes went wide as he did not flinch at the heat of her grip. The energy dimmed from his hand passing between their skin.

 

"What are you?" She asked full of wonder.

 

"I love it when women sound impressed, don't you Commander?" Yon-Rogg bared his teeth at the intruder who had his hand wrapped around Vers'.

 

"Vers, let him go. He is just a trouble maker." Yon-Rogg grit out. Vers pulled her hand from the strangers and she stepped back.

 

"Why would you trust me and not Yon?" Vers kept her eyes locked on his blue ones.

 

"Because my dear my mission here could be said to be at odds with the Commander's recent actions."

 

Vers looked back at Yon-Rogg. She wished he would relax. They would get nowhere if he continued to be on the defensive.

 

"You were here before the body fell. Are you why he was flying to Pal-Mar? Did you agree to meet in Semit?"

 

"Spoilers," the man shrugged. "It's no fun if I just hand you everything."

 

"Then why did you come here?"She asked, putting her hand up in time to catch Yon-Rogg before he stepped forward. She gave him a significant look, her palm pressing to his chest as his heart thudded in time with her own.

 

"Fine, you win. I have grown tired of this planet. My plan was to pass my mission onto you. I am fickle as well as dramatic. It's why you shouldn't trust me. Not in the long term at least." The man produced from his pocket a slim black stick.

 

He walked towards Vers and she stretched her hand out to take it. The man stopped in front of her his eyes taking her in from top to bottom.

 

"In a way, it is a shame you had company. I had planned to bring you to my side through a more thorough appreciation of your abilities." He took her hand in his again turning it so he could press the device into her palm as he brought her hand to his mouth. This time he did not just kiss it, but let his teeth gently catch the thin skin of her knuckle, his blue eyes not leaving hers. Vers felt Yon-Rogg press harder into her palm as she held him back.

 

They stayed that way as the stranger sauntered from the apartment. Only once the door closed behind him did Vers turn her hand over to look at what he had handed her. It was a black crystal. She held it to the light and could see within it the web of its structure. Black and smoky she had never seen anything like it.

 

"Vers, give it to me." Yon-Rogg's voice was hard. his hand came up to cover her own.

 

"I think you should leave, Yon," Vers answered her hand curling around the crystal. It was cool in her palm.

 

"We should talk." His grip on her tightened. Vers bit her lip and she looked at him.

 

"We had a lot to drink. We got distracted. Nothing happened that we can't ignore." Her eyes pleaded with him to let it go. To accept this version where the earth hadn't shifted beneath their feet.

 

He stepped away from her, a mask slipping over his features. She wondered if he could see the way her heart was pounding. If he knew she wanted him to stay more than she wanted anything, except giving up what had just been handed to her. 

 

"As you wish," he nodded and turned to follow the path the stranger had taken. Leaving Vers standing in the centre of her small living space, the sharp edges of the crystal pressing into her hand.

 

"I have one more day," she called to Yon. She felt him pause a the door. "I have one more day to show you this case is worth solving."

 

He didn't answer her and the woosh of the door made her shiver in her warm apartment.


 

It was late as Ish-Al closed up the bar. It had been emptying slowly over the course of the last couple hours. Usually, only Vers stayed passed close. He let her because he sensed in her someone who was searching for something. She was not like the other members of Starforce.

 

Once he locked the door he walked behind the bar and pulled the satchel from the dark corner he had hidden it. He had spirited it away as she slept. He had intended to return it to her once he had time to copy the information, but the Kree bastard had come looking for her and he had lost time.

 

Now he could peruse the datapad in peace. It was fingerprint locked, but that proved no impediment. He knew her so well he could conjure her form from memory, the skin of Ish-Al shrinking and paling until his hands were her hands.

 

The datapad beeped as the lock opened. He scrolled through the report, heart in his throat over what he might find. When the object had fallen through the sky and hit the ground everything in Ish-Al's bar had shaken and fallen. Glasses shattered and whiskey slopped on the floor. Starforce and the med center had descended too quickly for him to reach the crash site unobserved, but he knew it must have been a body.

 

As he scanned the report, chains of DNA swirling around each other, everything broken down to its base components. Stripped of flesh, of belief, of personality he saw only the merest building blocks of what had made his son. His secret burden laid out in cold numbers. No mention of his bravery, his kindness, and his bottomless empathy. Tears stung wrinkled eyes, the four endless cycles he had waited for his son's arrival in hope that he would still appear from the sky now seemed like a foolish waste of time. There would be vengeance. There would be retribution.

 

Zai-Al would not fade quietly into the abyss that swallowed every unnamed casualty of war. His name would be scorched into the sand of Pal-Mar if it took to the last beat of Ish-Al's heart.

Chapter Text

Vers slept on her couch. She hadn't meant to sleep.

 

She had lain on her back holding the crystal up to the light. Turning it slightly to watch the innards fade in and out of focus. The man with the fox smile had said he was passing on his mission. All he had given her was this sliver of crystal. And two kisses. Vers brought her hand to her chest and tried to conjure the feel of them again. Except all she could think of was the feeling of Yon pressing small and fevered kisses across her face. As if a dam had broken and he had wash over all the places he had seen and wanted to conquer. She had felt euphoric, desired, powerful. All the emotions she couldn't even glance at in the year since she woke up. To think the man she had feared from her hospital bed, who had perched over her like death or sleep on her chest would be the one to awaken life in her again. It was a painful irony. One she would reject if she could.

 

She had rejected him. Provided him with an easy excuse to leave her. He had fought her because that was what they did. When she had asked if he was going to marry Lai-Rah he had said the old ways were no longer enough for him. The problem was the old ways were no longer enough for Vers. Chasing oblivion, finding it even beneath Yon's capable body was no longer enough for her. Plunging into it was not deep enough. What she craved now was purpose. Purpose that towered upwards, a moutain that grew taller the higher she climbed.

 

She fell asleep and for a moment she dreamed of kisses and touches. The feeling of melting into one another. Warmth that became southward sensation until her mind nearly woke her with the desire for something firmer. She came to for a moment with rolling eyes and sweat soaked skin and dreamt again that death was crouching on her chest. Then the fire came and the smoke and the blood. The searching for someone she could not help, because she did not know how to move through this plane of ash and flame.

 

When she woke up again the crystal was hot in her hand, she had held it so tightly. There was only the promise of dawn on the horizon when she knocked on Yon-Rogg door.

 

He barely looked at her. He walked from the door leaving it open for her. She walked into his apartment on tenterhooks. Seeing him rumpled from sleep was an aching reminder they almost spent last night together. He walked to fridge unit, as before he broke a caf tab into the water. He shook it and she watched him even more entranced by muscles she knew the weight of moving with the motion of his arm. He cracked the mouth of the bottle open and drank in healthy swallows. He handed the bottle to her, wiping his mouth on the shirt slung over his shoulder. She finished it with less vigor. She wanted to be awake and free from the fog that clouded her, but she still hated the taste.

 

This time when he shaved he closed the door. In a way it was a relief. She drifted around the suite, catching a glimpse of his bed. It was smooth as a stone slab. She wondered if his morning routine was so meticulous nothing was ever out of place or if he had barely slept himself.

 

They ran to the quarry. They ran in sync with each other, their destination unspoken between them but their bodies turned in unison towards the sheltered place.

 

The sand shifted beneath their feet, the surface cold, but the deeper they churned the warmer it grew against their bare soles. Vers watched Yon-Rogg as he fell into stance, she mirrored him but she could see in his eyes that there would be no stopping, no adjusting, no resetting.

 

He had asked her last night to talk. She had denied him yet sought him out again hours later. This would be a contest of wills, a conversation of bodies. He had offered himself first as her mentor, she had asked him in one moment of wild abandon to be her lover. It was a complicated mess of emotions. Feelings that did not serve their survival in the desert; there was no moderation or control in giving in. Except that they had been slipping for so long, this was not the beginning of chaos but the end of an illusion.

 

They held each other's eyes for a long moment. Where it was hard for them to look before this hidden bowl of sand was another world where she could hold his eyes.

 

He had been angry last night. The fear, the frustration, the desire all building to a head only to crumble to nothing. The intruder in her space had shown him a side of himself he had no respect for. A defensive, impulsive, possessive animal. Everything the Kree had bred out of themselves, everything they laboured so hard to free other worlds from, had reared from inside him like a leviathan.

 

He struck at her first, she managed to block and side step many of the blows. He was driving her back towards the smooth wall of the quarry. She landed a few hits of her own, but she let through one strong strike to her sternum. The punch knocked her against the wall and his hand went for her throat. He pinned her to the wall with one hand, her hands crawling against his strong fingers. His arm was straight and tense like an archer.

 

"That isn't how you break this hold, Vers. Stop wasting your energy," he commanded her.

His fingers reflexively tightened around the lush beating of her heart. He stepped closer to her. A mistake. He would forget sometimes how wild she was. She locked her hands around his unbreakable grip and pulled her body up, her feet climbing his body is swinging steps. Her heel found the nerve at base of his hip and dug in until he fell to his knees, one arm still bracing her against the wall while her thighs found purchase on his shoulders. He felt her ankles cross together and her heels dig into the sensitive flesh of his spine. His other hand came up to grip into the thick flesh pushing into him. They managed to hold themselves for only a moment before they toppled.

 

As they landed on their sides Yon-Rogg broke her grip and made to roll her beneath him. She caught his leg between her own and for a moment they twisted away from each other. The apex of her thighs rubbing firm against him. He could not shut out the desire he felt knowing if he were to hold her and rock her against him he could conquer her a different way. She took advantage of his distraction to curl her body up and land three solid punches to his head and neck. Breaking his revery he grabbed her fists and tilted them forward. Her legs came about his waist. Her back hit the sand hard enough it flung up and over her. She tightened, her hips a bridge between them as she closed her eyes against the grit the writhing of her body kicked up. Out of instinct Yon released her wrists and with surprising care given their battle brushed the sand from her eyes before sinking both hands into her hair.

 

He couldn't help himself, the unusual gold colour always called to him. Even as she lay in med centre. He always fought the urge to brush it away from her face. Now his hips were grinding into hers and he held it in fistfuls. Her head tilted back to relieve the pressure, the cry she made as she breathed against the sharp tug of pain and the weight of his body was the closest he came to breaking. The sounds her throat could make were heaven.

 

She managed to break his grip with the twisting of her torso. He fell forward in the sand and she slid herself behind him. She wrapped her arm around his neck. She squeezed and pulled him up against her as her fist landed blows into his vulnerable side. Yon-Rogg grunted against the pain and threw his body forward so she flipped over his shoulder as she tried to adjust her grip.

 

She landed hard on her back, her head between his splayed knees. She bent a leg to get up again, but he struck fast covering her body with his own. They ended up locked head to toe, rolling as they each tried to break the grip.

 

Vers couldn't say who gave first. Only that one moment their bodies were struggling against each other and the next they were each on their backs, panting and staring up into the purple dawn streaked with cloud. Her fingers reached for his in the warm sand they had turned up. When she found his fingers also reaching for her they grabbed hands and pulled each other up right so they sat looking in each other's eyes.

 

He broke first, he smiled and shook his head. He brushed the sand from his hair before standing and stretching.

 

The sand poured off her in slithering rivlets as she stood. She laughed as she shook it from her clothes.

 

"I'll race you back to the precinct," she said eyes scanning the sand for her discarded shoes. He watched her as she picked them up.

 

"Shake them first. You never know where there may be snakes."

 


 

The water echoed against the tiles. It had run orange at first as the grit was carried from where it clung to her sweat. The water was relief even as it burned the raw places she had worn in the sand. She stayed there longer than she needed to. She walked her hands up along the tile, elongating and stretching her body beneath the spray. Her fingers curled over the edge of the wall.

 

She heard footsteps. Her heart dropped below her stomach and her hands gripped white knuckled into the tile. They didn't hesitate like last time. The head on the opposite side of her own came to life and soon orange swirls of sand were washing under the walls to eddie around her feet. She watched them as her head hung between her out stretched arms.

 

She could see in the water a shadow moving. She breathed as her heart tapped a beat against her ribs that was both too fast and too slow. She bit her lip as she felt fingertips line up with her own. The firm curves moving against each other. The smallest sliver of skin that could touch but it ran like fire down her veins and collected between her thighs. As soon as she was aware of the touch it was gone and she felt the loss of it.

 

Until she felt a single finger trace from her knuckle between the seam of her fingers. She drew breath so hard her mouth opened and the tapping of her heart rounded out to hard deep beats. She relaxed her grip and his fingers wove between hers. She couldn't see him, she could only feel the phantom grasp of one hand. She pushed her forehead against the cool tile as her knees instinctively clenched together. As she felt his thumb trace hers she pulled away. She shut the tap off and retreated to safety.

 


 

Yon-Rogg sat on his desk, Minn-Erva hovered spectral in front of him.

 

"Any clues as to what caused the issue?" He asked her, his mind was other places his thumb caressing the space between his two fingers. If Minn-Erva noticed she didn't say.

 

"Seems to be a power vacuum. No evidence of outside influence, but anyone we have taken in has been firmly against the Empire. Seems like someone showed up, caused some trouble and then got himself killed. No direction and a riled up public. Civil unrest was the logical outcome."

 

"What do you think happened to the propagandist?" Yon-Rogg asked his eyes scanning her report in case he had missed it.

 

"This place is a shithole. He probably took a wrong step out in the jungle and ended up in the bottom of a slick."

 

"Is that what the populace thinks happened?"

 

"The most common answer I received was "he became one"," Minn-Erva shrugged. She looked unbothered and bored.

 

"How would you describe the situation?"

 

"Neutralized."

 

"Then come home," Yon-Rogg ended the call. He felt like he could breath for the first time in hours. Things would return to normal soon.

 

Another hail came through. It was blue. From the Empire then. He felt his chest tighten all over. He opened the message. It was a photo, a rank and an identification serial number. It contained only the words "MIA - Return to Service Mandatory"

 

Yon-Rogg reached for Lai-Rah's report just as his door burst open.

 

"The Empire-" she began a little breathless.

 

"I saw," he cut her off. He knew she would only be this excited if the serial number of their body's suit matched.

 

"This my case." She pointed directly at him and walked slowly backward from the room. Her smile was wicked and full of life. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from returning it.

 

If the Empire was involved there would be no protecting her from what was to come.

Chapter Text

Vers had returned to her desk ready to throw herself into the case. The Empire was looking for their victim. That meant Yon-Rogg had been wrong. Things weren't what they seemed. She searched the chaos that had grown on her empty desk over the last four cycles.

 

Then she remembered storming out yesterday. How could it have been only yesterday? Her heart went cold as she realized she had left the bar without her things. She had fallen asleep surrounded by them and woken up with only Yon there. She pressed a fist into her stomach just below the ribs. Ish-Al wouldn't have let anyone steal from her. Or get that close.

 

Her eyes darted to Yon's office. Although he got that close. She shook her head. She could trust her Commander. He had promised to help her. He didn't take that lightly. She nervously ran her thumb between her fingers remembering the momentary touch of his hand. Nothing would change his promise to her.

 

She just had to go back to Ish-Al's.

 

The interior was dark when she arrived. The sand scratched windows allowed only the vaguest view of the inside. She could see no movement in the dark. The cladding on the building was equally abused by the grit. She tried the door. It was unlocked. Not surprising. There was no one to break-in in such a small town. Just a handful of traders and Starforce.

 

No one who would break in. Except for right now, when she was technically breaking in.

 

Ish-Al was in his darkened back room. It was sparse and intentionally under furnished. He wasn't here to get comfortable. His low cot was the only thing of weight in the whole room. He had a small encrypted communicator. He had wired its pulses through a silver backed mirror he had leaned against the wall. It was rare that images came through the link, but when they did it meant he didn't have to squint.

 

"If your suspicions are right, Pal-Mar has been compromised. You need to leave, General," the voice that vibrated through the mirror was calm and collected. It was easy for them. They would be holed up with an elder council, hidden away on Xandar.

 

"There is still value here," he tried to keep his voice even as he kneeled on the floor in front of the mirror.

 

"One contact is dead, the other is missing. The situation isn't stable." Small rivulets of light shuddered across the silvered surface as the voice spoke.

 

"He could come back. The bastard is sneaky like that."

 

"He has proved unreliable before, your identity being uncovered could compromise our position on every other Starforce outpost."

 

"Zai-Al said -"

 

"Zai-Al is dead." The voice cut him off. Ish-Al clenched his fists until they ached. "You have been given orders, General, you have two cycles to obey and retreat."

 

"He was close to finding out what happened on Earth. There is a chance-"

 

"The Council mourns the loss of a gifted officer and ally, but anything beyond that is personal. Do not let it blind you."

 

"Understood," Ish-Al muttered before the connection cut out. His guts were twisted with rage.

 

Damn that smooth talking son of a bitch. He had made Ish-Al promises. He had filled him with hope.

 

Ish-Al reached into his shirt and withdrew the shattered end of a crystal looped on a string. It was all he had found after hours search the crash site in the dark. He had sifted through the sand until his hands were raw. He had been grateful the Starforce girl had stayed home that night. He had been able to close early.

 

Zai-Al would have had more on him. Ish-Al prayed the charming faithless bastard was right when he said only his people could decode the information contained on the crystals. If Zai-Al had been successful then there was a chance Ish-Al could find the rest of their family. He refused to believe the Kree had been successful on Earth. Just because they had intercepted a signal claiming a successful mission did not mean all had been lost.

 

Zai-Al had told him all was not as it seemed. That was why Ish-Al had petitioned to be posted at Pal-Mar. He was close here to the son of a bitch he had heard through the unencrypted channel when the Council had played back the recordings.

 

It had been torture everyday to resist the urge to capture him and extract Ish-Al's family's fate through the blue blooded bastard's teeth. Harder still to realize that Ish-Al liked the girl. She was Kree, but in her shattered way she was more empathetic. As lost and broken as any child of Skrullos.

 

Ish-Al froze as he heard a shuffling beyond his door.

 

Vers was going to call out once she was inside, but she paused when she thought she heard a woman's voice. Did Ish-Al have company?

 

She walked further into the bar ears pricked up for any sound. Maybe she was losing her mind.

 

"Ish-Al are you here?"

 

There was the sound of movement from the back rooms of the bar before a man emerged from the shadows.

 

"Little Miss Starforce, to what do I owe the pleasure?" Ish-Al was on edge, he gripped a pistol just out of sight in the shadows. If she had heard anything. If he saw any indication she knew who he was, he would have to kill her. She looked relieved to see him.

 

"Tell me I left my satchel here and you still have it," she smiled at him. He relaxed.

 

"Yes I do believe in your hurry to leave last night you left something." He smiled at her in the dark.

 

"It's not what you think," Vers tried to laugh but there was a gnawing in the pit of her stomach.

 

"I may be old and alone, but," Ish-Al made a show of searching beneath the bar. "I know the look in a man's eye when he wants to throw a woman over his shoulder."

 

He was rewarded with a terrified burst of laughter. He smiled to himself as he crouched behind the bar. He shifted the bag and stashed the pistol he had been hiding against his body. He hated the Son of a Bitch. He shouldn't be helping him find happiness. Except that he wanted Rogg to have something to lose. Something he could rip away from him with the same coldness they took his family from him. And maybe, just maybe he wanted a reason to hate the girl. It would make everything easier.

 

"He is my Commander," she said as Ish-Al stood with the satchel. Her hands grabbed for it eagerly, checking the contents.

 

"Your head knows that, what about the rest of you?" He gave her a significant look.

 

"The rest of me is not in charge," she blushed a little. Emotions were easy to pluck at when your Empire demanded you ignore them. It only left you desperate for anything that made you feel.

 

"Just remember, Miss Starforce. Surviving in the desert means staying warm at night." He winked at her.

 

"You are a true romantic." She arched her eyebrows at him.

 

"A year is a long time for a body to be alone."

 

"You're alone," she countered.

 

"So I should know how miserable it is. Comfort is nothing to be ashamed of."

 

"Bye, Ish-Al." She gathered her things and retreated quickly.

 

Ish-Al watched her go. His skin felt too tight and he considered relaxing for a moment into his true face. He wondered what would give the Kree more pain; killing her or turning her against him.

 


 

Vers had come to med center alone. She had requested to view the suit. Yon-Rogg had offered to come with her but she had retreated quickly. She didn't need him here.

 

The suit was still on its gurney, the smell of blood had dissipated overwhelmed by the smell of preservative. Vers looked at it closely. She had never worn one before. She could not say if anything about it was out of place. She walked it end to end. She stood at its feet and looked towards the head. She didn't know what she expected to find, but she knew it was a deeply personal connection between a soldier and their mech. It was issued on your first day at Starforce. The serial number on the suit was assigned to only one Kree. It would be the last thing standing between your body and anonymity in death.

 

The suit sustained you and protected you. There would be times on missions where you stayed suited for days. Some small part of you expected to die in it.

 

Vers' eyes traced the lines of its construction, looking for an anomaly. Something out of place. She saw the soles of the boots had mud crushed into them. There was on the leg a smear of grey clay. Neither natural to Pal-Mar. She moved up one leg. She saw, barely visible against the charred green of the suit, a small tuft of plant life trapped in a seam. She looked around and found a long lethal looking pair of tweezers.

 

She swiped them off the tray and began to work the greenery loose. Something clicked and the plate clicked open, the tight seam widening. Carefully Vers coaxed it open even more. The compartment was segmented, it looked empty. Vers reached in with one finger. The first segment was empty, but in the next one her finger brushed the cool cold surface of a crystal. Her heart lept as she pulled it out slowly. It matched the one given to her by the stranger.

 

Down the hallway she heard the click of heels. She pulled the crystal out, fingers quickly probing the inside of the compartment. She clicked it shut just as the door wooshed open.

 

Lai-Rah looked surprised to see her. Vers palmed the crystal into her bag as she straightened up.

 

"What are you doing here?" Lai-Rah looked her up and down.

 

"The Empire declared the victim MIA, I-"

 

"I know. I just dropped the personnel file off to Commander Yon-Rog, personally."

 

"That wasn't necessary," Vers eyed her carefully. There was something about her she just didn't like.

 

"That's none of your concern," Lai-Rah said coldly as she walked to where Vers was standing over the body. Vers wanted out with the stolen crystal. She picked up the tweezers with the bit of greenery in them.

 

"Here you missed a spot," she said shoving the tweezers into Lai-Rah's hands before beating a quick retreat from the med centre.

 


 

It was dark and everything burned. She ached deep into her bones as she felt the sliding of the sand. This was the part she hated most, the weight of the sand coming down on her, the feel of it filling her mouth, suffocating her breath.

 

Vers woke up panting, pulling in air as quickly as possible. She had been sweating. The familiar ceiling of her living quarters hovered in and out of focus above her. She had fallen asleep on her couch again. The dream stuck to her skin like grit. It was dark in her room. Still late at night.

 

Ish-Al's words came back to her as she felt her heart rate return to normal. He was wrong. There were certain lines you couldn't cross. Or once you crossed them you couldn't cross back again. She deeply wanted comfort though. This new nightmare of dying buried alive in sand was worse than her old dreams. In this dream it was her that needed help and there was no one to find her.

 

Her hand reached out to the comm on the table. Before she could think better she opened the channel.

 

"Yon? Are you awake?" She paused heart pressing against her ribs.

 

"Vers?" His voice sounded heavy with sleep. It sunk over her like a weight.

 

"Are you alone?" The pause that followed made her want to sink into the tile in shame.

 

"Of course I am alone. Why?" He paused again before answering. Maybe she should leave him alone but his voice was filling her like warm static pushing the remains of the dream away.

 

"I can't sleep."

 

"Come here." He said immediately. His voice with the hard edge of command. It made her pulse jump.

 

"No, I shouldn't." She answered closing her eyes against the desire to go to him.

 

"Then I will come to you."

 

"No stay where you are," her voice had a desperate pleading note. "Just talk to me."

 

"What about?" She could hear the subtle change in his breath as he sat up.

 

"Anything," her mind searched for a topic. She remembered her afternoon. "Tell me what its like to wear a Starforce suit."

 

"Its an honour."

 

"Not like that," she laughed. Laying back against the cushions "Tell me how it feels."

 

"Tight."

 

"Tight?"

 

"Its pressurized. I can't explain it easily." He stopped as if searching for words. "Put your hand on your chest."

 

"Okay," she hesitated.

 

"Now put your other hand on your stomach." His voice was so warm and close. Yet, it was just her alone with her longing.

 

Vers felt her heart rate jump. She liked it when he told her what to do. She moved slowly as she brought her hand to her chest, trailing it for the briefest second over the soft swell of one breast. The other hand she splayed across her stomach.

 

"Now what, Commander?" She tried to laugh, but her voice was tight. She thought for one wild moment she heard the sharp intake of air on the other side of the comm.

 

"Push against yourself, hard." There was a low deep tone to his voice that brought the heat to the surface of her skin. She did as he said, felt the pressure like the ghost of another body above her.

 

Instinctively, the hand on her sternum traveled upwards following the path his hands took last night. She ended with her thumb to her lips. Her tongue darted out licking the pad slowly her body aching for any sensation.

 

"Do you need more?" He asked wondering at how quiet she had gone.

 

"Yes" she breathed.

 

"Vers," his voice tight with a warning but also something else. Something darker. "Come to me."

 

"No," she insisted her hand on her stomach drifting towards her waist band. "Just talk to me."

 

"About?" He sounded tense, impatient even but willing to indulge her.

 

"Can you fly?" She began to drift her fingers across the skin above her waistband. Teasing herself.

 

"Of course" he swallowed.

 

"Do you like flying?" Her skin felt alive beneath the soft airy strokes of her fingers.

 

"Yes."

 

"What do you like about it?"

 

"The control." She smiled at his tone, tilting her hips and pushing herself back into the cushions.

 

"You like control then?"

 

"Yes," his answer was barely a hiss. He sounded so tight, so on the edge of control she could only hum in response. "Vers."

 

"Do you think I knew how to fly?" She asked her hand finally dipping below the band of her shorts, above her she left a trail of goosebumps.

 

"I believe so, yes." He swallowed as if he knew the path her fingers were taking.

 

"Could we try sometime? See if I remember how?" She asked her voice tight as she spread her fingers against herself.

 

"Yes. We can do anything you want," the promise sounded like it had been wrung out of him, a hint of desperation behind his voice. She couldn't resist the feeling of power it gave her.

 

"What if I want bad things, Yon?" She tried to picture him as she spoke. Tried to invoke the memory of him pinning her to the sand. The weight of hips on hers. She could get so close this way.

 

"Vers," he growled through the comm. "Let me in."

 

She froze. He was outside her door. She stood on coltish legs and walked to the door. She was too shocked for the embarrassment to settle in. She disengaged the lock and the door wooshed open.

 

Yon-Rogg didn't hesitate. He stepped through the door immediately his eyes burning into her. He was shirtless in only his loose fitting pants. She opened her mouth to speak, but he grabbed her wrist. He sunk her two fingers deep into the heat of his mouth, his tongue moving hard against them to gather the taste of her from every curve and seam. Her knees felt like jelly and she made a small squeak of surprise. He released her fingers, hands moving to her hips. He pulled her against him.

 

"If you are going to use me Vers, use me properly." He spoke low his mouth hovering close to her mouth. "Say yes to me."

 

"Ask me a question first," Vers answered licking her lips.

 

"Let me in," he said brushing his nose against hers. A soft gesture compared to the hard grip of his hands into her.

 

"You are in," she answered brushing her lips over the stubble on his jaw.

 

"Then say yes," he kissed below her ear where her pulse ticked.

 

"What if-" he cut her off by pulling her earlobe into his mouth. Her hands tightened on his shoulders.

 

"I can't go back. Can you?" He said softly in her ear. She felt her skin prickle as his whisper rolled over her.

 

"No," she breathed. It was true. She needed him as a friend and mentor, but her need for him as a man had become all encompassing. The filter through which the other parts of him were being pressed. Purified.

 

"Then please let me in," he asked his fingers finding the already stroked and tuned skin above her waist band. Her hands flexed against his skin. He was warm from sleep. She wanted that warmth.

 

She kissed him. She pressed her mouth against his and tried to steal her taste back from his tongue. It was the final barrier between them broken, the last dam to break before the flood.

 

He started to walk her backwards, their mouths meeting and parting each step they took. She tried to catch his lip with her teeth and he laughed against her mouth. At last, her calves hit the low coffee table and she wobbled, grabbing at him to steady herself. He ducked instead using her lack of balance to throw her over his shoulder.

 

She protested his shoulder digging into the softness of her belly. She bounced slightly as he stepped over the table, skirtng the arm of the sofa.

 

He paused as the sliver of her bedroom came into view.

 

"Why hasn't your bed been slept in?" He asked trying to turn his head to see her.

 

"I never sleep in my bed," she answered her hands pushing into his back so she could relieve the pressure on her ribs and talk.

 

"A tradition I intend to continue," he said with a small laugh his gripping hand sliding higher between her thighs before he continued walking to her room.

Chapter Text

Lai-Rah had come to him again that afternoon, her grin as she walked into the precinct could best be described as gleeful. Triumphant even, but all of it contained beneath a thick layer of ice.

 

"Commander," she purred from the doorway.

 

"Your impression is getting bett-" his laugh died on his tongue as he turned around. "Lai-Rah to what do I owe the pleasure?"

 

"I came with the personnel file."

 

"That was unnecessary. I am sure there are better uses of your time." He reached for the datapad. When his hand took it she kept ahold of it. He looked at her with a questioning look.

 

She smiled at him and used the bridge of the file between their bodies to pull herself closer to him.

 

"We got interrupted the other day but we are alone now," she had a very winning smile. Almost predatory. Very in line with the Kree ideal of beauty. Yon-Rogg found he liked more joyful smiles.

 

"Did you run the serial number of the suit, Lai-Rah? Before, when he first fell?" His question surprised her, he thought for a moment he saw a glimpse of the true Lai-Rah flash across her face.

 

"Of course, but those requests are processed slowly from border planets. As you said our resources in the desert are limited."

 

"So Hala knows we have his body?"

 

"If they don't now, the will soon" Lai-Rah's perfectly manicured brows came together.

 

Yon-Rogg released the pad and stepped around the other side of his desk.

 

"You can put the file on my desk, Lai-Rah."

 

"I had hoped we could discuss our arrangement." She sat down instead. He could see the tiny pieces being collected again and her mask reshaping.

 

He knew the feeling of having a mask, their backgrounds were similar. The expectations, the rules all one thousand times sharper against a woman's skin. He felt empathy for her. He had meddled with her.

 

"Lai-Rah, there will be no arrangement." She opened her mouth to speak, but he held up his hand to stop her words. "I apologize for my actions the other night. I hope you can forgive the trespass. Give my excuse as my time away from Hala has made a brute of me."

 

"We have both been away from Hala a long time," Lai-Rah's knuckles were white on the chair's arm rest.

 

"We have."

 

"I wish to return," she looked at him openly. The heat in her eyes dissipated and her eyelashes no longer slowly fanned as she talked.

 

"Pal-Mar will feel the loss of your skill-"

 

"You don't understand, Commander. I did not leave my family's house under the circumstances where it would be easy for me to return alone."

 

"Ah," clarity dawned. Parental exile. Any violation could be enough to bring it down on your head on Hala. He wondered what grievous sin Lai-Rah had committed that she would be willing to enter a loveless House just to return to her own sphere.

 

"We could return together. You will soon need your father's protection." Yon stiffened at the mention of his father.

 

"I have committed no crime," he said coolly. "I trust upon communing with me the Supremor will agree."

 

"Intermarriage, breeding between species. These may have been decriminalized on Hala, but the Opposition would use it to hurt your father."

 

Yon-Rogg felt cold. He had wondered what was common knowledge in their small med centre. What rumours spread.

 

"I don't know what you mean."

 

"Do you know how vile it is to dispose of litres of alien blood?"

 

"No, nor do I suppose I will ever have the opportunity." Yon-Rogg schooled his face into one of nonchalant interest.

 

"Does the Supremor know of your little project? Have they communed with her? Did they find her worthy?"

 

"My mission was clear." He had been told to secure the core and store it here on Pal-Mar under any means necessary until the Supremor came for it. That the core was inside a woman would be hard to explain, but not impossible.

 

"And to share blood with it? To bind your family to a lesser life form."

 

"Those are just fairytales, Lai-Rah. Vestigial culture. They barely figure into our laws and can easily be set aside should someone seek it from the courts of Hala. As a woman of science I had expected you to understand."

 

"So you have told her then? Have you laughed about it?" She looked cornered and vicious.

 

"I think you should go." He looked away from her, ending their interview. She stood sharply and walked from the room with none of her usual sway.

 

His thoughts were of Vers, of what he could tell her without ruining the precious balance they had found. How he could explain without sending her deeper into the pain and loneliness that had haunted her. She was Kree now. Her cells mutated and hybridized by his own. Her culture was malleable within her damaged memory. There was no sense in toppling her backward into a past she could never return to.

 

Regardless of the planet of her birth the Skrulls were her enemy and the Kree would be the ones to come to C 53, to save it from invasion should the Skrulls ever attempt colonization. Nothing had changed except the traitor was blessedly missing from her mind. Unable to exact influence over her.

 

There was much room for truth between the lies.

 


 

His dreams had been of her. It was rare he dreamed, but when he did he seemed to always be returning to the lake where he had first seen her. His mind turning back to the moment when something in him had first been ignited.

 

The Terran was smoke covered and spitting rage as she pointed a gun at him. Sometimes things played out as they had that day, but with greater frequency he persuaded her to drop her weapon and he would make senseless shallow love to her. The experience always filled him with a sense of something left incomplete. That was what had driven him the farthest into this madness. The lack of completion. The loop left unclosed.

 

He was awoken from one of these hot-bodied, resolve-weakening dreams by the sound of her voice drifting through the comm. He could hear the need in her as sharp as the smell of blood in the sand.

 

He needed her to come to him. Or if she would not, he would go to her. He resisted when she refused. Sitting up and running his hands through his hair. Until he heard the shifting of her body and the change in her breath. He had said he liked control, but in this moment he had none. He had stalked through the empty dormitories the comm strapped to his naked wrist, pressed close to his mouth. He was at her door quickly.

 

He would have given her anything in that moment to be let through her door. The door he found his forehead pressed against, his mouth soundlessly offering prayers to his ancestors if she would only let him in. Instead he had spoken to her.

 

He was a man of constant rhetoric, but very few personal words. He had wanted to give her everything she needed. To soothe her back to sleep, but then she had made that low mewling noise. So unlike her. Dangerously new and foreign. It had snapped something inside him. He wanted to discover all her secret sounds.

 

She had asked if he thought she could fly, he was so desperate for her he had almost told her the truth. That he knew she could fly. That her ability in the air had led him in breathless pursuit. That when she had hauled her weak Terran body from the burning cockpit he had been awestruck that so much skill was contained in such a being. He made her promises as she breathed for him.

 

Her words were winding their way around every cell, making speech nearly impossible. There was no cavern or plane of his body that did not shake with the intention to override the lock. To use his key to open any door that separated them.

 

"Let me in," he tried to school his desire. To stop himself. He wanted her to open the door. He wanted her to remove the last barrier.

 

From the moment the metal slid open time moved to quickly and too slowly. She was flush and warm looking up at him in surprise. He tried to push the ancient laws of the Kree from his mind. Laws Lai-Rah had invoked that afternoon. That those who shared blood were one. Mated before the old gods of Hala. Yon-Rogg didn't believe in the old gods. He had seen too much, had flung himself too far across the galaxy in the name of civilization and technology to believe in ancient dieties. He had communed with the new gods. They were logic and strategy. Not blood magic and sex.

 

Except she stood golden haloed in the darkness. A temple to what the new gods could accomplish. A new Kree. Formed from the ash of a Terran.

 

He pulled in steadying breaths against the frenzy of poetry that had filled his mind.

 

He threw her over his shoulder to remind him she was made of the same metal as him. She was softness and strength. She was desiring and desirable.

 

He dropped her on the tightly made bed. He followed her on his knees. He stopped when he was kneeling between her legs, they were bent and her feet on the mattress.

 

"Now, show me what it was you were doing that was so bad."

 

"I think you know," she arched an eyebrow at him, her hands making slow circles over her navel. She was irresistible.

 

"But I told you to show me," he countered sliding a possesive hand over her knee, his eyes trailing down her body.

 

"And what will you be doing while I do all the work?"

 

"I will tell you the rules." He growled at her. He could not give in until they both understood the game they were playing. If she refused he wanted to watch her come undone at least once.

 

She raised herself up on her elbows her mouth had a wicked quirk. "You have rules, Commander?"

 

"Every engagement has rules, Vers. Why can I still see both your hands?" He used the hard edge of his voice.

 

She laughed at him, but she lay back and indulged him. She lifted one foot from the bed and placed it on his thigh. She slid the sole of her foot up and down the thick muscle, her toes curling into the flesh. Her hand followed the sliding of he leg across her stomach until it slipped beneath waistband of her shorts.

 

"I remember now, we were talking about control," she peaked out at him from beneath her eyelashes before letting her knee fall to the side, her ankle laying across his legs. If she wasn't still clothed she would be splayed for him. "And how much you like it."

 

His hand reached for her foot, desperate to touch her. His thumb made a careful trail along the arch. She moaned a little and he saw her wrist rise and fall beneath her clothes. He was entranced by her.

 

"I thought there were rules, Commander," she tilted her chin back, her chest lifting slightly against some small sensation.

 

"Rule one is no ranks." She nodded, but he wasn't sure if she was hearing him as she caught her lip between her teeth. He wondered if she could feel the throb of his heart beat where their bodies touched.

 

"And two?" She was breathing shallowly. He swallowed as he saw her familiarity with her own pleasure. Something she could teach him.

 

"Two," he said fingers gripping the thin skin of her ankle, searching out a pulse point. "Is only when the others are away."

 

She creased her eyebrows and her hand paused, emerging from beneath her clothes. She fixed him with a heated look.

 

"I don't like two," she countered, sitting up on her elbows again. "Am I your secret, Commander?"

 

"Already breaking rules?" He asked tugging her foot behind him so one leg was wrapped around his waist.

 

"We never established punishment." That wicked grin again.

 

"Breaking the rules of an encounter doesn't result in punishment. It nullifies the agreement. Do you want to lose?" He bit his cheek against the desire to grin back at her. She wanted to tease him, he could tease her back. "Or would that be a punishment?"

 

She slid her leg up his side so she could press her heel into his tailbone. The pressure urged him forward and tugged at his resolve.

 

"Fine, no ranks but I won't be your secret." She made a litte circle with her foot so her heel worked its way into the sensitive nerves surrounding the hard bone. Yon-Rogg grunted against the desire to pin her to the mattress and escape her punishing heel. She needed to understand why they had to be discreet.

 

"We aren't equals," he grabbed her torturing heel and dragged it away. "It could end your career."

 

"But not yours?" She scoffed.

 

"This won't be fair, Vers. It never will be. I need to know you know that."

 

He ducked his shoulder beneath her knee and pulled her leg tight against his chest. She slid closer to him, hips practically in his lap. One hand held her leg in place and the other made lazy circles against the flesh in her inner thigh. She closed her eyes and bit her lip. The toes of her other foot curled into the sheet.

 

"Are you trying to torture me into accepting?" She asked. He smiled at her and pressed a kiss into her ankle. His lips parted enough his tongue could taste where the skin was tight over the bone. She tensed hands knotting into the sheets before she relented. "Fine, tell me three."

 

He smiled triumphant and allowed his fingers to slide further down her leg slipping beneath the fabric of her clothes.

 

"Three is that you always have to trust me." His fingers were so achingly close to where he wanted to touch her. He slid his palm down the back of her thigh and pressed his thumb lightly against her. She breathed sharply out of her nose, her eyes behind her eyelashes rolling back for a second.

 

"Does that mean you have to trust me?" Her breath hitching around her words. His thumb moved more insistently against her. She ran her hands impatiently over her ribs. "Your silence is telling."

 

"Agree or disagree." He moved his hand away from her. She groaned and covered her face. She shook her head back and forth.

 

"Don't I get one rule?" She asked taken her hands away from her face.

 

"What would your rule be?" There was such intensity in his eyes, his voice was still tight as if he was barely clinging to whatever moral code was holding him back and Vers' mind went blank. She hadn't planned on rules. Recklessly she said the first thing that came to mind.

 

"We stay out of my bed." She planted her foot hard into his sternum and kicked him.

 

The surprise attack broke his hold and knocked him to the floor. Vers scrambled up and to the edge of the bed. She lay down on the edge looking at him on the floor. She laughed at him and could tell he was trying not to smile.

 

"Was that necessary?"

 

"Yes, since we agreed you didn't have to trust me." His smile broke. He surged upwards and kissed her. His hands held first her face then as he opened his mouth against hers his hands snuck beneath her shoulders. He gripped her hard and lay back down. She protested against his mouth as she lost purchase on the sheets and landed on top of him.

 

"Control freak," she murmured against his lips as she kissed him. They wrapped their arms around each other. He slid his flattened palm along her spine, his hand was wonderfully warm and comforting. She felt as if she was being pressed inch by inch into him.

 

"I agreed to your terms, will you agree to mine?" Yon-Rogg spoke low in her ear his hands coming to rest on her lower back. She could feel the heat and weight of him pushing against her as their hips nestled together. She wanted him so badly. "You're too clever Vers not to see how quickly this could get out of control."

 

His praise traveled down the length of her spine in small tingles. She wanted him to think she was strong and smart. She didn't want to be just some low ranking novice sleeping with the boss. She wanted this to be about them. Having rules seemed so heartless even if she could understand his concerns.

 

She made a noncommittal humming sound as pushed herself up off his chest. She sat straddling his hips. His hands stayed over her hips, fingers digging into her flesh. She wondered if he realized how hard he was gripping her. She took a deep breath and pulled her tank over her head feeling the cool of the room over her skin. She heard Yon hiss and his fingers dug deeper.

 

"What are you doing?" He asked, tongue darting out to wet his lips.

 

"Evening out the playing field," she answered with a grin, fingers trailing down his sternum. She enjoyed the new look in his eyes. It was another dimension of desire. It could be addicting she realized this feeling of power he gave her.

 

She leaned forward again so she could press their skin together. She hooked her feet between his thighs so her hips were open against him. His hand came up moving over her ribs and along her spine, trapping her against him. She kissed him again. No teeth, no force. She was coaxing him with her mouth. Everything about her pliant and persuasive.

 

"Now you are the one torturing me" he muttered, bringing one hand up and cupping her cheek so he could hold her still while he slowly and thoroughly kissed her back.

 

"Is it working?" She asked against his lips. She felt him smile against her.

 

"Yes" he rolled them, protecting her head with his hands as he lay her back on the floor. She rolled her shoulders against the cold hard tile. "You still certain about the bed? Its going to be a long night."

 

"Promises already, Com-" he cut her off by tugging her shorts off. She lifted her hips instinctively to help him. She drew in a sharp breath as her bare skin settled back on the cool surface of the ceramic.

 

"Say yes to me, Vers" his eyes locked with hers.

 

"Yes" she said with her last coherent thought.

 

Like a viper Yon-Rogg darted forward. His body a glorious weight on top of her. He kissed her mouth, then her forehead, her temple, her cheek. He peppered kisses over her until he reached her sternum. There he ran the flat of his tongue over the sensitive skin, sinking his teeth into the swell of her breast until she hissed against the wonderful ache and her hands came up to card through his hair. He lifted his body enough that he could begin to rock and shift his hips free from his pants. When he was naked, he settled over her again, firm hot flesh enough to make her moan as it dug into her.

 

Yon-Rogg knew he should go slower, be more attentive to her but the first coupling was already an overload to his control. He reached between where they pressed together, he could feel she was ready for him. He watched her eyes as he prepared to push into her. He moved forward slowly, persuading her to take all of him. He felt his muscles shake with the desire to surge forward into the heaven he found between her thighs. He was watching her though. Her head tilted back and her lip being worried between her teeth. The deeper he pushed the closer together her eyebrows drew. Her breathing was shallow. He retreated a little.

 

"Are you alright?" He paused his own breath close to panting as thick ribbons of pleasure wrapped their way around his body. She smiled at him.

 

"It's just occured to me that I don't know if I have done this before," she laughed low at herself and Yon-Rogg felt her laugh tighten and vibrate around him. He groaned with the transcendent feeling of her surrounding him.

 

"We can stop," he offered pushing his forehead into hers. She clenched her knees around his hips.

 

"Only if you want to die," she threatened, hands grabbing his hair so she could pull him away and look into his eyes. "Just slowly okay?"

 

He obliged moving against her, rocking into her wonderfully slow. Vers felt as if she was being ground into the tile and she loved it. The weight of him, the fullness, the feeling that with each retreat and push her body was learning. That soon she could take all of him and still draw breath. When he would find a new deeper place, a new spring of desire, he would grunt low in her ear and she could feel it in her chest. All of her felt in tune with the shifting of their skin. It made her think of the sliding of a dune. Something new and foreign being formed between them.

 

At last, he was seated fully in her and she let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding. He kissed her pulse as she tightened experimentally around him. He moaned so she did it again.

 

"Temptress," he groaned in her ear as he moved in her, when he met less resistance he picked up his pace.

 

She felt a spark, familiar and painfully sweet. Orgasm growing at the base of her spine that she could taste all the way up to her tongue. She felt his own movements become heavier as she tilted her hips, chasing the sensation. She could feel it growing like the cresting of a wave. She reached it moments before he did, the tightening and shivering of her body pulling new and dark sounds from his throat as he shook and pushed into her with burning desperation .

 

He collapsed on her, slick with sweat and drawing breath so deeply she felt his chest push her deeper into the tile.

 

"Well done, Commander" she purred into his ear. He growled, punching her lightly in the ribs with his quaking fist. She laughed and rolled out from under him. He pressed his sweat covered body into the cold tile.

 

They lay with their heads turned towards each other, gazes soft and unreadable in the darkness of her room.

 

"How long until dawn?" She asked breaking away to see if she could catch a glimpse of her window.

 

"Not long enough," he answered reaching for her again.

Chapter Text

Even the flood of chemicals released during sex were not enough to dull the discomfort of lying on hard ceramic. He did not know how Vers was able to sleep. When he had released her after their final coming together she had crawled a couple paces away from him and the heat he radiated, to collapse on the cold floor. Her back was to him and her knees curled into her chest. He could see the evidence of their mating; bruises the shapes of his gripping fingers, flushed skin and sweat in the hollows of her body, and the glisten of spend just visible between her thighs. The sight of it made him want to mount her again, but he kept his distance. Soon the sun would rise and they would return to the normal world.

 

He couldn't spend another minute on the floor. He sat up and looked around for his pants. The fabric felt like too much against his skin. He bore as many marks of Vers' passion as she did his. They would heal quickly, fading soon to nothing. He mourned the loss of them already, in case they never came together again. He wanted some evidence that this night had happened.

 

She made a small sound in her sleep. He walked to her and crouched beside her.

 

"Vers, you cannot sleep here," he said softly. He was hesitant to wake her. She murmured senselessly.

 

He reached to sit her up and she tried to bat him away. He managed to awkwardly roll her into his arms. His grasp on her was tenuous, but it was not far to the bed.

 

As he carried her the thought rose up about how much he wanted the weight of her in his arms, the feeling of her skin against his own, and the smell of her on him. He crushed it as quickly as he could, but not before he noticed her scent was thick with the smell of him. He tried to set her down gently. The bed was small but she managed to look small in it. He brushed the hair out of her eyes and allowed his hand to rest on her cheek a moment longer.

 

Mating Vers had been an unexpected pleasure. He had come here to seek release for both of them. He had been certain it would be satisfying, in the way other encounters had been satisfying.

 

It was not like other encounters. Kree were reserved in many ways. Cold, aloof, expressions as smooth as a polished stone. They expressed themselves through intention, an end goal. For mating that could be alliances, children, or personal oblivion. Vers, who was without this culture, had taken hold of the experience with her whole soul. She had laughed when he had pleased her, she had bit and teased him when he provoked her. A collapsing tower of emotions that had fascinated him and drawn him in. He had wanted to mirror her vulnerability. He wasn't sure he had managed. She had taken pleasure from him at least. Her shuddering body had left him in no doubt of that.

 

His revery was broken by a hail coming through his comm, the little green light casting an ominous glow over Vers' face and hair. He escaped to the other room.

 

"Commander Yon-Rogg" he answered. There was a crackle as the other side engaged.

 

"We are about to break atmosphere, Commander." Minn-Erva's voice came in and out through the comm. Yon-Rogg's stomach clenched. They had returned already? He had to go to his quarters. He couldn't greet his team with the sweat of bedding their subordinate on him .

 

"I copy. We will debrief in an hour," he glanced at Vers glowing in the early morning light. He winced knowing she would wake up alone. "Welcome home."

 


 

Vers walked as smoothly as she could into the precinct. Her hair was wet and twisted behind her head messily. She had overslept, a new experience for her, and woken up alone. Not a new experience, but it stung this time around. She had not yet decided what she would say to Yon as the doors opened for her.

 

She was greeted by four heads turning to look at her as she rushed in. Yon-Rogg's eyes were already on her, full of warning. The team was back.

 

"What happened to you?" Minn-Erva asked immediately looking her up and down. Vers' eyes shot to Yon-Rogg before she could school her expression.

 

"What? Why - why would you think anything happened to me?" She asked, looking down at herself. She could feel all their eyes on her and she wished the floor would open up around her.

 

"You're limping," Minn-Erva commented with a dismissive arched eyebrow. Vers felt her blood boil as she saw Yon-Rogg cover his smile with his hand.

 

"You can thank the Commander for that," Vers smiled sweetly at her before darting a look at Yon on the way to her desk. Yon coughed as all eyes turned to him.

 

"Vers is learning to fight," he gestured at her.

 

"You mean Twinkle Fists might be on the verge of useful?" Minn-Erva walked by Vers' desk on her way to her own. She looked down her nose as she passed and Vers fought to keep her snarl at bay.

 

"Vers is a member of this team," Yon-Rogg interceded, getting up from the desk he was perched at and going to his office.

 

"True, even a warships need an anchor." Minn-Erva whispered across the bull pen once his door was closed.

 

"Well, second in command was taken. I can never remember, were you in the graduating class the year after the Commander or before?" Vers asked sweetly. Minn-Erva's expression tightened.

 

"Before," she answered.

 

"You ever think it's the personality holding you back?" Vers asked as she gathered her things and walked towards Yon-Rogg's office.

 

Yon-Rogg was scrolling through the personnel file Lai-Rah had left him the day before when Vers walked into his office. He paused when he saw her.

 

"Vers, we discussed this, not whe-" he started before she held up her hand to pause him.

 

"I am here about the case, what are you refering to?"

 

"Are you actually?" He raised his eyebrow at her. She was making him nervous. He was expecting more of a reaction to her waking up alone.

 

"Of course, we have an identity now. We can trace his movements."

 

"There are other things we should discuss," he looked at her over his desk, she froze.

 

"Like what?" She sounded a little breathless.

 

"Like the intruder in your apartment. The one with 'the mission'."

 

Vers could breathe again. She wasn't ready to tell Yon about the crystal she had found or that the stranger was certifiably connected to their victim. She needed more than one cycle from him to prove he wanted to solve this case.

 

"Haven't you ever had a weirdo follow you home?" She looked him up and down, "it's happened to me a lot lately."

 

"Very funny. I want to talk about this."

 

"And I want to talk about Zai-Al and I was here first."

 

"It's my office, Vers."

 

"I meant 'here' emotionally, in the place to talk about something."

 

"That isn't how this works," He got up from his desk and paced back and forth. "I am your Commander-"

 

"Rule one: no ranks," she answered him. She pulled the clip out of her hair and shook the messy tresses loose. Yon-Rogg pressed his lips together. He looked like a lion that had swallowed a bee. He breathed out slowly.

 

"You are intentionally misunderstanding me in an attempt to make me lose my temper and it won't work." He was beginning to realize the full weight of opening himself up to Vers.

 

"I think it's working," she smiled at him. She walked towards him slowly as she watched his spine straighten. She grinned at him.

 

"This is breaking the rules," He warned. He wanted her again. He felt the clenching low in his gut as she got closer.

 

"There is no punishment for skirting the rules, is there?"

 

"Do you want me to punish you?" He looked at her darkly. Two could play at this game.

 

She shrugged leaning her hip against his desk, "could be fun."

 

"If you want me to punish you, I can." He leaned his hands on the desk, they were close to each other now. Vers' grin dimmed a little as her eyes dropped to his mouth before flicking up again. Yon-Rogg straightened up and hit a button on his console.

 

"What did you just do?" Vers asked stepping away from the desk. Behind her the door slid open.

 

"Yes, Commander?"

 

"Minn-Erva, there is a case. A local matter. I want you to shadow Vers. Show her how we do things in Starforce." Vers widened her eyes at Yon as he spoke to the woman over her shoulder. He lifted his eyebrows at her. A look that said you asked to be punished.

 

"Yes, Commander." Minn-Erva's tone was less than impressed. "Follow me, Rookie."

 

Finally, Vers turned around in time to see Minn-Erva's retreating back as the door wooshed closed again. She started to leave, but not before looking at Yon-Rogg one last time, her eyebrows lifted in return. It's on.

 


 

Minn-Erva stood at the foot of the crater in the ground, her hand shielding her eyes as she looked into the sky.

 

"A ship came in hot and just dropped a body?" She repeated, eyes on the scene and not on Vers.

 

"Yes, there must have still been someone on board because they hit a jump point immediately after."

 

"They could have premapped their flight, prior to ejecting themselves. Suicide. It happens." Minn-Erva pivoted on her feet, thumb tracing a line in the sky.

 

"All the jump points accessible at this point in orbit are guild run. You need to request access and pass a life scan. They won't let unmanned crafts through. It's against the Transporter Union's agreement. An attempt to protect their livelihood from bot-truckers."

 

"Do we know why the victim was coming to Pal-Mar?"

 

"Not yet," Vers hated admitting how little she knew about the case to Minn-Erva

 

"We have a name, though," Minn-Erva looked back towards the town. There was not much to bring anyone to Semit.

 

"Zai-Al. We got it yesterday when Hala issued the APB to bring him back to service."

 

"Has someone alerted Hala that we have their runner?"

 

"Lai-Rah at Med Centre submitted the official records." Minn-Erva's nose crinkled for a split second. Vers was comforted that at least she wasn't the only one Minn-Erva disliked.

 

"Anything else I should know?" Vers inhaled. She had dreaded saying this part.

 

"DNA came back as a Kree-Skrull hybrid." She watched Minn-Erva's face carefully for signs of shock or recognition. She stayed serene, barely a lifted eyebrow. "I thought you would be more shocked."

 

"Our two species interbred for generations before the Separation," Minn-Erva looked to the horizon as if she couldn't look at Vers as she spoke of it. "We do not like to acknowledge our time before, but some of us carry that past within us. We will never be whole as a species after a millenia of war."

 

"That was surprisingly circumspect." Vers raised her eyebrows and Minn-Erva shot her a withering look.

 

"Just because you have forgotten your history does not mean I have forgotten mine." Minn-Erva turned away from her and back to the place the body fell.

 

Vers made a face at her back.

 

"Who saw the ship break the atmosphere?" Minn-Erva skirted the edges of the crater.

 

"I did. And the Commander," Vers answered watching Minn-Erva drop into the hole. The vague notion that she could leave her there made Vers smile.

 

"Why were you two together at dawn?" Minn-Erva asked from the bottom.

 

Vers froze for a moment, "we were jogging."

Chapter Text

Their next stop after the field was the med centre. The minor panic that normally set in whenever Vers walked through the doors was beginning to abate. It was amazing how quickly the body could become numb to a repeated sensation. Their route was a familiar one, tracing down to the cool bowels of the building.

 

Minn-Erva circled the suit. She paid special attention to the streaks of mud.

 

"Where is the body?" Minn-Erva asked glancing around the empty morgue.

 

"Gone for the most part. The impact turned him to jelly."

 

"So he had no time to engage the shielding for his armour?"

 

"We took it as a sign the fall wasn't what killed him." Minn-Erva nodded glancing across the suit at Vers. It was for the sparest of seconds a pleasant look.

 

"It also means that the last person he encountered had his trust. Closed quarters with an enemy? Your shield goes up so fast your head spins." Minn-Erva gave her a satisfied feline grin. A good memory.

 

The doors of the morgue swung open and Lai-Rah walked in. She paused when she saw Minn-Erva and Vers. Her eyes glanced up and down at Minn-Erva for a moment before her gaze snapped to the suit between them.

 

"What are you doing here? You can't just wander in whenever you want," Lai-Rah breezed passed them as if they were no more than an annoyance. Minn rolled her eyes. She tapped her badge with one finger.

 

"These shiny stars say we can," she smiled sweetly at Lai-Rah but beneath there was poison. Lai-Rah looked unimpressed.

 

"I have already debriefed your Commander. You have no reason to be here." Minn-Erva's smile got even sweeter, her eyebrows arching. She turned to Vers who was equally amused. She was surprised to have Minn-Erva's eyes on her.

"She debriefed him? Things got interesting while we were gone," Minn-Erva glanced at Lai-Rah who looked sour. Vers grinned.

 

"I think she briefed him quickly a couple times last week. Maybe he debriefed her?" Vers answered mimicking Minn's smile.

 

"So much briefing and debriefing happening. How did you keep up, Rookie?" Minn-Erva purred and Lai-Rah slammed her datapad down on the metal counter.

 

"Captian Minn-Erva. How can I assist?" Her voice was impatient. Minn-Erva had been picking at a nerve. Vers found it hard to feel bad for helping her.

 

"The soils, what was the nitrogen signature of each one?"

 

"Hala." Lai-Rah answered bluntly.

 

"I see three different profiles on one leg alone. Our victim got around. Are you trying to say all of these different samples had the same source?"

 

"His boot sample was taken as the most complete profile, that soil came from Hala." Lai-Rah bristled.

 

"Test all of the areas and give me a full report." Minn-Erva began to walk out of the room as Lai-Rah seethed. "Double speed, Twinkle Fists."

 

Vers spared a glance at Lai-Rah before following Minn-Erva's ramrod spine as she walked out of the morgue. She felt a tingle of excitment that their case might lead them to Hala, a place she was desperate to see. She might remember something if she could return to her homeworld.

 

"When did you get back, Minn-Erva?" Lai-Rah's voice echoed in the tiled sterile room. Minn paused.

 

"At dawn, why?"

 

Lai-Rah looked Minn-Erva up and down carefully as if she was weighing her. "No reason, just curious."

 


 

Vers waited in the back of Ish-Al's bar, tucked away in a shadowy corner. She had tried to go back to her suite after she and Minn-Erva had called it a day. She had curled up on her couch with her datapad and tried to read Zai-Al's personal file.

 

The problem was the shadow of Yon-Rogg hung over the place. Her mind kept turning away from the task at hand to bask in memories of the night before.

 

When they had come together she had felt the constant change in him from teacher to student, he moved between the two so seamlessly she could only give in to each wave of him that broke over her. In one moment she would feel him studying her, learning her and what gave her pleasure with the same dedication he applied to battle forms. The next he would be surrounding her, his body arched over her own so everywhere was hot skin and shared breath. He would murmur in her ear, a constant stream of words. She was doing so well, she felt so good, he wanted her just like this over and over again.

 

Vers' toes had curled into the sofa remembering the weight of him and the low growl of his voice. So tight with control. His intense focus on her as addicting as the way he could pluck pleasure from her as easy as the tuning of an instrument. The desire to go to him again crawled over her skin as insistent and burning as if she had disturbed a nest of desert ants.

 

That was why she had left her apartment. To escape temptation.

 

The memories were accompanied by a vague discomfort knowing she had handled things badly. She could not think of them together without the hot and insistent memory of him spilling into her again and again. At the time she had been so taken by the heat she hadn't paused to consider it. Now in the cold lonely night a certain amount of foreboding crept over her.

 

She quickly rejected the idea of going to the med centre. Semit was too small. A member of Starforce needing emergency contraception and an implant would raise eyebrows and start tongues moving.

 

Awkwardly she had asked Ish-Al if he knew when a healer would be passing through again. She thought maybe she would be lucky and one would be passing through before she landed herself in trouble.

 

He had given her a knowing look which made her flush all over and sent her to the back corner to wait. She was in luck because he knew where one was to be found.

 

She had passed the time waiting for the healer reading Zai-Al's personnel file. It was sparse to say the least. He had been born on a Kree border planet to parents killed in a mining accident. He had been sponsored since he was almost a toddler by the House of Ronan to attend military academy on Hala, ultimately entering Starforce upon graduation.

 

Vers paused in her reading, she did not know the year or the place of her birth. She did not know when she had entered Starforce. Was it possible she had attended Academy with Zai-Al? The thought excited her. And terrified her. She had lost so much. The answers, she felt, must exist on Hala.

 

It was growing late. The bar was starting to empty. Ish-Al had warned her it would be a long night, but she did not want to put it off.

 

She decided with the distance between them there was no reason she couldn't reach out to Yon-Rogg.

 

"Vers?" He answered the hail hesitantly. It was late but she didn't think she had woken him.

 

"Good Evening, Commander," she purred down the line in her best Lai-Rah impression. She heard a small sigh on the other end. She could picture his resentful smile. He never wanted to admit she could make him laugh.

 

"Vers, stop it." He said. Nothing in his voice said he wanted her to stop.

 

"Were you asleep?" She fiddled with the stylus in front of her. She hoped she wasn't bothering him.
"No" his voice was low as if he was wary of being overheard.
"Are you alone?" She asked dreading the answer being 'no'.
"Of course," Yon-Rogg held the comm close to his mouth, shifting the datapads that were spread across the low table in front of him. "Can't you sleep?"

 

"I am not in bed." Vers smiled to herself. She liked picturing him in the low light of his suite. It felt initmate.

 

"Where are you?" There was an edge to his voice.
"I am at Ish-Al's waiting for someone."

 

"Cancel and go to bed," Yon-Rogg stood and began pacing in his small living space. The lights were low, he had opened the fastenings of his shirt, jacket forgotten on the back of the sofa. He considered righting himself and going to get her personally.

 

"I cant."
"Why not?" Yon-Rogg tried to stamp down the small flutter in his chest. It felt uncomfortably like jealousy.

 

"Dont worry about it." Vers was flipping through the personnel file again. She didn't really have a reason to call. "I wanted to talk about other things."

 

"Vers this isn't an encrypted comm," his low voice dropped lower and something in her gut clenched in response.

 

"Are suggesting I might say something that requires encryption?" She grinned wickedly. She hadn't thought of the trouble she could find murmuring in his ear far from the others.

 

"I just want you to consider who could be listening." His tone made her ache to cause trouble.

 

"Were you always this paranoid, Commander? Or am I just noticing now that I've-"

 

"Vers. This can't be why you called." Yon-Rogg found himself in front of his window, looking down into the barely lit main street of Semit. She was out there right now he thought, finger tracing on the cold glass.

 

"I told you, I am waiting for someone. And I am bored." She was wheedling him. He bit his inner cheek hoping she couldn't sense his smile.

 

"I am not your entertainment." He tried to sound serious, warning her not to expect special treatment.

 

"Really? I have found you very entertaining the last few days-"

 

"Vers. I am telling you to cancel and go to bed." He wanted her back in the dorms and he wanted it now.

 

"I told you I can't." She tried to enhance a photo of Zai-Al on her datapad, but the image distorted instead. "I want to know about Hala."

 

"What about Hala?" He didn't know why her imagination was so captured by the place. He pressed his forehead against the cool glass.

 

"Is it a good place to grow up? Are people happy there?" Her voice was so wistful. Yon-Rogg swallowed picturing her alone in the bar.

 

"Of course, Hala is the home of the Supreme Intelligence. It is the source of civilization and technology in all the known Galaxies." He needed to stop staring into the dark, eyes looking for her walking up the road. She couldn't come to him even if he asked.

 

"What does it look like?" Vers leaned back in the darkened booth, focus narrowing to the voice on the other side of the comm. She closed her eyes.

 

"It's beautiful but it's not like here. In Hala the buildings are so high you can barely see the sky from the ground. The people are educated and wealthy. There is no suffering or disease. It is a place of bounty."

 

"Is that where you grew up?"

 

"It's where I was born. DarRogg is on Feroimum. I spent time there as well." He didn't know why he was telling her this, except that he wanted her to know.

 

"Where were you happier?"

 

"Is that important?" He stepped away from the window completely. He didn't want to think about the past.

 

"Just tell me." She always pushed so hard and he couldn't deny her.

 

"I had more freedom on Hala. I was serving the Empire."

 

"Why do you think Zai-Al went back?"

 

"How did you know he has been on Hala?" Yon-Rogg paused in his pacing.

 

"Lai-Rah told me. Why didn't you mention it?" She opened her eyes.

 

"I didn't want you to get distracted." It was the truth. He had to keep her away from Hala. For a while at least. Long enough he could plan how to explain everything to the Supremor, ensure they could see her value.

 

"I am not distracted-" Vers saw a small woman enter the near empty bar, she had a leather case with her. The healer. Nervousness bubbled up in her throat. "I have to go."

 

She heard her name just as she shut off the comm. She saw the woman speak with Ish-Al who pointed her Vers' way. The woman wove her way through the smattering of table and chairs until she stopped at Vers' booth.

 

"You need a healer?" She asked her pale moon-like eyes looking deep into Vers, almost as if she could see through her.

 

"Yes," Vers swallowed, standing up and straightening her clothes. The healer was a head shorter than Vers.

 

"Ish-Al says we can use his room. Follow me." The healer nodded sagely as she turned and walked back through the bar.

 

Vers followed her, nodding awkwardly to Ish-Al as she ducked behind the counter. He raised his eyebrows at her and she tried not to blush more. After her time in med centre Vers had tried to ignore her body. It had confused and scared her as she tried to find her place again.

 

The healer opened her case and waved Vers closer. Vers had been hovering at the door of the small room. She felt like she invading a sacred space, the last shade of privacy between her and Ish-Al that needed to be respected.

 

"What do you need?" The woman asked with her throaty voice. "Is there something that ails you?"

 

"I wasn't careful. I need to make sure there are no -" Vers couldn't meet her eyes. They still glowed like stars.

 

"I understand, child." The healer held up her hand sensing Vers' discomfort. "And you will also need protection for the future."

 

"I think so," Vers stepped closer to her. She could handle this. She was an adult.

 

The healer clinked about in her case with drawing a selection of bottles and vials.

 

"First, drink all of this." The healer passed Vers a dark red vial. She uncapped it cautiously. It smelled of rust and rotting soil. Vers breathed out slowly before shooting it all back. She choked on the taste.

 

Next the healer injected something beneath her skin, a small lump like a grain of sand that sat over her hip bone.

 

"Wait here a minute. You might get nauseous," the woman advised, pushing on Vers' shoulders until she settled on the bed.

 

As Vers' sat, her hands white knuckled into the bedding, the healer packed up her case and left the room as quiet and ethereal as she arrived.

 

Vers felt weak limbed as she sat on the bed. She tried to tell herself it was just nerves. She was getting worked up over nothing. The room started to shift around her. She turned slightly so her hands were braced on the mattress her body half inclined as the world bent around her. Her skin was growing clammy. Her stomach hurt. Small jabs of pain that radiated out piercing all the way from her soft belly to her ribs. She tried to breathe but all that came was a rattling noise.

 

Something was wrong.

 

Her hands searched along the mattress trying to find a way to pull herself up. She needed to go get help.

 

Her hand slid beneath the pillow as she fumbled. She reached again finding the firm edge of the mattress.she gripped it. Her fingers brushed something cold. Her mind flailed slightly as the familiar feeling of a crystal took shape between the wall and the mattress.

 

She struggled but she managed to bring it towards her. Take it her fevered mind insisted and she pocketed it. She lost balance rolling with a thud to the floor. The pain truly flooding her now as her body cramped.

 

There was light spilling from the doorway. A figure stood there, frozen in shock.

 

"Little Miss Starforce?" She heard just as she passed out.

Chapter Text

The girl was lying on the floor convulsing when he entered the room after hearing the crash.

 

"Little Miss Starforce?" He called out to her before she seemed to deflate into the floor. He let out several curses to the old gods of Skrullos before launching himself towards her. He gathered her up into his arms feeling how cold and sweat drenched she had become. He shouted out to the front of the bar "Come help, you witch!"

 

There was no answer from the healer. He put the girl down and ran to his door, the bar beyond was empty. This was the last thing his cover needed, a dead Starforce agent on the floor of his bar. He flew back to her side, cradling her against him, praying his cold-blooded body would keep her warm. She moaned slightly as he jostled her, a blessed sign of life. He saw the green light blinking at her wrist, someone was calling the poor wench. He opened the comm.

 

"Vers-" the voice started it was already cracking with frustration. Of course, it would be that bastard Rogg.

 

"Get down here quick, Commander. She's going to lose consciousness."

 

There was deadly silence on the other end.

 

"What does that mean? Who are you?" The voice was as sharp as a blade.

 

"Does that matter now? I would hurry," Ish-Al responded before shutting off the comm. If he was going to save her he didn't have time for distractions.

 

He turned her awkwardly on her side so she was braced against him, her heartbeat was barely more than a flutter in her chest.

 

"Sorry love, this part is unpleasant." Ish-Al whispered to her working her stiffening jaw with his hand until her lips parted for him. He held her jaw hard with one hand and pushed two fingers deep passed the creaking barrier of her teeth to the soft flesh of her tongue and throat. He pushed until she started to gag around his fingers, then he rolled her more as she expelled torrents of red. It wreaked of acid and rot as it puddled on the floor, slipping back towards them.

 

He shifted away from the swirling stream of red as best he could, pulling a blanket over them. He hoped he could keep her warm. She murmured something incoherent as he shuffled her.

 

"That's right, sweets. Don't die."

 

There was a crashing noise at the front of the bar.

 

"Vers," the voice shouted.

 

"Back here," Ish-Al answered as feet pounded towards him. There was a man silhouetted in the door.

 

Yon-Rogg's lungs burnt from running. He had barely righted himself before pulling on a jacket and running for the door.

 

He saw in the darkness a pile of bodies under a sheet.

 

"What are you doing to her?" He demanded taking three long steps into the room.

 

"Watch your step, Commander, there is evidence on the floor," the bastard's voice was shockingly calm.

 

"What do you mean evidence?" He ignited the light on his comm. There was red like Terran blood on the floor. He felt like ice. "Is that from her?"

 

"She puked it up, most likely what the old witch gave her." Ish-Al shifted Vers so her head lolled onto his shoulder, hands moving beneath the sheet. Yon-Rogg felt a hot spire of something deadly. He stepped around the red pool and crouched in front of the bartender.

 

"What do you mean 'witch'? Do you know who she was meeting?" He started to shuffle Vers into his arms. Lifting her away from the other man.

 

"A healer. I don't suppose you know why she thought she would need one?" Ish-Al looked at him significantly as he unbent his limbs.

 

"Leave the evidence. I will send someone." Yon-Rogg commanded with a razor's edge to his voice as he started to walk Vers from the bar.

 


 

Yon-Rogg opened the door for Minn-Erva. She looked as tired and as rumpled as he felt. She had a medkit over her shoulder. He didn't say anything he just walked into his place with barely a nod. Minn-Erva didn't need more of an invitation.

 

She was the best medic on their team and the only other one who had been on C 53 with him. She knew who Vers was, what she was.

 

Vers looked so pale curled up in the sheets. The blanket from Ish-Al's bed was discarded next to his own. She had regained some spark while he carried her. She muttered something that could have been his name.

Now she had drifted to sleep. Minn-Erva pushed passed him as he haunted the doorway. Her silence was beginning to weigh on him.

 

"Did they find the Healer?" His voice was hoarse like he had not used it in hours or he had been screaming senselessly. He couldn't say which. The time since the Bartender had answered his call existed only in a piecemeal of panic like a half remembered dream.

 

"No," Minn-Erva's voice was cold as she pulled back the covers and shrugged Vers out of her jacket. Vers shivered and tried to bat Minn away, but she was ruthless. "They took samples from all over the bar. Analysis starts in the morning."

 

He grunted and Minn-Erva set up a IV in Vers' arm.

 

"It was probably because the dose was meant for a Kree," Minn-Erva said flatly.

 

"She is a Kree."

 

"No, she is not." Minn-Erva squeezed the bag of fluids and pain killers before she hooked it into the tube. Her voice was thick with accusation. "Do you know why she went to a healer instead of med centre?"

 

"No," he answered feeling his own lack of truth. If he did not believe himself, Minn-Erva would not. He had a suspicion about what Vers was trying to hide but he couldn't be sure of it until she woke and he asked her. Minn-Erva was not looking at him. Pointedly focusing everything on Vers. She moved the hair out of her eyes almost tenderly.

 

"I am going to say something as your friend and not as your subordinate," Minn-Erva announced. He stiffened. He knew what she was going to say.

 

"You can always speak your mind to me."

 

"This is a patch up job, Yon. Whatever you thought you accomplished it didn't take. Only the Supremor could achieve it." Minn-Erva moved away from the bed, packing up her kit.

 

"She can contain the power of the core. She can heal, she has our strength-" he walked farther into the room. He needed to be close to her.

 

"You don't know that. It is untested theory. If you are going to let her out into the field. If you are going to meddle with her you can't do it without the Supremor's blessing and help." Minn-Erva crossed the room to stand in front of him. Even with her body blocking him, his eyes kept darting to Vers.

 

"I am not meddling," his eyes snapped to her. He knew his own voice was too harsh, but Minn-Erva didn't flinch.

 

"Why did she need the healer?" Minn-Erva repeated her question more clearly, her eyes full of accusation.

 

"I will ask her when she wakes. You are dismissed, Captain." Yon-Rogg moved away from her. He thought she might have sighed. He didn't care. He didn't care what she thought she knew. He resented that she was right, about everything. They would have to go to Hala. "Minn?"

 

"Yes?" She paused by the door of his room.

 

"Take care of her. If I can't." He asked his friend of more than a decade. A woman who up until now he had only ever spoken the truth to.

 

"If you cannot withstand the Supremor's descision, none of us will." She answered him plainly before leaving the room colder in her wake.

 

"Das't" he cursed. Things had gone too far beyond his control.

 


 

Vers woke in the morning feeling like she had been the one to fall from the sky. She rolled onto her back feeling something tug at her arm. She looked up and saw the IV. It dawned on her that she was in a bed. It was hard to tell with the standard issue flats whether it was her's or not. Except that it smelled of Yon. She sat up with a moan. There was a shuffling beside the bed. She glanced over at at the floor. Yon-Rogg was slumped over. He started to stir as she watched him. He opened his eyes as she tried to smile around the throbbing in her head.

 

"Did we play doctor last night?" She croaked at him.he groaned and threw his pillow at her.

Chapter Text

Yon-Rogg stood from where he had fallen asleep on the floor and stretched his tight and tired muscles. Vers had caught his pillow and tucked it under her head, leaving her one arm extended. Yon-Rogg felt for the IV and pulled the tubing out, leaving the IV port in her arm. Vers' watched him with glassy pain killer filled eyes.

 

"Why didn't you sleep in the bed?" She grinned at him like a well fed cat and he wondered how much of the night she remembered.

 

"Why would I do that?" He busied himself with the IV. She looked too tempting nestled among the pillows as if he hadn't carried her near lifeless form out of a derelict bar a few hours before. Vers looked taken aback. She fussed with the sheet that covered her.

 

"I don't know. The floor didn't look comfortable," she murmured rolling away from him.

 

"You sleep on the floor, even when you have company." He shrugged off his jacket and lay it on the bed. Last night's clothes were stiff from his night on the floor. The weight made her glance over her shoulder.

 

"Then I should have slept on the floor last night. You look sore." Her eyes lingered on him a moment longer as he peeled his shirt off. He felt heat rise up in him as she watched. There was something intangibly intoxicating about her exhausted and vulnerable in the bed, but watching him strip down with hungry eyes.

 

"Do you even remember last night?" He had to turn away from her and keep busy.

 

"I don't remember coming here," she answered stretching her body. She had spent most of the night curled in on herself. "Did we break rule two?"

 

"Would you have forgotten if we had?"

 

She hummed languidly and he stole another glance at her stretched out in his bed. There was something so peaceful about the morning especially compared to the hell that was last night.

 

"Vers, you need to tell me why you went to the Healer last night." If he expected her to be forthcoming he was going to be disappointed.

 

"A stupid reason apparently, considering you slept on the floor." She fiddled with the corner of the blanket, not looking at him. She was frustrating him. She had almost died and she was acting like they were having a friendly lie in.

 

He stalked to the bed, pulled the covers out of her hand, and held them away from her body. With his other hand he pushed up her shirt, fingers probing her skin. She breathed in sharply, hands moving to push her shirt down. He thought she made a sound like his name.

 

He forced himself to step away from her when he found nothing beneath her skin.

 

"Happy?" She asked pulling down her shirt and glaring at him.

 

"No, I want to know what was worth risking your life for."

 

"It's none of your business," she answered him, kicking her feet free of the covers. She swung them over the edge of the bed and tried to sit up. The world wanted to fade to black at the edges but she shook it away.

 

"Stay in bed."

 

"This isn't my bed," she retorted forcing her weight onto weak and shaking limbs. She grabbed her coat that was hanging on the bed post and forced her arms through the holes.

 

"Are you fighting me because I didn't share the bed with you?" He looked at her with raised eyebrows as if she was a wayward student throwing a tantrum.

 

"No, I am leaving because there is no reason for me to stay here." She made to push passed him in the small quarters, but he caught her shoulders.

 

"Vers, we agreed you would trust me." She set her jaw in a firm line and he pushed away the hair that had fallen in her face. "Can't you trust me with why you needed a healer?"

 

"We said 'no ranks' too but you are acting like my Commander right now." She met his look with anger behind her eyes.

 

"We are analyzing what you took, we are testing every liquid in the bar. I need answers because a Pal-Mar healer nearly killed a Starforce agent in the back room of a bar. Whether you want it to or not, Vers, the truth will come out."

 

"I was trying to avoid questions." She tilted her chin defiantly at him. He worked the soft spot of his cheek so he didn't make her mad by smiling. Headstrong Vers. Nothing ever seemed to go according to plan.

 

"You weren't particularly successful." She pursed her lips, fighting the urge to punch him. "How did you find the healer?"

 

"Ish-Al called her," she meant it to vouch for her confidence. That this was all a massive misunderstanding. Yon-Rogg's look grew dark.

 

"We need to question him," he let her go moving quickly around the room to dress.

 

"He doesn't have anything to do with this," she protested digging her hands into her pocket. She felt inside the smooth cold surface of a crystal. She pulled it out holding it up to the light. "Yon, did you give me this?"

 

"We need to hurry," he responded shrugging into his jacket again.

 


 

Minn-Erva was hovering in the basement of the med centre. She was disheveled and tired. She kept fighting back a yawn as she hovered behind Lai-Rah. She could feel the other woman's mounting frustration and she reveled in it. By comparison, Lai-Rah was flawless her ink coloured hair swept up in a high bun, her long neck visible above the demure smock the medics wore. It was a shame, Minn-Erva thought, that such an unattractive personality came wrapped in such a pretty box.

 

When Minn-Erva had given the instructions to Att-Lass to sweep the bar for samples she didn't tell him about the most important one; the red spatter of sick in the back room. She had told him only what he needed to know, that there had been an incident and he need to take a bit of every drink in the place. Instead, Minn-Erva had slipped into the room alone and collected the sample. She had presented the rattling box of vials into evidence with the one important sample hidden in the midst of dreck. Now was the waiting game of her own creation.

 

"It would be easier if you could tell me what I was looking for," Lai-Rah sighed into her chromo-spectragraphic set up.

 

"That is classified," Minn-Erva responded, leaning against a metal counter. She let the cold steel dig into her back, it woke her up a bit.

 

"How do I format my report without a central search criteria?"

 

"A report is unnecessary, just supply the raw data." Minn-Erva stretched the crick in her neck. Lai-Rah swiveled, annoyed, in her chair.

 

"What is the use of data if it isn't accompanied by context or qualitative analysis?"

 

"The context is classified," Minn-Erva felt her own annoyance growing. She drifted around the lab.

 

"Don't touch anything," Lai-Rah called out, her focus on the equipment in front of her. Minn-Erva mouthed the words behind her back.

 

At last, a sample beeped and Minn-Erva heard Lai-Rah rattling vials.

 

"What is it?" Minn asked, leaning over her shoulder.

 

"It's strange," Lai-Rah answered pulling each vial out individually and holding them to the light. "Every other one was just alcohol with the rare hallucinogenic back wash. This is- different."

 

Minn-Erva reached around her immediately downloading the information to a datapad. She was so close to Lai-Rah she could feel the heat rising from her skin. The other woman was distracted turning to look up at Minn-Erva through wide eyes.

 

"I have heard rumors about why you don't go back to Hala," Lai-Rah said in hushed tones as Minn-Erva turned to look at her. Their faces were too close.

 

"I have heard the rumors about you too," Minn-Erva answered with an arched eyebrow. "Is this backed up anywhere?"

 

"What? No-" Lai-Rah was distracted turning back to the screen. Minn-Erva reached and pulled the power source out of the back. The machine shut down with a loud whine. Lai-Rah jumped up. "What have you done?"

 

"That's classified," Minn-Erva answered knocking over the vials with her elbow so they spilled and mixed on the counter. "Clumsy me."

 

She could hear Lai-Rah cursing as she hurried from the lab.



Vers trailed after Yon-Rogg as he went tearing down the street. Ish-Al's bar was so close, but he took off like it was an ever growing distance from them. As if he had to catch it.

 

They burst through the doors, Vers clasping her side. Yon-Rogg walked immediately to the back room. To her shock she saw him reaching for his side arm.

 

"Yon, what are you doing? Ish-Al is my friend."

 

"He didn't act like a friend last night," Yon retorted, his eyes sweeping for other exits or places to hide.

 

There were none. The bar was small, you could see every corner clearly from Ish-Al's usual perch behind the bar. Everything was as it had been last night except that Ish-Al was gone.

 


 

"She compromised the mission. I had to evacuate," Ish-Al growled down the comm. He wore his own skin again. It was the only thing comforting him as he secured his position through the next jump point.

 

"You were told to leave days ago, General. It is you who are in contempt for delaying so significantly." The calm voice on the other end grated on his nerves.

 

"There was more to be gained," he argued back. He could not see the council through his monitor, but he knew they could see him.

 

"I followed my instructions," the other woman bemoaned his accusations.

 

"I told you to plant a tracker, not poison her," he interjected. "I had to flee after having a near dead Starforce Agent on my floor. Hardly a graceful exit."

 

"Suspicion won't fall to the Skrulls. The Kree would never believe us to be so bold." The calm voice tried to soothe him. He would not be soothed.

 

"I want to know who gave you orders to poison her," he demanded down the line.

 

"Those orders don't concern you," the spy answered smoothly.

 

"And what happens when they find the Healer whose face you stole? Then how does suspicion land anywhere but on our people?" He was going to lose his temper.

 

"They won't find her."

 

"If she is dead we look worse. Our rules of war do not allow for killing people of medicine. You will have broken your own people's laws."

 

"Contain yourself," the soothing voice of the council spoke over him. "This is becoming too personal, General Talos. You are losing sight of the mission."

Chapter Text

Semit was bordered by a tight line of dry trunked trees. They were dense and clustered together as if beneath the loamy sand they all shared one root. Bron-Char struggled enough to cross the empty sands with his massive weight, navigating the trees was proving to be even more of a challenge. He found his body caught once again between to trunks and let out an animal roar of frustration. Korath stopped where he trudged and turned back to look at his partner.

 

"You look like you are in need of help," he stated his blue eyes squinting in the dawn sunlight. They had been moving through the border of Semit since the wee hours of the morning when the Commander had summoned them.

 

"I would feel better about the trouble if I knew the reason for it," Bron-Char wedged his hands against the trunks and pushed. There was a cracking sound before the wood split apart.

 

"The purpose of a mission is not always clear. We are to find this healer and bring her back," Korath turned away from the broken trees and continued his trek.

 

"Do you think it is Vers who is sick?" Bron-Char called ahead as he squeezed through the trees.

 

"Where there is trouble or nuissance Vers is usually to be found."

 

"She is strange, that is certain. The Commander is fond of her."

 

"He rescued her from the Skrulls," Korath answered dismissively. "I have saved you from less and I am fond of you."

 

"You have never saved me," Bron-Char argued.

 

"You forget when we were on Silas-" Korath stopped short. Before him the ground fell away to a ravine. He held up his fist to warn Bron-Char to stop. He could feel Bron-Char's heavy footsteps through the thin edge of sand.

 

"What is it?" He asked creeping closer.

 

"Not another step'" Korath commanded too late as the weak sand gave out beneath his feet and he slid down the root gnarled embankment to the silty soil below.

 

Bron-Char followed him into the ravine. There was smoke rising from a hearth and a ratty lean-to was built into the sand. There was a woman sitting beneath the shade. She was as still as a statue.

 

"You, witch, are you the Healer who came to Semit last night?" Korath asked, righting himself from the soil. The woman's head turned sharply. Her eyes were white like pearls and she seemed to look through him.

 

The woman did not answer him. She blinked slowly, before turning her attention to the hearth again.

 

The men closed around her. She smelled of herbs, sweat and sand. As they drew closer she turned her head again, this time her hand came up and swung a stick in a wide circle. They backed up.

 

"If you can hear us I suggest you answer with your tongue, woman." Korath ducked as she swung again.

 

"I don't think she can hear or see us," Bron-Char answered.

 

"We should take her anway," Korath answered him and Bron-Char nodded.

 

He swooped down on the woman throwing her over his shoulder. The woman let out a mighty howl and began kicking her legs and arms against Bron-Char's broad body.

 

"Enough," Korath growled sticking her skin with a stun disc. The woman shuddered before going limp. Bron-Char nodded his thanks. "See, I saved you again."

 


 

Yon-Rogg stood in the middle of the bar his eyes scanning and his mind racing. He wanted to start tearing the place apart with his bare hands. He wanted to rip up every floor board until he hit sand. Vers was watching him with a wary look in her eye. He wondered if she could feel the energy he was barely keeping inside.

 

These men had meddled with her. They had broken into her apartment. They had poisoned her. And like cowards they had ran away rather than face his wrath.

 

"He isn't here, Yon." Vers repeated. She looked pale and she was leaning hard to one side. He needed to get her out of here. He should return her to her room, except it didn't feel safe there knowing one of the crystal toting bastards had let himself in once before. He couldn't return her to his room. There, she wouldn't be safe from him. He did not trust he had another night on the floor in him. Especially if she was conscious enough to use that wicked mouth of hers.

 

"The others will do a sweep, follow me." He checked his side arm was holstered properly beneath his jacket and began to walk from the bar. Vers stayed rooted, the haunted look still in her eyes.

 

"I found another crystal," her voice was tight. Yon stopped.

 

"Here?" It struck him that he wanted to take her face between his hands and soothe the way her eyebrows knit together. He wanted her to speak with confidence.

 

"No," she ran her tongue nervously over her lips. "I found it on Zai-Al."

 

His stomach dropped. They were all connected.

 


 

Vers trailed after Yon-Rogg into the precinct. She was tired deep into her bones and her mouth tasted of soil and sick. She was worried he was mad at her for hiding the crystals from him. He had gone quiet after she had admitted it, even though he had walked slower to accommodate her sluggishness.

 

"Follow me," he said to her turning down a seldom used hallway that led towards evidence lock up. She watched the straightness of his spine and the shift of his shoulders for a clue about what would come next.

 

They stopped outside the cells and Yon-Rogg waved his comm over the lock. The door swung open and he gestured for her to go in. Vers looked at him cautiously but took a step inside.

 

The door closed with a hollow clang.

 

Vers whipped around. "What are you doing?"

 

"Rest in here, Vers" Yon-Rogg had the gall to look at her calmly as he locked her in a cell.

 

"Am I under arrest?"

 

"There is a bed in there. Just rest until I come get you."

 

"You can't do this," Vers wrapped her hands around the bars. They shocked her and she didn't flinch as her hands lit up and her implant throbbed.

 

"Don't touch the bars, Vers" he admonished her. She looked at her hands in confusion as he carefully wrapped his hands around her burning palms and pulled her away from the metal. She saw the smallest curl of his lip as the pain ebbed from her to him.

 

"Why are you doing this?" She looked at him like she wanted to stick her hands through the bars and swipe at him.

 

"I just want you to rest and this is the only place I can leave you where you won't get into trouble. So just stay here."

 

He started to walk away from her. She felt trapped. She didn't like it in the cell, the walls were coming around too close to her.

 

"Yon. Yon, if you find Ish-Al listen to him first," she called hoping he could still hear her.

 

"Rest, Vers," he growled back.

 


 

Minn was waiting for him in his office after he left Vers in the holding cell. She would be spitting mad when he let her out later but at the moment he didn't care.

 

"What did you find?" He asked wearily. He opened the surveillance link to the cells so he could keep an eye on her. Minn's eyes followed Vers' pacing figure.

 

"Isn't that a bit extreme?" She arched her eyebrow and Yon-Rogg fell backwards exhausted into his chair.

 

"You don't know Vers like I do."

 

"I notice you two have gotten close since we left on our last mission."

 

"I realized we have been neglecting her since we brought her back."

 

"So you felt guilty?" Minn slid into the chair across from him, her eyes following Vers like a fish in a bowl. Yon-Rogg was trying not to look at the screen for fear he would charge back there and cuff her to the bed.

 

"Did you get a report?" He changed the subject.

 

"Yes," Minn-Erva fixed him with a significant look. "You won't like it."

 

"Why not?" He straightened in his chair. He felt the cold tingle of anticipation in his limbs.

 

"Because I don't like it," she handed him the datapad. "Silverleaf. A standard tincture for Kree biology."

 

"So not poison?"

 

"Not unless they knew she was not a Kree." Minn-Erva continued to look at him with ice in her stare. "Do you know what that's for?"

 

"Silverleaf? No." Minn-Erva rolled her eyes and muttered something that sounded almost like 'men'.

 

"I am calling Korath and Bron-Char back. Do some research while I am gone."

 

"Regardless, the bar owner vanished." He called after her as she left his office.

 

"I would too, if I had to deal with you," she called over her shoulder.

 

Minn-Erva was usually more respectful, but when it came to their shared secret they always managed to revert to their Academy days when she had been his senior.

 

Yon-Rogg rubbed his hand through his hair. He knew it was all connected, but aside from Zai-Al's mysterious desertion and death there had been no crime.

 


 

They had already landed with the witch woman in tow when Minn-Erva's call came through. Korath groaned looking back at the lump of rags on the floor of their transport.

 

"What are we supposed to do with her?" He looked at Bron-Char as if he possibly had the solution to their problem.

 

"Put her in a cell until she wakes up?" Bron-Char shrugged

 


 

Vers had just settled onto the cot when she heard the clang and thump of something or someone being thrown into the cell next to her. She sprung up and pressed herself to the wall that separated their cells.

 

"Hello? Ish-Al is that you? Ish-Al? Why did you run?" She called out hoping whoever was on the otherside could hear her through the pressboard.

 

For a moment, there was nothing but silence. Then there was voice that seemed to come from all around her and inside her at the same time. Thin and reedy but with a note of music.

 

"Well, well pretty one. What do you have in your pocket?"

Chapter Text


Talos looked at himself in the mirror. He turned his face side to side inspecting the lines and the texture of his skin. There came a time when he was in deep cover where he never knew if he was returning to his true form or merely crafting another face. Had the marks on his shoulders always been that way? Was the line of his jaw always this way? Could he remember the story of each scar? This became his small ritual after the end of each mission.

 

There had been a time when his wife counted his scars with him. She could catalogue his body more thoroughly than he could. She knew it from angles he had never seen. She would assure him as many times as he needed; yes this is right. Yes, this is you. How different it was returning to himself when there was no one to miss his true face.

 

He was stripped all the way to his waist, his body fresh from the shower but his mind still reeling from the last cycle. He could not wash from him the feeling of the Kree woman pressed against him. She was so fragile in that moment. Her heart no more than a moth beneath her skin. Talos had never held an enemy while they died. He had killed. He had turned away from those in need. He had set traps then escaped while the world behind him collapsed in hellfire but he had always been too great a coward to witness death.

 

Maybe death troubled him because he held strangers too close to his skin. Sometimes to survive he would curl inside them and hide until he was safe again. Perhaps he had saved her because he had worn Ish-Al against his soul too long. He had been his longest ruse. He had arrived on Pal-Mar days before the Kree Bastard returned. The communique had come through the hidden Skrull channels that Mar-Vell was dead and the fate of the people in her care was unknown. Talos had immediately requested transfer to Pal-Mar. The council had fought him. They had said it was unethical. They had told him to stay where he was. He had lost favour by pushing. He had continued to lose favour as he worked closely with agents the Council did not trust. Zai-Al and the Titan.

 

He wanted to unravel exactly what had transpired on Earth. Zai-Al had told him he thought something had happened. His last message to Talos before his death had been cryptic but thrilling. The Star Never Fell.

 

The Star had been the code name for Mar-Vell's work.

 

Talos knew he was drifting farther and farther away from his mission. His purpose had become irreconcilable with his reality when the Elders had shrugged off the loss of their people on Earth. The council were not wrong when they warned him he was writing a dangerous end for himself.

 

He leaned close to the mirror pressing his forehead against the glass. He wondered if the Kree girl, Vers he knew her name but he could not bare to apply it to the memory, if she had died. He did not know if he had saved her or not. He had told her lover where to find them because he thought he wanted to watch him suffer but there had been no triumph in watching the man who came to them. There was a familiar pain in his eyes. He felt more like a mirror than an enemy in that moment and Talos did not want to think about it too closely.

 

Now Talos was alone on a ship. For a moment he was missionless. Stuck in limbo not knowing the fate of the Kree girl, the location of the Titan or the fate of his family. Except his son. He knew Zai-Al was dead and no one but the Kree girl seemed to care.

 

The council wanted him to push away this sorrow. To grieve it privately and accept the unknowable as certain as death. It was a betrayal of the empathy that defined his people and Talos could not follow these orders from the Council. How could he accept his wife was dead when he could reach out to her with his love and feel something solid answer him back? He could feel her reaching for him. He knew that was what it was whenever tendrils of foreign sorrow would wrap around his heart, in moments when he was not sad or focussed on other things. He knew it was his wife reaching for him through the universe and he would stop and let it squeeze him. Let her feel how solid and alive he was. Tell her she must never ever give up on him as long as there was breath in his body.

 

He lay on his cot and conjured her to him. The scent of her, the weight of her body curled into his side. He could play their last night together as real and as accurate as a recording. He had dedicated it to memory not knowing when he would see them again. A benefit of known partings. You could savour every second with the weight it deserved.

 

It had been Indes' hatch day. He had delayed leaving because he knew they were close. The Council had been stony voiced as he fed them excuse after excuse for not leaving but he would meet his child.

 

He could remember her small fists pushing through the shell. He remembered holding his wife back as she was eager to brush away the pieces and help their child into the world. He had held her wrists and cradled her against him, feeling the tension in her lithe body, many weeks recovered from the carrying of the egg.

 

"No helping, Inamorata, we are raising a warrior for our people. They must have strength from their first breath," he had whispered in her ear, nuzzling the soft skin of her neck.

 

Watching their child emerge had been worth every iota of the Council's displeasure. He could remember the shadow of Mar-Vell haunting the doorway. Their friend who had given them the safety to grow their family. He felt in that moment so full of love he could burst. If only he could have had some whiff of what was to come short weeks later. He should have been more vigilant.

 

Alone in his cot Talos rubbed his hand over his face, willing away the water that hung heavy behind his eyes. There were other memories to be had.

 

The hours before he left. In their shared room. His wife curled up against him as his hands mapped the planes of her body. Every small sound disturbed her, she would twist away from him to look over towards the bassinet across the room. He remembered soothing her and pulling her back to him again.

 

"All is fine, Beloved. All is fine. Let me say goodbye to you," he had whispered to her in the darkness. She would relax again for a moment and give in to his kisses. She made him feel so powerful with her love. He would not let their last night pass without giving to the altar of his wife.

 

He remembered the sounds she made, the way her breathing changed as he drew her closer to him, the way she cried his name over and over in hushed and hesitant tones. Still nervous, still shy. He remembered rolling them so she was the one trapped between his body and the wall. She couldn't shift away as she drew closer. It still seduced him the memory of her unwillingness to take when she could be giving. She would give and give and give when they made love, but she was always so timid of her own pleasure.

 

It was like winning a battle over and over whenever he could coax her into being worshipped.

 

He smiled to himself as he thought of his brilliant, hard-headed wife. She was stubborn, she was bold, she was the most valuable scientific mind the Skrulls had produced in a generation. And yet she loved like a nervous bird. He adored the dichotomy of her. The public and the private. The softness only he knew.

 

He would find them again.

 

Until then there was another mission on his horizon. One that would strike a blow to their enemies they may never recover from. If only the Kree girl never managed to open the crystal she stole.

 


 

Vers dug her hand into her pocket and felt the cold edges of the crystal.

 

"Yes, that. Do you even know what you have, little girl?" The voice asked her and Vers turned in circles.

 

"Yon, what's going on?" She called into the comm trying to keep her voice even. She knew there was an edge to it despite her efforts.

 

"What do you mean, Vers?" His voice crackled back.

 

"Don't ask him. Listen to me," the voice was insistent.

 

"Why can't I see you?" Vers asked loudly into the cell.

 

"Hush girl, no need to shout. I can't see you either. Sight is unnecessary when the hearts and thoughts of men and women are open to you." The voice was trying to soothe her. It was barely working. "I see a great secret in you."

 

"What is it?" Vers asked her nerves alive. She wondered if the voice belonged to whoever was in the cell next to her.

 

"I cannot see what you do not know yourself. There is a missing hole in your heart. I can see the shape of what was lost not what would fill it."

 

Vers gripped the front of her shirt. The woman was saying what she had always sensed.

 

"You were trusted with a very ancient thing. And you stole others that were not yours to take. Do you know what they are?"

 

Vers tried to focus against the disorienting feeling of a voice in her head that was not her own and what sounded like commotion outside coming closer towards them.

 

"The crystals? No."

 

"They hold secrets. Secrets that are unlocked by ancient powers."

 

"Then why give it to me if I can't open it?" She asked, remembering the handsome stranger pressing the crystal into her hand.

 

"They must see in you something you take for granted. Some power you don't know the full shape of. I can see the starfire in you, do you know how to wield it?"

 

Vers' hand came to her neck as she felt her implant throb beneath her skin. She had never felt comfortable with her powers. She could conjure them, but they easily lost control. Outside, the commotion reached her. She heard Korath bursting into the cell next to her.

 

"Be safe my sweet, I smell the deadly one is back," the voice hummed in her ear as there was a whirr of electricity and the thump of a body.

 

Minn-Erva came into her cell, her energy more contained than Korath's. Vers looked at her wild-eyed.

 

"What happened? Who did you put next to me?" Vers demanded.

 

Minn-Erva walked towards her and took her face in her cold hands. Vers tried to knock her away, but Minn-Erva had always been stronger than her. She checked her pupils and then her pulse.

 

"We ran her biometrics. She is a fugitive from Hala. We think she is the one who poisoned you." Minn-Erva stepped away and called up a spinning image of the woman. It was the Healer from Ish-Al's.

 

"That is her face, but her voice was wrong."

 

Minn-Erva crooked her eyebrow. She took Vers by the shoulder and pushed her towards the cot. Vers sunk down on it and Minn-Erva kneeled and began to roll up her sleeve.

 

"She has been silent since they found her. You are the one that has been raving," Minn-Erva unhooked a small device from her belt and pressed it to the inside of Vers' elbow.

 

"What are you doing?" Vers asked coldly. It was silent inside her head again but she felt like she was filled with the beating of one thousand wasp wings.

 

"Drawing blood," Minn-Erva answered and Vers felt a pinch against her skin and the cold flowing feeling of blood leaving her. "You are obviously having some sort of delayed reaction that has nothing to do with the contraceptive you took last night."

 

Vers went cold and she found she could not look at Minn-Erva's bent head anymore.

 

"You know about that?"

 

"There is no high born daughter of Hala that does not know about Silverleaf. It's what protects us from our own unsuitable desires.' Her voice was cold and Vers felt there was more to what she said. The matchmaking among the Kree elite was on occasion a bloody business.

 

"Who else knows?" Vers swallowed as Minn-Erva stood up and began to walk away from her.

 

"The Commander," Minn-Erva sounded unimpressed. Vers hated herself.

 

"It was just some trader. He was a mistake. I was lonely-" Vers protested. Minn-Erva scoffed and cut her off.

 

"I don't care."

 

She left Vers alone again.

Chapter Text

The woman was Starforce. The truth sat uncomfortably against Yon-Rogg's skin. Hala wanted her for desertion many decades ago. She had been a deserter longer than he had worn the uniform.

 

He watched Korath lift her limp form over his shoulder and the feeling of imbalance pressed harder against his chest. She had escaped so long ago, her body was so deteriorated it felt like a misstep to turn her over. Except it was his duty and duty to the Empire had no statute of limitations. You could not outlive treason.

 

He turned his eyes away from her cell and focused on Vers and Minn-Erva. Vers had become distressed, turning and pacing as a woman possessed. He had sent Minn-Erva to her because he was weak. If he had gotten close to her he would have left the others in no doubt of his changed feelings. It was bad enough Minn-Erva was looking at him with such a knowing stare.

 

Vers was alone again. She curled on her side facing the wall. Yon-Rogg ached to go to her but he had locked her in the cell to rest and protect her from his desires. He did not know how long he watched her.

 

"Are you remembering to blink?" a voice broke through his fixation. Minn-Erva was leaning against the doorway datapad in hand. Yon-Rogg coughed awkwardly.

 

"Just trying to unravel how it's all connected," he said turning away from the screen.

 

"It's not." Minn-Erva passed him the datapad. "She had an affair with a trader coming through Pal-Mar. The healer poisoned her by accident."

 

Yon-Rogg felt a hot spire of jealousy skewer his organs all the way to his throat. The idea of Vers with another man made him feel close to losing control. He had to remain neutral beneath Minn-Erva's watchful eye.

 

"Obviously this is a discussion of conduct I have to have with her." He heard his own voice a pitch too low to be in control. Minn-Erva rolled her eyes.

 

"Starforce are allowed mates of the number and quality of their choosing, Commander. This incident is because she is ignorant of her own situation."

 

"What about the panic just now? An after effect of the poison?"

 

 "Silverleaf is not a poison. Like any medicine in the wrong dose, it is deadly. We flushed it out of her system last night. Her blood is clear so I assume she is losing her grip. She needs to commune with the Supreme Intelligence and be properly assimilated. Or destroyed."

 

"Is that the only outcome that will make you rest easy, old friend?" He looked at her, searching her posture for any sign of fear or hesitation. He could sense none in her despite the potential destruction of their careers. A career that Minn had wrapped around herself as a layer of protection, keeping her untouchable. The protection she needed if she were to return to Hala.

 

"It is time to confess our sins, Yon. Korath and Bron-Char are returning the deserter to Hala. The boon to our reputation and the proof of our loyalty will only last so long. It is better now when we have something to trade."

 

Yon-Rogg ran his hand through his hair. He knew she was right. The woman was a living reminder to watch his own course. He was teetering on the same edge. First he had stolen Vers from her home planet, then he had communed with her through blood and then he had mated her. All this beyond the influence of the Supremor, hidden away on his desert posting. A position he could lose at the merest bend of will from the Supremor. Just as he was a fool to think he could escape the watchful eye of the Supreme Intelligence he would be a fool to think he could stay away from Vers. Not entirely. Even if he never sullied her again he could not remove himself from her orbit.

 

"Tell me again why I am Commander and you are not?" He asked with a wry smile.

 

"That is a question we both know the answer to," she straightened and inclined her head. He returned the motion. "I am going home. Att-Lass too." 

 

"Have a good night, Captain."

 


 

He could see in the darkness of the cell, momentary flashes of light. Small sparks in the shape of fingers and hands. He couldn't decide what she was doing.

 

His eyes ached from watching the screen for so long. He knew he should rest if they would be returning to Hala soon. It was a long journey and he would be the only pilot. Except Vers was behaving oddly and he could not turn away from the screen. After many small flares, there was a sudden flash, a bolt of power and for a moment the image flickered.

 

"Vers, for the love of the old gods, what are you doing?" He called over the comm. There was a pause. He thought he saw her shadow sit up, darkness moving on darkness.

 

"Can you see me, Commander?" Her voice crept down his spine like the sweetest temptation. He shouldn't have revealed his watching.

 

"You are in a cell. Of course, I have surveillance."

 

"Yes, but you are watching it," her voice had an edge of mocking as if she had caught him. He supposed she had. "Can't sleep, Commander?"

 

He felt his stomach fall away and his mouth went dry. There was no way she would be that reckless, to try to seduce him through official Starforce channels.

 

"My subordinate is damaging Starforce property with non-sanctioned use of her powers."

 

"Your subordinate is bored and should be let out," Vers' voice could hold such wicked promise.

 

"Sleep. I need you rested for tomorrow. This is the only place I can guarantee you will be safe."

 

"My quarters are safe," she lay back down again, legs kicking out to move the blankets away.

 

"Someone broke in. Recently." Yon-Rogg reminded her, images of the handsome man and the faceless trader merging in his mind until he wanted to growl.

 

"Your quarters then."

 

"You wouldn't be safe there." He could taste the dark assurance on his tongue.

 

"Is that a promise?" Curse that wicked woman.

 

"If you can't sleep Vers I will bring you a tab."

 

"But then I would be sleeping," he could hear her grin over the comm.

 

"I want you to sleep."

 

"What you want is to watch me."

 

Her hands lit up again, they cast warm light over her body. He watched like a man entranced as she traced the flat plane of her stomach, then the valley between her breasts. Finally, her hand paused at her throat. He grunted and he wondered if she could hear it through the comm because she rolled to face the camera better. One hand was still at her throat, light cutting hard shadows against her jaw and tendons, the other hand slid southward again. He knew what she was doing. He could vividly remember holding her like that, one hand wrapped around her throat pulling her backside flush against his naked body. The other hand had explored between her legs, mapping the tender flesh he had found with other parts of himself. Learning her small sounds of surrender.

 

In a moment of sheer depravity, he switched the camera to infrared. He watched her limbs painted orange and yellow in the shimmering blue expanse of the cell, the red heat of her hands and her arousal spreading lower. This, he realized, was what true madness felt like.

 

"I am bringing you a tab and you are going to take it, Vers" he grunted over the comm. They couldn't do this here.

 

"Whatever you say, Commander."

 


 

Vers was desperate to get out of the cell. She had been trying without luck to get the crystal to open using her powers. She didn't know what she was doing.  Eventually, her frustration got the better of her and she shot a bolt into the wall.

 

Of course, Yon-Rogg had been watching. She should be embarrassed to tease him so blatantly, but just the thought of him at that moment made her blood boil. She had just been trying to protect him, them, and he was acting like she had caused a planet-wide incident.

 

She heard the whirr of the lock and sat up instantly. She was going to make a dash for the door.

 

"Stay there," he commanded a glowing green forcefield pooling around her and pulling her to the bed. It seemed to be locked around her waist and lower, her hands where she gripped the mattress were trapped.

 

"Speaking of a non-sanctioned use of power," she quipped. She sounded breathless as the field squeezed her tight. Some depraved part of her felt a rush at being trapped like this as he stalked towards her like a panther.

 

"You were going to make a run for the door," he answered, she could see the gleam of his exasperated smile.

 

"I was not," she protested, but he shook his head as he crouched in front of her his features lit from below with the green light.

 

"You are a terrible liar." He pulled out a small silver sheet from a package. It was foil-thin and would stick and coat the tongue releasing sleeping drugs into the system. He began to shred the sheet into slivers.

 

"What are you doing?" She asked, eyes watching him warily.

 

"I am only giving you enough to sleep. Minn-Erva won't save you from overdose twice." He reached up and gripped her jaw firmly with his hand. 

 

She tried to keep her teeth clenched tightly, but the pressure forced her mouth open. She swallowed against the helpless feeling that had cold blood pooling low in her belly and a tingle running up her spine. He pressed a single finger against the shred of silver and lifted it to her mouth. He pushed his finger past her lips and pressed the drug to her tongue. She considered biting him, but she knew of a better torture. She sucked, drawing his thick rough finger deeper into her mouth, pressing the length of it with her hot silver-coated tongue. He hissed, a small hot escape of air from his mouth. His hand momentarily gripped her jaw tighter before he released her.

 

"Vers," he warned pulling his finger from her mouth with a wet pop.

 

"I am not tired yet, perhaps I need more" she answered him, she smiled at him like he was the fly in her web.

 

"Give it a moment," he murmured but he picked up another shred.

 

This time she opened her mouth for him. He lay the shred carefully on her tongue and she hummed deep in her throat as she brushed her tongue against him. He swallowed but said nothing. She felt the gravity field ease around her as small tendrils of sleep wove between her muscles. As he released her he reached out and caught her shoulders as she tipped from the sudden freedom of her limbs. He lay her back against the bed and a small sound escaped her as she felt how soft the mattress was around her. Had it always been that soft? Yon was over top of her, careful hands settling her back. She lifted a heavy leaden arm and ran her hand along his arm to his shoulder then down again along his lapel. His heart was a lush beat against her senses.

 

"Maybe one more," she said softly wanting the taste of him in her mouth again.

 

"I think you have had enough," he whispered a hand coming up to trace her face.

 

"I am very awake right now," she smiled, tugging at his lapel. 

 

He humored her and picked up the smallest shred. He laid it over her waiting tongue but he kept himself beyond the wanting barrier of her lips. She groaned in protest, her hands pulled his lapel and her body moved like a wave to meet him. She pressed her mouth to his, the flat of her tongue finding his and pressing the silver foil into his mouth. Yon-Rogg felt it grow thick like jelly against his tongue. He moaned into her, before gently pulling away.

 

It was a small dose. Not enough to overwhelm his Kree blood, but he felt a heady reckless rush fill him all the same. She smiled satisfied up at him as her eyelids grew heavy.

 

"An excellent trick," he brushed her hair off her face. He would kiss her again but then there would be no escape from the drug on her tongue.

 

"I thought so," her smile was dreamy. She looked flushed and sated as if they had just made tender love instead of him doping her into sleep. He wished it had been the former.

 

"Before you sleep, tell me the Silverleaf was for me. That you have had no others." He heard the desperation in his own voice, but he needed to hear it from her own lips. Her eyes were drooping and her breathing slowed. He thought she might sleep before she answered him.

 

"I thought I was a terrible liar, Commander," her tongue wet her lush slack mouth.

 

"Tell me, Vers."

 

"Only if you tell me why I needed to sleep so badly you drugged me." She managed around her heavy tongue.

 

"We go to Hala tomorrow," he whispered to her, letting his face lean too close to her so he could hear her fading voice. She hummed and fumbling fingers reached for his hand. He knew she wanted to see Hala more than anything, only because she did not know what possible destruction awaited them there.

 

"Just you and me?" She asked already so far away.

 

"Yes," he let a finger trail over the bridge of her nose. She crinkled against the featherlight touch.

 

"Good. Then you can ask me again on the ship," she rolled away from him finally drifting off to sleep.

 

"Temptress," he murmured before he forced himself to leave her side.

 

It would do them no good to be found together the next morning.

Chapter Text

Vers woke up with a dry taste in her mouth. She had a vague feeling of being tilted in the wrong direction. She realized her head was hanging off the bed.

 

"Do you always sleep this way?" Minn-Erva asked from beyond the bars. Vers blinked her heavy eyes and pulled the tall lean blue figure into focus.

 

She rolled her groggy body back onto the mattress and did her best to stretch out her aching muscles. She checked her pocket and found the crystal still there. 

 

"I don't know," she turned her head to look at Minn-Erva. "Are you going to let me out?"

 

Minn-Erva waved her comm over the lock and it whirred open. Vers sat up and made a dash for the door.

 

"Slow down, Jail Bird. On those legs you'll hurt yourself," Minn-Erva stepped out of her way as she stumbled through the door. Vers felt like she could breathe again.

 

"Never put me in one of those again," she huffed through her lungs sluggishly pulling in air.

 

"Stop making bad choices and it won't be a problem." Minn quirked an eyebrow and sauntered down the hall. "You have an hour before the Commander wants to be in the air."

 

"What?" Vers called after her body braced against the wall.

 

"Didn't he tell you? You're going to Hala," Minn called over her shoulder and Vers felt the rush of memory. She had thought it was a dream. Excitement bubbled up in her. Hala. The place that would hold all the answers. She was sure of it.


 

Yon-Rogg was stripped to the waist and staring into the mirror in the cramped bathroom of the precinct lockers. He ran the water until it was hot and pressed a cloth to his face. The last cycle clung to his skin like an ill omen, if he could he would buff and scrape it away. He had managed a few hours of rest in his office once he was sure Vers had drifted peacefully off to sleep. Of course, his dreams had been haunted by the feeling of her mouth wrapping hot around him and the phantom pressure of her tongue.

 

He pulled the cloth away and lathered soap into his skin. He was just leaning close to the mirror, two fingers pulling his skin tight for his blade when there was a cough behind him. A blur of blue hovered behind him in the sweating glass.

 

"Did you release her?" He asked pulling his razor across his skin and running the blade beneath the water.

 

"You're taking extra care," Minn-Erva teased him from the doorway. He raised his eyebrows at her reflection. They had lived in close quarters the better part of the last two decades. A long life together. This was the first time he felt he might have something to hide from her. He wondered if the marks Vers had left across his back and shoulders were healed completely.

 

"I am taking her to Hala as you recommended. I should prepare myself carefully."

 

"I will come with you-"

 

"No," he cut her off, lifting his chin to shave the tight skin beneath. "If there is any reprimand I will bear it alone. Besides, I know you do not wish to return there."

 

"I will not be a coward by staying here," Minn-Erva set her shoulders, her tone like iron. Yon-Rogg washed the dregs of soap from his face. He turned to her and leaned against the sink, he dried his skin.

 

"No one who knows you, Captain, would ever accuse you of such a thing. I need someone here to hold down the fort. It would be unfair to ask Att-Lass to stay on his own."

 

Minn-Erva nodded but her mouth was still set in a hard line.

 

"Something is bothering you. You might as well speak your mind," Yon-Rogg moved from his perch and began to pull on the last of his clothes. Minn-Erva watched him from beneath a furrowed brow.

 

"I feel like this is a 'goodbye', Commander."

 

Yon-Rogg paused in closing his shirt. He walked to her and gripped her shoulders. She would not meet his eye.

 

"I can't predict what will happen on Hala. Or whether I will return. You were a fine soldier, Minn-Erva and a better friend. I am sorry I led us astray." He made to release her but her hand came up to grip his wrist. She swallowed hard.

 

"Yon, what choices did you make that you can't take back?" Her voice was tight. He knew they didn't often acknowledge what they meant to one another. Standing on the cusp of parting, possibly for forever, he could say it was his strongest regret.

 

"Don't," he let go of her and returned to the fastenings of his shirt. He set his shoulders. This moment would not be served by emotion. "Don't question your Commander. Obey my orders. This post is yours until I return."

 

She nodded inclining her head in a small salute. He returned it before she left. He hoped the sour feeling in his gut would dissolve once they were on their way to Hala. He rubbed his knuckles hard into the firm centre of his chest, trying to coax the tightness there to ease.

 


Vers had few belongings on Pal-Mar. She could fit her clothes easily in one small satchel if she pushed. Besides that, she tucked the crystals and her datapad on top. Once she was packed she scrubbed the night in the cell away.

 

This felt to her like a new beginning. Another chance to prove herself. Some small part of her whispered that they would be on this journey together. It sent a senseless thrill through her to picture the two of them alone in the silent vacuum of space. She was only getting her hopes up she whispered back, trying to quash the stirring of anticipation in her chest.

 

She nearly ran through the precinct as if being late meant he would leave without her. In her rush, she nearly collided with Att-Lass. 

 

"Who let you out?" He caught her shoulders to stop her from falling over. Her face lit up in a megawatt smile.

 

"Att, I am going to Hala." She slung her bag higher up on her shoulders.

 

"You're going to love it," he said returning her smile.

 

"Unless she misses her ride," Yon-Rogg interrupted from the doorway of his office. Att-Lass released her, falling into a soldier's stance as Yon-Rogg joined them in the bullpen. He snagged Vers' bag and slung it over his shoulder to join his own. "Are you coming?"

 

Vers mock saluted him before squeezing Att-Lass' arm affectionately. She took off ahead of him and Yon-Rogg shifted the bags on his shoulder so he could incline his head properly to the young officer.

 

"Serve Captain Minn-Erva well while I am gone."

 

"Yes sir," Att-Lass returned the gesture.

 

The ship opened up as Vers climbed the gangplank. She had never been inside before. At least not when she was awake. They had existed to her only as great hulking shapes in the yard beyond the precinct. Every surface was plated in black metal but the interior was far from dark as every panel was threaded with glowing wires of light. She felt her chest clench with excitement as she looked around her. She drifted towards the pilot's chair, running her hands over the leather.

 

"Before you ask, no you can't fly it." Vers turned and saw Yon silhouetted in the doorway. Now there was two of them she realized how tight the space could be after several hours.

 

"What if I asked nicely?" She grinned at him.

 

"You don't know how to be that nice, Vers." He tried to sound stern as he turned away but she could sense a crack in his resistance. Maybe once their business on Hala was complete. He walked to the edge of the cockpit and slid open a small port in the wall. "This one will be yours."

 

Vers peered into the blue-lit opening. There was nothing but a mattress wrapping along the bottom. 

 

"They don't come less coffin-shaped, do they?" She raised her eyebrows. He placed her bag inside the space and closed it again. "Is yours bigger?"

 

He slid another panel on the other side of the wall open and dropped his bag in.

 

"We only sleep in them, they don't need to be bigger. There are tabs if you find it overwhelming."

 

Yon-Rogg tried to ignore the way her gaze made his skin tight. They would only be sleeping he repeated to himself.

 

"I am fine without tabs, thanks. I didn't enjoy them last time."

 

"You seemed relaxed," he couldn't help teasing her as he slid into the pilot's chair. He flipped the switch to bring up the gangplank. He nodded to the seat next to him. "Strap in."

 

Vers didn't have to be told twice. She slid in next to him. He looked over to help her with the harness, but her hands were already expertly finding her way around the buckles. She smiled at him, pleased that she had found some muscle memory already. He felt warmed by it. He tried to stamp down on the feeling of foreboding that sat heavy on his chest as he engaged the console and began to chart their course.

 

The feeling of being thrown back, of being gripped by an unseen force and pushed back into the seat felt gloriously familiar to Vers. It made her heart race and the nerves at the base of her neck tingle. The sky rushed to meet them as the ground fell away. Somehow flying felt more like falling as she felt her body momentarily lift against the harness in the half second before the artificial gravity whirred to life.

 

It was a feeling she thought she could spend her whole life chasing.

 


 

The lights were off in Yon's office. The only light was the glow of the screen showing their slow course to Hala. Minn-Erva was reclined in Yon's chair with her feet up, a heavy crystal glass of spirits in one hand. She could not bring herself to return to the dormitory just yet. That would mean that the first day without Yon would truly begin and she wasn't ready to admit the thought filled her with dread. She tried to curse the Terran for ruining their peace, for disrupting their mission but she couldn't find the anger. The blame could sit nowhere but on their own shoulders. She only felt a gnawing emptiness that came with dreading an unknowable thing.

 

She froze as she heard the click of shoes through the precinct. Heels. Low but still heels. Only one being would creep into this place wearing such ridiculous footwear.

 

"I thought I might find you here," a voice purred in the doorway. Minn-Erva took a steadying sip of the liquor. She wanted it to burn away the desire for someone to be looking for her.

 

"You're out of luck Lai-Rah. It's only me," Minn-Erva stayed facing away from the door. She could feel the air chill as Lai-Rah froze.

 

"What are you doing in the Commander's office?" Lai-Rah dropped the purr and walked into the semi-lit room. It felt smaller with her there.

 

"I am in charge while he is away. Didn't he tell you he was leaving? I thought you were close." Minn-Erva took another sip. Lai-Rah should learn to be less fun to torture. She heard the click of heels and soon Lai-Rah was standing in front of her. She leaned on the side bench Minn-Erva had her feet up on.

 

Minn-Erva looked away from her and back to the screen. She was so beautiful. The epitome of fine Kree breeding. She managed even in the wastes of the desert to smell of something intangibly feminine. Tonight she was in a black silk wrap dress, too fine for winds that carried sand. She was wrapped in a creamy white wool shawl against the cold desert air. Everything about her called out to be touched. Minn-Erva wondered if Yon ever gave into it.

 

"Where has he gone?" Lai-Rah broke through her revery.

 

"He is returning briefly to Hala," Minn-Erva wet her lips with the whiskey. She was starting to feel it warm her too quickly, but she craved the burn of it in her throat. Lai-Rah scoffed and stole the crystal glass from Minn-Erva's grasp. In her surprise at finding Lai's hand over her own, she let her.

 

"Doesn't it bother you?" She asked bitterly drinking from the glass Minn-Erva had just had against her lips.

 

"Does what bother me?" Minn-Erva found now she was looking at Lai-Rah she didn't want to turn away.

 

"That it is so easy for them to return, while people like you and me are stuck on the border planets." 

 

"What do you mean people like us?" Minn-Erva swallowed. She had never heard it spoken aloud before. Her team always masked her exile as a choice. A preference. She had allowed the lie because at least it made her seem powerful. Only Yon suspected the truth of it, but he had let her guide the narrative.

 

Lai-Rah fixed her with a heavy pitying look over the rim of the glass as she drank again. It was a look that asked her if she was going to make her spell it out. Minn-Erva was. Lai-Rah drained the glass curling it against her chest for a moment as her tongue traced her lips. She obviously grew tired of Minn-Erva's blank stare. She rolled her eyes heavenward for a moment.

 

"Women who love without discretion," she purred. Leaning forward she placed the glass hard on Yon's desk. Minn-Erva froze as she leaned over her, her senses overloaded by the other woman's closeness. Her heart didn't return to normal speed until she heard the click of Lai-Rah's heels retreating.

 

"Das't" she murmured into the darkness.

Chapter Text

Absolute unadulterated wonder was something Yon-Rogg hadn't felt in years. Looking at Vers as they broke the atmosphere and hit the jump point he doubted he ever felt it with the intensity he saw in her face. Her gaze was torn between watching the sky become stars and watching his hands.

 

He had never had a woman look at him in wonder as he piloted, there was something mildly addicting about it. He wished that the journey required more from him than take off and landing. He would have liked to show Vers everything they were trained to do in Starforce. His smile at her faltered when the memory pushed in that she had nearly out maneuvered him on C53. He coughed awkwardly to hide his discomfort.

 

"Are you thinking about how you promised me you would show me how to fly?" Vers asked, watching him out of the corner of her eye as they emerged from the jump point unfathomable miles from Pal-Mar but only just beginning their journey to Hala.

 

"I don't remember saying that," Yon-Rogg slid from the pilot's chair, eager to have space from Vers.

 

The cabin walls were already curving into a small protected world where there was only the two of them. Old words from his Academy days came rushing through him, stories told of the first man and the first woman. They had been repeated with an air of pitying the primitive cultures they were helping but now in the dark light of space Yon-Rogg felt their potency. One man, one woman and a vast fillable void stretching out around them. A space to be filled with the sounds of passion, actions that shape children and spread upon a lush fertile surface the issuing of their love. Potent, toxic poetry. Poetry was not how Kree formed dynasties and he didn't know why her closeness made something so primitive in him rise to the surface. A reptile part of him.

 

Skrulls kept their history locked in poems because they didn't have the capacity for record keeping. He would not knot his history with Vers in senseless words or feelings.

 

"Really, Commander, I didn't picture you as the type to trade empty promises for sex," she rested her chin on the back of her chair, watching him pace like a cat watches a fly.

 

"Vers," he warned pausing to find some occupation for his hands. He opened the rations cupboard. Vers unfolded herself and sauntered towards him. He should have known food would draw her closer.

 

She leaned against the wall, hand out for whatever it was he was unwrapping. She nodded her head to the stars dotting the field beyond the shield. There was no good way to mark their movement even though he knew they were moving forward. "Who is going to hear? Rule two didn't cover if we were the ones away."

 

"I see what you are trying to do and it won't work," he bit his inner cheek as he found the caf tabs.

 

"It might work, if I did it for long enough," she smiled at him. She flashed her eyes at him like only Vers could, "it's along way to Hala and you will get bored eventually."

 

"Not bored enough to teach you to fly," he could already feel it was a lie. He pulled out two packets from the cupboard. "Do you want to be awake or asleep?"

 

Her eyes moved around the craft greedily taking in every detail, "awake."

 

He threw one packet back in the cupboard, "get comfortable, but don't touch anything."

 

It grew to be a strangely domestic scene. Vers curled up in the co-pilot's chair, him making hot caf at the small set up. He knew some Kree vessels were huge with sprawling kitchens and proper bedrooms, the Starforce ships had always been simpler. Closer to roughing it. Built optimally for pairs to travel together although they could sustain more if they had to. Usually through complex cycles of sleeping and waking that meant no more than two were wandering the cabin at once, the others tucked away in artificial sleep like items on a shelf.

 

He delivered her drink, and she sniffed it experimentally. She took a sip considering how the flavour changed when it was hot. He sat on the arm of the pilot's chair and watched her drink.

 

"Let me try yours," she put her datapad aside and curled up to reach for his cup. He held it over her head fingers just unable to reach it. "You are not that much taller than me."

 

"I am effectively taller than you. The difference in our height is being used effectively," he teased back as she tried to scoot forward without spilling her own. At last, he relented switching their cups.

 

"Why is yours better?" She asked settling back the mug gripped firmly between her hands. He laughed taking a sip from hers.

 

"If I told you I would have to kill you," he smiled at her over the rim of the cup. "I will make yours like that next time."

 

She smiled and went back to her data pad. He should leave her in peace, but he didn't want to.

 

"What are you reading?"

 

"Zai-Al's file."

 

"Do you think he and Ish-Al were related?"

 

"His parents were killed in a mining accident on a nearly uninhabited planet at the edges of the Pama Galaxy, how would he find another relative if Starforce doesn't even have record of them?"

 

"We can't ignore we have found three identical crystals on three unconnected men, two of whom fled." He settled further onto the arm, draining the caf.

 

"I can't decide what the Pleasure Trader thought his mission was, or why he gave it over to me without telling me anything." Yon-Rogg bit his tongue at the mention of the smooth talking bastard that broke into Vers' apartment.

 

"Don't call him that, you don't know anything about him." Vers grinned at him flicking her foot at his knee. He caught it between his hands, instinctively sliding a palm upwards to grip her ankle.

 

"Pleasure Trader? Why else would he be in Pal-Mar with Jaru root?" She put her cup aside and rested her head on her hand. She liked the feeling of Yon-Rogg's firm grip on her ankle.

 

"A thin ruse at best and you shouldn't be misled by it. He could be dangerous"

 

"You sound jealous. Why would someone working for the enemy pass on his mission to two agents of the other side?" She arched her eyebrows at him as his thumb made tight distracting circles over her skin.

 

'We don't know what those crystals do. They could be a listening device."

 

"Then we have given them quite a show."

 

"Vers," he warned her releasing her ankle.

 

"It's decided then," she stood up stretching her tight muscles. "Next step should be figuring out the crystals. No more distractions."

 

As she moved to her small bunk Yon-Rogg could still feel the press of her skin against his palm. It seemed to him distraction was around every corner.

 


 

"I don't believe she is Starforce," Bron-Char broke the silence that had descended on them soon after take off. They were used to being partners and had developed unspoken habits when traveling off world. The first was that Bron-Char kept his nattering to a minimum.

 

Korath grunted looking behind him at the woman suspended from the ceiling. She was in artificial sleep, but her milky pearl eyes sometimes twitched as if she was dreaming.

 

"Age comes for all who evade death at enemy hands," he growled, looking back to the void in front of him. He received word through the comm the Commander's ship was a jump point behind them.

 

"Why would she desert to live a life like hers?"

 

"I am sure she was promised a better one. You cannot turn back once you have abandoned your duty," Korath was rigid in his seat. He was not made to question what he was told and he did not tolerate it in others. Bron-Char at times was too flippant for his comfort.

 

"I do not believe the Supremor would be so unforgiving. Kindness and understanding are the best ways to display wisdom," Bron-Char's eyes kept drifting to the glowing blue forcefield that held her. He wondered if she was uncomfortable with her head thrown backwards spinning in slow circles.

 

"You take a naive view for a man who has seen the things we have seen," Korath admonished. To him the Supremor was iron clad control and strength in the face of an insidious threat. When he had been brought before them they had risen in the shape of his great grandmother, the many plated warrior of the Accusers. A woman to whom death was preferable to failure.

 

Bron-Char fell silent. He settled back against the co-pilot's chair, closing his eyes. For his massive body the small bunks were near torture. Korath let him drift into sleep.

 

"Son, son. Isn't it cruel to keep an old woman like this?" A sweet voice crackled over him as he hovered between awake and dreams. "Is this how noble warriors behave?"

 

Bron-Char made a small sound as his head lolled to the side. Korath let him be, greedy for the silence.

 


 

The restlessness set in on board their ship. Knowing she was so close to him had driven Yon-Rogg beyond the point of silent meditation. He kept falling into memories of her. Not just the oblivion that waited between her thighs, but of moments he had never found with another. The satisfaction of correcting her form and watching her apply it, her focus when playing Scaruband, and the moments he had no words for. When he had grazed his teeth over her ribs and she had thrown her head back and laughed, twisting and pushing his body away so he had to chase her with a similar laugh in his throat. Or when he found new depth in her, their bodies moving together with the harmony of a wave so perfectly in time he had been scared to breath in case the smallest change broke the moment. Or the feeling of putting his hands across her back and feeling her heart pound against both his chest and his palms so he felt like nothing more than an echo chamber for her.

 

At last, he felt as if he could not stay still any longer, that inaction was painful. Vers perked up from her datapad as she saw him moving.

 

"Want to spar?" He asked crossing to his bunk and shucking his shoes and jacket into it before sealing the door. Vers' eyes swept the small space, but she followed his lead.

 

"Feels a little tight, but I am game if you are," she quirked her lips at him and Yon-Rogg felt his blood rise.

 

"You aren't thinking of the advantages of the environment," he answered her crossing to the console. With a flick and a whirr he pressed in a sequence of buttons. Vers was confused until she felt her stomach rise and her feet lose touch with the cold floor. The artificial gravity had been turned off.

 

Yon-Rogg managed to look graceful as he lifted from the ground. Vers felt more like she had grown too many limbs. She lost the feeling of where her head should be. She felt her toes lift up in front of her but it was as if she had no sense that she was lying down. Her hands stretched over her head bracing against the cool wall so her hands could walk up it.

 

Vers was floating on her back, her golden hair lifting away from her shoulders. Yon-Rogg pushed towards her, his fingers bracing his movement across the ceiling. He reached her, allowing his body to float higher towards the ceiling. He grabbed her ankle and tugged her so she drifted away from the wall and lined up beneath him. He caught her waist and pulled her close to him, her eyes were closed and her lip was caught between her teeth.

 

"You can't aim blind, Vers," he adjusted her against him before pushing away from the ceiling. She laughed rolling her eyes back as their bodies floated back toward the floor, Yon-Rogg flexed his muscles straining them downwards, Vers mimicked his position. She was pressed against him but her body had no weight. It was a divine torture holding the static shape of a lover.

 

"I feel like you have an unfair advantage," she laughed as she pushed away from him trying to fall into a fighter's stance, but every small movement sent her flying too far.

 

"Are you suggesting I know how to fly Vers?" He pursued her across the small space as she fell backwards her feet just above the ground. "Or is it because I can do this?"

 

He activated his gauntlet and grabbed her just before she collided with the wall. Vers' body came alive to pressure and feeling again as the field gripped her. She could tell which way was up. Yon-Rogg drifted toward her, stillness and focus incarnate. His hands met the wall first, framing her in with his body.

 

Yon-Rogg felt adrift in the small confines of the ship. Weightless and free. Vers was trapped against the wall like an anchor.

 

"This feels like cheating," her voice had an edge of recklessness and abandon that always made him want to give in.

 

"I am just pressing my advantage," he answered her, ducking his head and feeling the weight of her body push back as he kissed her.

Chapter Text

Vers forgot how to breathe. Had it only been a few days ago that she had been trapped at her desk losing her mind? Now she was on a ship bound for Hala and Yon-Rogg was holding her face and kissing her as if she was the only source of oxygen on the ship. She had almost convinced herself their night together had been a dream, except she had felt his eyes on her more and he had teased her more knowingly. Now her bottom lip was being drawn into the warmth of his mouth and despite the pressure of the gravity field holding her down she felt she might be falling into him.

 

He moved, with a brush of his nose against hers and a caress of his thumb, to scatter kisses across her cheek. She tried to remember how to draw breath as he kissed below her ear. Her chest and head were buzzing with fine golden static.

 

"This would be better if you let me go," she panted into his ear.

 

"Why? I have you exactly where I want you," he whispered into the sensitive skin of her neck.

 

"I don't believe that for second," she scoffed. She turned her head and pressed her mouth wherever she could reach; his ear, his cheek, the curve of his jaw until he turned back to capture her mouth again. Except this time she was the one to draw him in, her teeth caught his lip when he tried to overwhelm her and he groaned in her mouth. He released her and her hands moved immediately to dig into his shirt and pull him closer to her.

 

Without the field he had to push harder to feel the weight of her. His fingers dug into the gaps in the plating and he clawed hard into the wall to press his body against her. She wrapped her legs around his hips but it wasn't enough the tides of space constantly pulling them apart. Their efforts pushed them further up the wall until her hands came up to stop them hitting their heads on the ceiling. She laughed in his ear, her teeth finding the straining muscles of his jugular.

 

"I think you need to admit gravity might be central to this process, Commander," she unwrapped her legs from his waist and shoved him in the sternum.

 

He fell slowly backwards from her, a predatory gleam in his eye. She kicked off the wall and pursued him. His feet hit the floor a half second before she reached him, her fist moving deliberately towards his jaw. He caught her, the momentum spinning her around so her back was pressed to him but also pushing him backward. They collided into the opposite wall with a soft thump. He shoved her away from him before pushing off again. The small ship was crossed easily by their weightless bodies. He trapped Vers between him and the wall. As they collided again he took advantage of her momentary distraction to loop an arm around her chest and to slide his hand across the plane of her stomach.

 

"I can work around gravity," he murmured against the skin of her neck. "Say yes to me."

 

She breathed in against the roughness of his hands where the barest sliver of skin was visible above her waistband. She had missed him in the short days since they had been together. Had come to want him so badly in her months on Pal-Mar. She wanted the tension she felt being pressed against him to spill out over her.

 

"Yes."

 

The body needed gravity to perform so many of its functions. Though her brief time in the gravity field was enough to peak her arousal it was not enough to thoroughly prepare her to take him. He slipped between her inner layers and found the place she was hot and tight. She hissed against the gentle invasion of his fingers as he searched out the places arousal collected against her skin.

 

"I am sorry, try to relax," he said into her hair making his movements smaller and more deliberate. He felt her twitch against him as he made small trails up and down her. Passing places that made her breath catch. Her feet braced against the wall and she began to float up against his touch. It was disorienting heaven trying to keep track of their twisting, floating limbs. So tangled he wasn't sure where he ended and she began. He pushed them away towards the console. His own body would need gravity soon. He felt his thighs hit the edge but he wasn't ready to release her. Not when he could lean back with her on his chest and the vast universe could be seen through the shield.

 

Vers thought this must be what bliss felt like, her and Yon-Rogg nestled against each other, weightless, and the darkness of space studded with blue stars above them. He still traced her, diligently and thoroughly replicating gravity between her thighs. It felt less like the riding of a wave but the slow lapping of water at the shore. Rhythmic, soothing and primal. She wanted it to continue for forever.

 

It couldn't though. The movement of their ship assumed internal gravity. Living too long without it would shrink their organs and swell their bodies. Yon-Rogg moved his hands to grip her tighter and tilted them forward again. One hand on the console he brought back gravity with the same dexterity he applied to her body. There was a thump then the feeling of falling into each other.

 

His mouth found her bare shoulder, he grunted against the wonderful firmness of her flesh as he sunk his teeth into her. Blood began coursing properly through their bodies again, she was dizzy from the sudden flow downwards. He sagged into her too, flesh coming to life where their bodies pressed together. Undeniable proof of his self torment. He turned her to face him, hands reaching for her clothes as he bent his head to kiss her again.

 

"Just so we are clear," he said between pressing hot reverent kisses wherever he revealed skin. "Everything on this ship is Starforce issue and we are grossly misusing it."

 

Vers' hands found the fastening of his pants and began to tug them open, returning his kisses one for one.

 

"Does that include you?" She asked pushing his pants away from his hips.

 

"Especially me," he answered grabbing her waist so they tumbled backwards into the pilot's chair in their haphazard state of dress.

 

He lifted her hips and lined up their bodies. He entered her as she leaned forward on the console, eyes once again looking at the gorgeous expanse before them.

 

"I could get used to this view" she gasped as his firm hands on her hips moved her against him. His one hand snaked forwards over her hips and dipped low to where their bodies joined. She felt the glow beneath her skin and tasted the heat of her own blood as her tongue pressed heavy and insistent against the roof of her mouth. Yon was a furnace beneath her, slick skin and hammering heart.

 

She curled forward as his relentless rocking drove the heat higher into her chest. She shuddered around his fingers as he pressed into her, already familiar with the signs her body gave him. Her eyes rolled back and she hummed a broken sound as he continued to rock. She leaned forward hands on the dash and feet on the floor. More resistance to his movements, a thousand more stars behind her eyes.

 

She heard her name like a broken prayer as he went rigid and still beneath her. His arms locked around her and pulled her back against him. She could feel his heartbeat between her thighs as clearly as she could feel it in her chest.

 

"For Starforce issue they hold up well to abuse," she said through heavy breaths, patting the arm of the chair. She felt rather than heard Yon's laughter against her bare back.

 


 

"Das't" Korath muttered as he looked up to the empty ceiling. Gone was the blue light and the woman. They had needed to stop for fuel. The trip to Hala was far and their small ships couldn't contain enough to get them there without a stop. He had specifically selected the near-abandoned station so the woman, if she escaped, could not hide in the crowd.

 

He charged to where his partner was sleeping and kicked the back of his chair, hard. He snorted awake.

 

"You oaf, where is the woman?"

 

"What?" Bron-Char rolled against the jarring rocking of the chair, his hands moving to his aching head.

 

"The woman is gone," Korath pointed to the empty ceiling and Bron-Char gulped.

 

"That is impossible," he insisted. "What have you done with her?"

 

"Me?" Korath demanded slapping a hand against his chest. "You think I have done something?"

 

"Did you think the Supreme Intelligence would go too easy on her that you killed her yourself?"

 

"I would never question our Supremor," Korath set his shoulders squaring up with the mountain of the man.

 

"Then where is she?"

 

"I don't know. We must find her," Korath stormed from the ship. Bron-Char stopped and turned his eyes to where she had been. He could not shake the voice in his dreams telling him a true warrior was merciful. Coaxing his leaden hands to commit treasonous acts. How was it possible when it had all been a dream?

 


 

The bunks were really too small for two, even pressed together, Yon's arms wrapped around her waist there was barely room to wiggle a toe. She had not wanted to part from him once their bodies had joined for the last time. Currently his head was nestled against her shoulder, his breath warm against her neck. It was lovely in a cramped sort of way.

 

She had the crystal in her hand, the one she had taken from Ish-Al. He must have had some way to use it. The voice had told her it needed an ancient power. What was more plentiful on Pal-Mar, and more ancient, than the sun? She focussed on the idea of sun. The heat, the way it beat down on them. She raised her hand in a fist and ignited her flesh. It was a blinding bright spot and the already warm coffin grew quickly to unbearable temperatures. Yon groaned in protest, she could feel him turning away from her. She held the crystal in front of the light and thought she saw a shadow within it. Yon rolled farther away, a hand coming up to cover his eyes.

 

"Vers, what in the name of the old gods-" he grumbled and she turned to look at him. In shadow across his chest was one word distorted but legible. "Feroimum"

Chapter Text

The fueling station was situated on a cold dark moon. There was nothing around it but dense lush trees that smelt of funeral pyres; rotting and sacred. Years on a parched desert planet had not made Bron-Char immune to the beauty of shifting dunes of sand or harsh cliffs but his eyes drank in fertility and water swollen leaves as a welcome relief. How comforting it was to push aside fat fronds that flicked water into his face after seeking the same woman in the wastes. To feel his foot caressed by spongey moss and boggy braken. A planet that swallowed you.

 

She had vanished. No one had seen her pass or aided her. There had been no other ships in the short time Korath had been gone. She had resolved into dew and poured down the knotted trunks to feed the earth. Bron-Char felt a gnawing hopeless feeling that she was lost.

 

They returned to the ship briefly. They could not leave without a thorough search. What remained was to report to Pal-Mar and then allow Hala to decide their next course of action.

 

Minn-Erva appeared over the comm. Korath could tell she was braced for bad news. At the very least the Commander's second could be trusted to be cold and emotionless.

 

"Minn-Erva," Korath rasped "the prisoner is gone."

 

"You can't be at Hala yet. What do you mean gone?" Minn-Erva pulled up their location seeing their signal hover over Kairunn.

 

"She escaped her bonds and disappeared into the surrounding area in the space of time it took for me to clear my ticket with the Transporter's Guild."

 

That had been the only reason he had had to disembark in the first place. A guild jump would perform a life scan. A two person non medical unit with a third person in suspended state would initiate the Traffickers Protocol. The jump port would have frozen and they could damage their ship before they proved they had clearance to transport the prisoner. Better to handle it before.

 

Then he had returned to an empty ship.

 

"That is impossible. She is in poor health, how could she evade capture?" Minn-Erva knew it was a pointless question. The impossible had happened. She kept her face neutral as she felt the bottom fall out of her stomach. They had lost their boon. The Commander could not return to Hala. She had to warn him immediately.

 

"Stay on Kairunn. Att-Lass and I will join you. We will find her. Until then do not stop looking."

 

Korath inclined his head.

 

"You will inform Hala of our issue?"

 

"No." The edge to her voice surprised him. An unexpected ant sting from the cool grass. "We will wait until she is certainly lost."

 

Korath inclined his head again before cutting the signal. He did not agree with circumventing the SI like naughty children, but he was outranked on this issue. He hoped the Captain did not delay too long or he would be forced to be insubordinate.

 


 

Yon's hand came up to move over the word that was splayed across his chest, his fingers rubbing as if he thought it had stained his skin. The word distorted over his hand.

 

"How are you doing that, Vers?"

 

Vers extinguished her hand and the word disappeared. She turned the crystal seeing if it had changed at all. It was the same smoke filled shard as before, inside the delicate webbing was unchanged by the heat. Yon moved beside her and she tried to push away her animal brain that was demanding she notice the way Yon-Rogg was pressed against her, the sweat that was trapped between their skin, the way the scent of their bodies intermingled to form a new smell. Hot, lush and virile. She turned to look at him, to explain what she had discovered but the dark look in his eye stopped her. Apparently all the thoughts she had tried to keep at bay were waging a similar war in her partner.

 

He captured her mouth, pulling the words that stalled on her tongue into his lungs as he breathed in. The way he breathed through her, stealing the air from her and sealing their mouths tight against each other made her feel dizzy. It was like being consumed.

 

It was easy in the confined space for him to roll her underneath him. She reached her hands above her head and captured the edge of bunk, the crystal clinking against metal plating of the wall as it was gripped in her hand. His hands ran up and down the elongated lines of her sides, fingers counting her ribs before moving lower, thumbs pressing into her hip bones. She couldn't resist curling into him, feeling him warm against her. Her body craved it despite the oppressive heat of the bunk. She felt like a lizard, slick and willingly baking themselves on a rock.

 

The insistence of his hips pressed her legs open and she felt her knees brush every so often the smooth walls of the bunk.

 

"Vers," he breathed against her lips, barely lifting his mouth away from the nerves he had made raw with his teeth. "Let me have you again."

 

She took the reprieve from his mouth to draw in air, a shaky breath that quickly became a laugh.

 

"Will you be able to focus if I do?" She asked already tilting her hips, the crystal a cold distracting edge digging into her palm.

 

"Yes," he swore mouth latching onto the taut skin of her throat.

 

"I meant on the case," she caught his hips with her thighs.

 

"That too," he murmured teeth moving to graze her shoulder. Vers hissed a sharp breath feeling her focus pulled between two worlds; the tight space where Yon and her were wrapped around each other and the vast expanse of Pal-Mar that still bore the gouge of Zai-Al's fall.

 

She relaxed and Yon wrapped his arms under her, his fingers digging into her shoulders. Vers kept her hands above her head feeling the gravity of Yon pulling her close to him. Reveling in complete surrender. He rocked into her slowly, hesitant of hurting her even though she had learned to tilt her hips and ease him in many matings ago. There was so little space, so little air. He could grind into her with barely the give of the padding beneath them. Once he was seated he moved fast, chasing his own completion. She bit his ear and pulled to distract him as his hips began to stutter against her. He laughed rubbing the sore flesh against her shoulder but he slowed. Moved his hips deeper, pressed more firmly where she needed him. She exhaled slowly, sinking into the rhythm of their bodies, feeling the tightness of no air in her lungs almost as if she had made more room for him in her.

 

Her mind wandered to the deserts of Pal-Mar, to the heat of the sun that had begun to unlock the crystal, feeling the movement of Yon inside her as if it was a force of nature tied to the shifting of the sands. Sensation grew in her, her skin becoming even more alive to pressure. Yon's breath grew into small huffs against her skin as he tried to keep away from an edge. His hand moved to trap one knee into his side, his eyes glancing to where their bodies joined. Her body was growing hotter and a darkness was starting to swallow her from her knees up.

 

Yon hissed and lifted his body from hers, hips still faithfully grinding into her.

 

"You're burning up," he growled as she opened her eyes to look down at the faint glow that was lighting up the bunk. Her skin had lightning beneath its surface. She was so close, she never wanted him to stop but she didn't want to hurt him.

 

"I'm sorry, I am close. Just-" she panted as she closed her eyes again trying to push the energy deep inside her again. Yon groaned and pushed his body back to hers as he moved deeper inside her.

 

Finally the light broke and she came with a flare of pure energy bursting from her palms.Yon followed heat spilling into her.

 

"I swear that never happens-" she laughed pushing her body farther out of the chamber so it was hanging in the cool air of the ship and she could survey the damage. She stopped laughing as she saw the projection of hundreds of images scattered across the floor. She moved her hand with the crystal and the images wavered. Yon lifted his head from her chest as he heard her laughter pause. He moved so he could see better, every muscle tense.

 

"I guess we figured out what the crystal does." Vers muttered looking at the multitude of data that was spilled over the floor.

 

"Happy to help," Yon murmured sliding his body from the bunk and standing among the images. Vers started to move, but he held a hand out to still her. "Stay there."

 

He walked among the projection, sweat cooling on his skin. He grabbed his pants as he passed them and pulled them over his hips.

 

The images were distorted but he could recognize glimpses of legible pieces as he walked among them, the projected frames moving and wrapping around his body. He recognized the coordinates of Feroimum and the schematics of the Kree embassy there. Just as he crouched to try and read better the images flickered and went out.

 

He glanced at Vers who turned the crystal in her hand. Where before it had been smoky but translucent now it was solid black. She lit her palm trying to see the fine webbing inside.

 

"I think we burnt it out," she looked up at him with concern. He crossed to the console and started throwing clothes at her so she could dress again. She shuffled into her pants. "Did you recognize anything?"

 

"Only the Feroimum Embassy. The rest was too distorted. Why would the bar owner want information on that?"

 

"We should go. There might be something there," Vers responded tying her shirt across her body again. Yon's stomach clenched at the idea of returning to the planet of his youth. He did not know what he felt picturing Vers in the hallways of DarRogg. Seeing his father and mother again.

 

"We need to go to Hala-" as if on cue a hail came through. Pal-Mar. Yon scrambled to find more clothes as the light blinked from green to orange. He straightened himself as well as he could before opening the line.

 

"Commander," Minn-Erva's voice was tense. "There has been an incident."

 

"What kind of incident?" Yon-Rogg felt Vers draw closer. If Minn-Erva saw how disheveled they were her face never faltered.

 

"The prisoner escaped on Kairunn."

 

"Impossible-" Yon started to say but swallowed the words. It had happened. "What is being done?"

 

"We will retrieve them, I suggest-" Minn-Erva flicked her eyes to Vers as she searched for words that would not give away her concern. "You divert your course until it is handled."

 

"Agreed," Yon-Rogg gave her a significant look. "We should stay in the area in case you need back up."

 

The comm blinked out and Yon-Rogg felt dread descend on him. They had lost their barter for good will, but their course had already been charted. Hala was aware they were on route. He could not simply turn back and hide again.

 

Fingers tense with unspent energy he opened a hail to Starforce on Hala. He entered a simple message, "Possible Intell leak. Feroimum. Report to follow." They could turn their course away from Hala for a short time. If the witch would not be found it was possible supplying Hala with the information leak would buy them charity in the face of gross insubordination.

 

"Are we going to go help?" Vers asked, her features painted with concern.

 

"We are going to Feroimum."

Chapter Text

Minn-Erva was haunting the outside of the lab in the bowels of The Medical Centre. She was arguing with herself that she had a good reason to be there. It was a solid, unshakable reason. There was no reason she should not walk through the doors.

 

Except she wasn't. She was standing just outside them, beyond the eye of the sensor.

 

She was beginning to feel like a peeled Moragu fruit; cut into harsh angles and exposed to rot. It was the same feeling she had the night she had attended her first Solilkhurim, only diluted by years of wrapping a hard shell around her heart. Those nights existed in a whirl of colours, sounds and feelings. She recalled so little of them except the dull ache they left in her stomach.

 

Solilkhurim, the earliest rituals of matchmaking and mating for the Kree elite. Minn-Erva had been in battles that stunk less of blood. Everyone moving around each other, sniffing out opportunity. Women being led away to dark corners, men moving through the crowds like islands of stinging jelly fish. Impossible to pass through without a phantom touch marking you. The night had made clear for her imperfections in her heart that she had always feared were there.

 

Starforce had saved her. The Supremor had wanted her as she was, impudent heart and all. It was a place the elite never sent their children, with exception of the houses that had won their nobility through war. By and large, it was a place all castes mixed together.

 

She had risked that freedom by following Yon-Rogg's rash judgments on C 53. Now she had crossed too far and could only keep moving forwards.

 

That meant finding the prisoner.

 

That meant learning about her.

 

That meant opening the door.

 

The first thing she saw when the doors parted for her was Lai-Rah bent over the chromo-Spetragraph. A strand of her long hair had fallen out of place. Minn-Erva thought it must be bothering her. She pushed down the urge sweep it behind her ear.

 

The woosh of the door made Lai-Rah turn around. She saw Minn-Erva and arched one perfectly manicured eyebrow.

 

"Have you come to unplug more of my machines?" She asked her voice calling on all the frost an Upper Class upbringing had packed around her heart.

 

"Would you like me to pretend I am sorry?" Minn-Erva hovered by Zai-Al's suit, a constant spectre in the lab.

 

"A little bit of begging forgiveness wouldn't hurt."

 

"I need what you have on the woman we are transporting back to Hala."

 

"I assume you don't mean Vers. You know everything about her." Minn-Erva pressed her tongue into the roof of her mouth to prevent her saying something she couldn't take back. Whether it was a lie or an excuse she couldn't be sure.

 

"The deserter we found in the wastes."

 

"Talia-Rath?" Lai-Rah shifted some of her notes around. Cold and disinterested.

 

"Is that her name?"

 

"You turned her over to Hala without even looking at her name?" Lai-Rah turned back to her work. She muttered under her breath "and people call me cold."

 

"We gave you a sample of her blood. What came back?" Minn-Erva ignored the words Lai had muttered. She survived because of her coldness.

 

"It mutated during the scan. A common issue I am having." Her eyes flicked to Zai-Al's suit. "If the more thorough testing follows the pattern of the last specimen I anticipate a Kree-Skrull hybrid."

 

"Like Zai-Al," Minn-Erva supplied, drifting closer to Lai-Rah as if pulled in by her orbit.

 

"You don't seem surprised," Lai-Rah answered her eyes on the view screen of the Chromo-Spectragraph.

 

"I accept the parts of our history that others might be uncomfortable with," Minn-Erva fiddled with a stylus laying on a table. Being made to feel like an aberration since she reached her majority she could sympathize with those that were born with a secret.

 

"What if I told you that Zai-Al's Kree source was a perfect match for your commander," Lai looked at her from the side of her eye.

 

"I would say it was the work of Hala." She dropped the stylus hard on the metal surface and it made an empty clink.

 

"You have such faith in him given his other proclivities?" Lai turned to look at her full, her voice carrying the smallest hint of disgust.

 

"I don't know what you mean." Minn-Erva set her teeth.

 

"Of course you do. You returned together from C 53." Minn-Erva had been drifting too close to Lai. How had she not noticed? Lai had noticed though, she turned to face her completely. They were almost the same height with Lai in her low heels. Minn-Erva was always taller than everyone, even some of the men only came up so high. The height difference didn't matter in that moment Lai-Rah seemed to fill her senses. Minn-Erva suspected she knew exactly what she was doing. She set her shoulders, she wouldn't let anyone cast aspersions against her Commander's character.

 

"Zai-Al was barely in his third decade. He has served Hala all his life through sponsorship from the house of Ronan. You said it yourself. Yon is the source. He is not the father. Unless you suggest he is in the habit of saving every lower life form through transfusion. In which case he would have believed Zai-Al was a Kree, just as he appeared. A noble act from a noble warrior"

 

"You are much smarter than your Commander." Lai reached out almost as if she were going to brush dirt from Minn-Erva's sleeve, but thought better of it. "I nearly purchased my passage back to Hala with the same threat."

 

"I have the benefit of personal detachment," Minn-Erva moved to get some space from the smell of citrus and flowers. Lai-Rah smiled like Minn-Erva had played her whole hand without knowing.

 

"I thought for a moment the rumors were wrong about you and you had taken the Commander as a lover." Lai-Rah's lips quirked in an impish smile. Minn-Erva tried to picture Yon-Rogg looking at her as a woman. The thought made her laugh.

 

"Because he rejected you? Are you so irresistible?"

 

"Are you saying the rumors are true?" That wicked eyebrow quirked again.

 

"No," Minn-Erva retreated farther, but Lai-Rah pursued her, slowly. Like a panther.

 

"The rumors about me are true," she purred.

 

"I don't know what you mean." How had Minn-Erva lost control of this encounter so quickly? She retreated again so the suit of Zai-Al was a convenient barrier between them.

 

"That I was to be a bride of the house of Ronan. That I was cast off. That I took an imprudent lover. All true." Lai-Rah's hand reached for the suit and turned the palm contemplatively so it rested unnaturally skyward.

 

"I did not come here for gossip," Minn-Erva wished her words had even more ice. That she could douse Lai-Rah in her disrespect. Lai-Rah only looked at her hotter, made her treasonous heart beat faster.

 

"No, you came here for information that was readily available on your own servers and since you have such disdain for the context I provide I can only assume you wanted to talk about our mutual hurts. Unless you didn't want to talk at all."

 

"You are right. This conversation has been useless." Minn-Erva made to retreat. Lai-Rah called out after her.

 

"Did you ever ask after her once you hid away in Starforce? I hear they married her to a real brute." Minn-Erva paused only long enough to feel the spiked tendrils of regret squeeze her heart.

 

"I don't know what you are talking about," she answered without turning around. She left the lab unsure if there was a fresh wound on her heart if it was old one opened again.

 


 

"You don't look happy for a man who is going home," Vers observed from the co-Pilot's chair. With their destination changed Yon-Rogg was forced to manually pilot them to the next jump-point. The one that would send them towards Feroimum.

 

"I am not exactly returning home for a joyous reason," he answered eyes darting between her and the console. She was drinking in all his motions as if translating an ancient language.

 

"Will we see your home?" If Vers thought she sounded casual she had failed. He smiled at her, teasingly.

 

"Why? Do you want to meet my parents?"

 

"Are they like you?" She asked raising her eyebrow and returning his smile.

 

"Not at all," he turned to look at her completely. The woman he shouldn't want so badly.

 

"Then I am sure I will love them," she answered with a laugh.

 

"Good," he looked back at the nav system. "Because we will be staying there."

 

"Wow, are they near the embassy? Next you will tell me you are secretly rich." She smiled at him again, but he only gave her a look. "You're not? Are you?"

 

"I am the youngest son of a very influential and important family," he answered as if the truth had been pulled out of him. Vers felt shock ripple through her.

 

"When were you going to tell me this?"

 

"It didn't seem important," he shrugged. He didn't talk about his past often. It was not an exciting story. It also undermined how hard he worked to attain his position. Unlike others of his caste he had had nothing purchased for him.

 

"So I will be a secret there as well?" She asked looking out to the void beyond the shield.

 

"Vers," he said it like it was a prayer. She had to understand. It was not her. It was the world he came from. A world where pasts mattered; families, histories, genetics. Everything she did not have in her favour. He wanted to protect her from it. She only nodded.

 

"I think I would like to be asleep until we land," she said quickly. She stood and walked to her bunk before he could even reach for her.

 

Yon-Rogg could not follow her, his hands and eyes glued to the controls.

 

"Das't" he muttered.

Chapter Text

Vers ignited her hand so the dim blue light of the bunk was warmed by the glow of energy she didn't fully understand. She reached out and ran her fingers over the small lips between the bent metal plates that arched over her. It had not been that long ago that the press of Yon's body had made her skin glow. Now she was hiding from him like a petulant child. She did not know what she had expected. Some reprieve. Maybe not him taking her hand and introducing her to them as someone who had weight in his life but some friendliness. She could call him by his given name. Or stand close to him. Their knees could touch if they were seated next to each other.

 

She rolled to the side, extinguishing the light, and traced meaningless patterns into the mattress. She tried to tell herself they were small hopes that had been crushed, that she needed to steel herself against these thousand tiny slights. Or admit that sleeping with Yon had been more than she could swallow. It all made so much sense when they were alone together. When his eyes looked at her with such focus she felt certain she would find all the missing pieces of her life again.

 

She had been the one to let his past be a blank slate. She never asked. How could she? When she had nothing to offer in return? She didn't know her family. She didn't know her past. The thought crept over her skin that even now she could be being unfaithful to someone without even knowing it.

 

Perhaps, she should stop now. In her gut she knew that was the safest course. He may have visited on her body a multitude of pleasures, but there had only be two places sullied with the memory of him. The floor of her bedroom and this ship. She never slept anyway. It was better to leave it there than let every surface and space in her life be filled with memories of him. Then her heart could scab over and she could ring it with ice in the desert.

 

Except, she argued with herself and rolling on her back again, was there really much difference between having him in all the hollows in her life and wanting him there? One a known pain and the other imagined. Did she not know by now her imagination could be one thousand times crueler than reality? Didn't she suffer more in dreams than waking? Isn't that why she never slept?

 

She squeezed her eyes tight. It didn't help her decision that right now he was like a second skin against her. His sweat, his smell, the marks of his teeth and fingers. Even the depths of her body he haunted, a ghost of pressure and sensation. If she tilted her hips she was convinced she could still feel him there.

 

She was losing focus. She was thinking about petty things when they had just made a massive break in the case.
Maybe.
The question that she had set out to answer had been; who killed Zai-Al?

 

The more they learned it fractured out into a dozen other pathways of questions. Who was Zai-Al truly? Was he a man with a secret past? A hybrid made by the Kree Empire? An imposter? Her blood?
Did he die because he was fighting for the Kree or against them?

 

Why did Ish-Al leave? Was he somehow embroiled in something deeper than it appeared? Could he open the crystal? Or had it simply been left there by the Stranger and he had kept it?

 

What did the Stranger want from her? Whose side was he on? Were they all connected? And by what?

 

What answers would they find in Feroimum?

 

It made her head spin. The air in the bunk seemed to be tightening around her. She foolishly didn't want to leave the isolation of the chamber but staying felt like she would be choked alive.

 

They had passed the jump point some time ago. Perhaps, Yon had also retreated to his bunk. It was possible he was tired from the efforts of flying and of- Vers stumbled for a good description of what the last few cycles had brought. Her getting sick, waking up in his suite. He could have brought her to the Medical Centre and left her there. He didn't. He knew she hated being there so he had given her his bed instead. Then he had watched over her again before they left. Between that and the rigors of flight he must be exhausted. Not to mention their other activities. She clenched her knees at the memory and tried to breathe out the guilt that sat on her stomach.

 

She had to get out of the cramped tube and stretch her legs before her mind drove her crazy in circles. She reached above her head and released the door.

 

It slid open and she peaked out. The pilot's chair was empty, so was the visible cabin. The door to Yon's bunk was closed. She could make a break for the shower and clear her head.

 

She reached for her bag just below the opening of her bunk. Her fingers brushed the leather and she made to snatch it but she came up empty handed. She reached for it again, feeling it a little to the side. She stretched her arm all the way and felt only the metal plating of the ship. Grumbling she pulled her front half out of the door and reached down for the bag, her eyes on it. A familiar hand snagged the strap and tugged it just out of her reach. She sighed and turned her head coming face to face with Yon who was sitting on the floor leaning back against the wall.

 

"Looking for something?" He asked eyebrows raised. Vers tried her best to scowl.

 

"You know that's my bag, right?" She asked puffing air out of her mouth to move her bangs out of her eye.

 

"I can pass you whatever you need," he said casually flipping open the bag. She reached for him knocking his hand away.

 

"I am going to shower and change before we reach Feroimum."

 

"An excellent idea," Yon agreed standing up, her bag over his shoulder.

 

"You weren't invited," she retorted turning on her side to look at him.

 

"I also need a shower. We should conserve water." He took off towards the facilities at the rear of the ship.

 

She slid her body the rest of the way out of the bunk and jogged after him catching the strap of her bag. She tried to tug it away from him, but he evaded her grip and turned to walk backwards.

 

"I will be quick. I only need long enough to get the smell of you off me." She tried to dodge around him, but he seamlessly turned with her, evading her and ticking up her frustration.

 

"I like that you smell of me," he stopped short and she nearly collided with him before feigning left and snatching her bag.

 

"Tough. Apparently we are grounded for the next while," she said shrugging the bag on and walking double time to make it to the shower first. He caught the loop of the bag and dragged her back.

 

"We should review the case then," he argued.

 

"Are you suggesting we shower together, as colleagues?" She asked trying to glance at him over her shoulder while persevering against the drag of his body.

 

"And to conserve water," he agreed.

 

Finally, Vers grunted and shook the bag from her shoulders so he had to stumble to catch it.

 

"Fine, but remember colleagues don't touch each other." Free of the weight she jogged towards the shower.

 

"I will keep my hands to myself if you do," he chased after her a victorious smile tugging at his cheek.

 

Starforce issue ship facilities were not made for two. In fact, anyone taller than Yon would have to fold themselves in knots just to fit. It made not touching difficult.

 

They had paused to strip down in the small antechamber before the shower. Vers dutifully not looking at him and Yon-Rogg trying to trick her into it. He had stepped closer to her once they were both bare and raised his hands. She laughed as she stepped backwards to avoid him. Not realizing until it was too late that she had let him crowd her against the shower wall as the door slid closed behind him.

 

"What are you doing?" She asked trying to reverse their positions so she had a hasty exit.

 

"I don't know what you mean, Vers," he said innocently. He reached around her as she dodged his hand and turned on the spray. She inhaled sharply as the cold water hit her and fought to pull air into her surprised lungs. She instinctively darted forward, but realizing that would put her against Yon's chest she quickly whipped her hands over her head. Yon-Rogg smiled at her wickedly. "Cold?"

 

"You did that on purpose," she shuddered, desperately wishing she could step into his warmth.

 

"You entered the shower first. A weak position," he lectured. She resisted the urge to hit him. The water was already beginning to warm.

 

"So what did you want to discuss, as colleagues?" She asked, turning to let the spray hit her. She felt the warmth of his body as he stepped closer to her. The spray never hit her face as he made a bridge over her head with his hands, forearms a hair's breadth away from her on both sides, the water rolling over his hands like an umbrella. He leaned in close to her ear.

 

"First rule of ship life Vers, never get the water in your eyes. It is stericycled and it burns," he murmured it low against her skin as if it was a declaration of desire.

 

She turned under his arms, leaning her head back to the water ran through her hair and over her shoulders.

 

"At this rate your hands are the only thing getting wet," she answered. "Tell me about Feroimum. What could make it a target?"

 

She held her hand beneath the dispenser that pumped a small circle of slippery soap into her hands. It was the same smell that clung to Yon whenever he returned from a mission. As she worked it through her hair she thought ruefully she would end up smelling like him anyway.

 

With suprising grace Yon slipped behind her to capture the spray. She was very aware of the water making their bodies slide against each other in a new and different way. She fought the urge to follow the path of water down his chest with her hand. If his eyes could burn she would have burst into starfire by now.

 

"It is a wealthy planet. The crust is thick with feriosilicon. Hence the name. The mining and production of it is essential to the maintenance of our lives." He reached around grabbing his own dollop of soap. She carefully avoided his hands, but let his forearm press for a moment hot against the curve of her waist.

 

"Why?" She stepped closer to him to catch some of the water and wash away the soap. His hand instinctively came up to block the spray from her eyes, his palm curving along her cheek but never touching.

 

"We are surrounded by it. Every piece of tech, every chip and motherboard. It is the thin wires that run through our suits. Nothing is possible without it." He lowered his voice as if he was speaking blasphemy, his voice shimmering over her nerves. "Even the Supremor is made of it. Couldn't exist without it."

 

Despite the heat of the water and the warmth of their skin so close but not touching Vers felt as if she had been doused in cold water.

 

"So, without it the Supremor would decay?" She asked her voice barely above a whisper. He froze, his eyes that had been following the water over her body came back up to her face.

 

"Vers," he stepped into her placing hands on the smooth metal behind her back. "It is not a defensless planet. You suggest dangerous things."

 

"But if they were already prepared? If they had been watching? They might find a loophole, leverage against us."

 

"The Skrulls need the element as much as we do. The whole galaxy depends on the Kree for their stores, regardless of the channels they take."

 

He thought his words would soothe her, but he felt his own heartbeat rising to meet the look in her eyes.

 

"Can we be sure?" She asked, her voice nearly disappearing beneath the pounding of the water over their bodies.

 

Yon reached for her smoothing the damp blond hair away from her eyes, watching water run down her face and drip in rivulets from her chin to her heart. She looked in the moment more vulnerable and precious than he had ever seen her. Like another planet's nymph risen from a spring. He wanted to say yes, but in that moment he could understand a body that would risk everything for what it knew it shouldn't desire.

 

His hands fell to her waist and he pulled her close. Willingly losing to something greater than himself.

Chapter Text

Yon-Rogg was chewing the inside of his cheek. He was trying to maintain a neutral exterior, but inside was a cacophony of feeling that he had no idea what to do with. He did not know what had come over him, why a lifetime of control was eluding him but he could guess the influence. In fact, the source of the noise was next to him, strapped into the co-pilot's chair and tense as a bow string.

 

He knew he was stinging from rejection. He had gathered her close in the shower, his head once again muddied with poetry, and he had meant to kiss her. Or to huddle her out of the shower and take her against a cold dripping wall far from the burn of the sterilized water. Put his smell back on her so thoroughly she didn't have the energy to wipe it away. In some flight of addled lust he wanted to march her through the doors of DarRogg and tell his parents that she was what he desired. Not the shards of glass that they had forced him to take in hand one Solilkhurim after another, but a sword forged in fire. A damaged vessel that had the fire of emotion spilling out of the cracks. A brave resilient body and mind that begged to learn, to take the shape of what held it. He did not want to slowly melt ice over decades of mating. He wanted to be burned alive from the first moment.

 

He sneered to himself at the thought, his parents would throw him deep in an asylum on Herkarsis if he started talking that way. Maybe he deserved to be there.

 

Vers had stopped him, her arm coming up to bar him. She had refused him. Taking advantage of his momentary confusion at being pushed away she had slipped from the shower leaving a pool of water on the floor of the antechamber.

 

"The Supremor needs our focus," she had breathed into the small space between them. Then she was gone.

 

She was right. Minn-Erva was right. Even Lai-Rah was right. Everything was becoming muddied and confused because of this insatiable desire for her that had awakened in him. Vers needed his training not his ardour. The mystery that began when the body fell was only deepening. Revealing a possible fatal blow, a hanging sword, hovering above their way of life.

 

They would be entering the atmopshere above Feroimum soon. He had been so consumed by Vers, so unfocused it didn't occur to him he should be forming a plan. The data that had spilled over the floor had been hard to read. Tiny print blurred beyond legibility. The outline of the embassy building, recognizable by its circular shape when so much of Feroimum architecture was low, flat and square. Like DarRogg.

 

There was a reason it was on the crystal. There was a reason all three men were carrying them. Yon-Rogg didn't know if Feroimum would hold the answers but it would be a safe haven for him to recalculate, to possibly buy clemency from the Supremor and possibly come out on the other side whole.

 


 

Talos had been sitting by the console of the ship watching his message blink unanswered. The encryption had been arduous and every minute the bastard ignored the message ticked up Talos' frustration. The Titan was originally going to be the one to complete this mission. All Talos was supposed to do was stay hunkered on Pal-Mar and act as a go between should more information be required.

 

Instead, the bastard had hid the damn crystal under Talos' pillow and disappeared. Then like a distracted fool Talos had left it there. To him they were lumps of mineral. Although Zai-Al and the Titan could use them, he prefered ignorance. If he had known he would be the only one left he might have cared more for the information inside. Overall, Talos was beginning to feel like a cruel victim of fate.

 

His mission on Pal-Mar had been clear cut and simple but frustratingly elusive. "Keep an eye out for signs of the Star". They knew from the stolen recordings that the core was being hidden on Pal-Mar. The Skrull agent was merely supposed to keep careful watch over it and advise if it was being moved.

 

In a year, Talos had seen no sign of the core.

 

Then he had to abandon his mission and as penance put himself in danger by going even further undercover on Feroimum. A planet watched over not by six measly agents and populated by the disenfranchised but the heart of Kree wealth, guarded by Starforce, Accusers, and each house's private army. It was a borderline suicide mission. There was a reason they were going to send the Titan.

 

Time was shortening before infiltration had to happen and Talos was hovering just beyond the atmosphere of Feroimum hoping the Titan would reappear.

 

The plan required charm and the ability to get close to every Kree fat cat on the planet. They were going to strike at the Kree resources. Plot a slow death against the Supreme Intelligence and possibly doom the First Planets of the Galaxy to a generation of technical dark ages. In that time, the Skrulls would regroup and form small colonies again. They could grow their number without the threat of annihilation from above. Allow chaos to reign and hide in its shadow. Then slowly find each other again. The nature of the destruction of Feroimum would cast the blame on the Kree. They would appear to be the architect's of their own fate.

 

And it meant Talos had even less time to find his family before the black out occured. He had intended to desert in the hours preceding the attack and travel to C53 to begin searching for them. Now it seemed he would be the match that struck the fuse and either he would die in the attempt or he would be too far from his family to try and regain them again. A diviner punishment the council could not have crafted if they tried. His own subservience would cost him all he desired.

 


 

Landing was decidedly different than taking off. Instead of feeling the exhilaration of her body lifting before being gripped by the artificial gravity there was a moment where Vers was being held by two gravitational forces. It was as if her mass quadrupled in an instant and the breath was knocked out of her lungs as the ship rocked through the atmosphere.

 

The sensation eased quickly, Yon-Rogg's steady hands moving across the console in perfect time, anticipating the needs of the computer and executing each function flawlessly. If she didn't feel overwhelmed at the idea of meeting his family and trying to uncover the plot against her Empire she might have been more attentive to the process. Instead, her mind was a star system away lying at the bottom of the gouge in Pal-Mar.

 

They flew low, a jigsaw of fields and buildings below them. Vers leaned against the straps of the harness so she could try and catch glimpses of the planet below them. Her eyes starved for anything but Pal-Mar's deserts.

 

"Those are the Rogg Mines below," Yon-Rogg supplied, his eyes darting to her every once in awhile.

 

"As in your family?" She asked eyes fixed on the ground below.

 

"We were one of the first colonizers. Our share of the natural deposits is vast," he shrugged as if he didn't just tell her his family controlled massive amounts of the most important element in the Known Galaxy.

 

"How can you just calmly tell me your family owns most of a planet?"

 

"I am just a Starforce Commander, Vers." He smiled at her in a way that made her heart melt through her ribs. "This will all belong to Xe, Ter and their children."

 

"Aren't you worried that our enemy is planning an attack against them?" She leaned back in her seat as they hit a small pocket of turbulence. Her hands shot out in front of her to adjust controls that weren't there. She tucked her hands beneath the harness and tried to swallow the sense of deja vu that washed over her.

 

"This won't be the first attempt against us. Or the last. There is no reason this one should succeed when the others failed."

 

"What about your children? What will they inherit?" She asked, closing her eyes to make the feeling pass faster. She didn't see the intensity in Yon-Rogg's eyes as he looked at her or see the way he swallowed before answering her.

 

"Much like the Mines, I leave the supply of heirs to my older brothers," he said at last hoping there was no edge to his voice.

 

The truth was he had always assumed that his parents would summon him one day. That he would marry a suitable woman, leave Pal-Mar to Minn-Erva and live out his days organizing his father's guards. A future as cold and impersonal to him as his present with Vers was passionate. His preference would have been dying in service like so many noble men and women before him.

 

"Commander," Vers purred "how can you let good stock go to waste?"

 

"You make fun of it but that is how they think. We are entering a different reality. Don't fight it, Vers. Just keep your head down and we'll get out of here together." He could see DarRogg rising out of the rolling hills in the distance.

 

"Which reality is the real one, Yon?" She asked opening her eyes and raising her eyebrows as she saw DarRogg gleam in the low Feroimum sun.

 

It was past midday on this planet. He would have preferred to have landed at night. To slip in unseen with Vers and have time to adjust to being back in his family home again.

 

"The one we live in, Vers." He answered engaging the landing gear and preparing to land on the lush green grass of DarRogg's grounds.

Chapter Text

The landing gear engaged and Yon-Rogg felt the gentle groan of the ship meeting the ground. Vers' hands immediately fell to her harness to begin releasing the clasps. He reached out and stilled her. She looked at him.

 

"We should talk," he said eyes on the low flat building in front of them and the shadows that were beginning to come alive in it.

 

"I understand our mission here, Commander" Vers released the last clasp as she quirked an eyebrow at him. "Do you?"

 

"Just promise me," he said as she stood up to pass him. "That whatever happens here you will remember I am not my parents."

 

"That bad?"

 

He released his own harness and followed her. She was gathering her satchel, delaying because they both knew he should descend first with her behind.

 

He leaned on the wall next to her blocking her path.

 

"Promise me," he repeated a hand taking her shoulder. A gesture that used to be platonic between them but was now imbued with meaning since their bodies had come together.

 

"We are here to follow up on a lead and provide support to our team on Kairunn. There is no reason I should even notice what your parents are like," she answered him with her head bowed.

 

"Then humour me," he said his hand moving beneath her chin and tilting her head up. He straightened and his hand came up, a single finger tracing along her temple, as if he wanted to memorize her features before they went into the world of DarRogg.

 

Her bottom lip was caught between her teeth and he reached with his thumb to free it. He ran the pad over the swell, each brush leaving a tiny trail of sensation that spread over her body. He tilted his head as if he was going to kiss her. Her hand came up and grabbed his wrist. He paused the space between them small and close, heated by an energy that she was trying to deny.

 

"Sometimes it's better not to start again if you have managed to stop once," she said her eyes closed so she could not see the desire in his look. She was hollowed out by the absence of him, her chest a delicate arch that could crack if she left it exposed to the elements.

 

"If I had known when our last kiss was, I would have memorized you better." His thumb ran over the centre of her lip one more time, catching a breath of moisture and spreading it across the bow of her lips. A promise of a kiss that Vers desperately wanted.

 

"Your own fault," she said opening her eyes and smiling up at him. She bit his thumb as it made to brush her again. He groaned as she released it and he pulled her incrementally closer to him. "You knew where we were going. They will wonder what is keeping us."

 

"Let them wonder," he growled. He felt desire was licking its way up his spine. Would it ever be enough with her?

 

"I care what they think of me," she said stepping away from him.

 

She nodded her head towards the gang plank. It was time for them to go.

 


 

Minn-Erva was an accomplished pilot. Sometimes when she gripped the controls of a ship and coaxed it into the air she wondered what her mother would think of her daughter.
When the Incident happened there had been so much discussion over her head. A bandying of words between her parents and her grandparents while Minn had tried to curl her tall frame deeper into the soft cushions of the couch.

 

They were a political family. Her father an ambassador and her mother the daughter of a Senator. They attacked, controlled and persevered through words.

 

They would marry her off to someone posted in a colony's government. Her grandmother had refused that option saying it wreaked of patchwork and then they would be abandoning the girl to grow a harem on some backwater. Hardly a punishment.

 

She could go be an aide to a politician on Hala. That had been a popular one. Except it meant she would be in the periphery of all their acquaintances and therefore come up in polite conversation. How could they explain why she had made no match in half a dozen Solilkhurim?

 

Starforce then, her grandfather had interjected. Honor, duty and absence. Everything they required of her. Minn's mother had shaken her shoulder and protested that Starforce would never accept such a weak useless girl.

 

Except they had. Now Minn-Erva was a pilot, a peace-keeper and a free agent in the world. No longer weak and no longer useless.

 

She could feel Att-Lass glancing over to her. He had warm eyes. He smiled easily. Despite evidence of good breeding he had been raised so low that he was practically another species. Regardless, Minn liked having him as her partner. He was less stubborn than Korath and not as eccentric as Bron-Char. When Yon-Rogg had taken on Vers as his responsibility, Minn-Erva had been cast off again. She had tried to not let it sting or colour her treatment of the Terran, but it had. Att-Lass soothed some of that hurt with his quiet obedience and good humour.

 

"Are you going to tell me what is going on?" He asked at last.

 

"I don't know what you mean," she kept her eyes forward.

 

"We are going to Kairunn to look for someone who broke out of a gravitational field, there is a body on Pal-Mar of a Starforce member and no one knows what happened to him and the Commander is taking Vers to Hala. Something is going on. I am supposed to be your partner."

 

There was an edge of frustration to Att-Lass' voice Minn had never heard before. She never considered how sneaky their actions must seem. Or that she could trust him. She couldn't tell him all of it, but she could tell him something.

 

"Her name is Talia-Rath. She may have attacked Vers on Pal-Mar, but more importantly Vers said she heard her voice in her head."

 

"That's impossible," Att-Lass looked at her astonished.

 

"I am aware, but her DNA came back. She shows signs of tampering. Beyond just a mixing of two species."

 

"And you think that made her psychic?"

 

"I didn't say it was a good theory," the tension broke as Minn-Erva laughed at herself. It seemed even more ludicrous once it was spoken out loud.

 

They were silent for awhile. Minn-Erva turning over the case of Zai-Al in her mind. The similarities to Talia-Rath, the fact he had Yon's DNA and that Zai-Al was showing signs of being on Hala recently. She had faith in her commander, that Hala had used him somehow, and like so many of his rash decisions he was trying to protect them by not pushing Zai-Al's case harder.

 

"You know what I keep thinking about?" Att-Lass broke the silence.

 

"What?"

 

"'He became one'," Minn-Erva looked at him from the corner of her eye. "That's what they said over and over again on Terius."

 

"Yeah, one with the slick. They are a superstitious hole that we only use for fueling up and hauling magnesite out of the crust. He died."

 

"What if they meant he became one with them? That's how he made such an impact so quickly?"

 

"Impossible."

 

"You said it yourself. Talia-Rath talked to Vers in her mind. Intense, persuasive empathy. Incredibly powerful and incredibly destructive."

 

"If that is true, its beyond anything we know how to deal with."

 

They fell silent again, the possibilities spinning and multiplying in their minds.

 


 

To Yon-Rogg's shock it was his parents who came out to meet them. He walked down the gangplank, Vers shadowing behind him. It felt wrong, like some impenetrable distance was brewing between them.

 

He saw is father's stiff backed posture, his mother's arm wrapped coolly about his elbow. The perfect picture of Kree class. They were dressed in the fashion of their prime, his mother in soft white draping folds, her light brown hair tinged with grey was swept off her face in a complex updo. Her light complexion dusted as it always was with a fine shimmering layer of blue. So that when the light caught her she gleamed like an opal.
His father was now completely grey haired, his goatee perfectly trimmed. He wore the many layered style that denoted his high status. His dark blue skin had lightened and creased with age. Yon-Rogg felt the full weight of the near twenty years he had been gone.

 

He also felt how out of place his clothes were. They wore the fitted trousers and simple shirts of their uniform. Over top their jackets were plain and leather. Clothes meant for the desert.

 

As they approached his mother let go of his father's arm and drifted towards him. She moved as light and graceful as a flash of light across water. He smiled at her. Time had eased some of his frustrations and as she stopped in front of him she felt smaller and more precious than she had when he left.

 

"Mother," he greeted her with a small inclination of his head. She slipped her arm around his and walked with him back to where his father was. Vers, unacknowledged, hung behind him. Although she tried to keep a respectful distance he was aware of her.

 

When he stood in front of his father Yon-Rogg did not feel the same rush of affection. Although, his father did not reach for him Yon-Rogg felt a weight descend on his shoulders as if his father had laid both his hands there and pressed.

 

His mother released him and returned to his father's arm. Yon-Rogg did a proper bow.

 

"Thank you for receiving us on such short notice." Yon-Rogg glanced over his shoulder at Vers and barely moved his head. She understood and stepped forward quickly. "This is Vers, she is accompanying me on this mission."

 

Vers was silent, she inclined her head in respectful salute but Yon-Rogg could see the nerves. He wanted to laugh at her for being nervous. Tell her she carried more power beneath her skin than she knew. She would one day be an impressive warrior and a symbol of Kree achievement. At this moment, she was a pale faced rookie who looked vaguely like she wished the ground would open beneath her feet.

 

His parents returned the nod and immediately refocused on Yon-Rogg.

 

"Come in, Son. DarRogg has felt your absence," his father turned and began to walk back in to the house.

 

Vers felt the intense desire to take Yon's hand. If nothing else twining their fingers together would mean he could not dig his fingernails into his palm. She didn't know it was possible for him to stand straighter but seeing how rigid he was now, she realized how relaxed the Commander she knew was.

 

They followed a few steps behind his parents, Vers allowed herself to drift closer to him. They did not walk side by side but she could reach out and brush two fingers on the inside of his wrist as they made their slow way down the lawn into the shadow of DarRogg. Yon-Rogg gave no indication he noticed beyond the relaxing of his fist as they continued walking.

 

The front hall was massive, the white marble walls faded into dark marble floors. It seemed impossible that the whole place was not one massive echo chamber, Vers supposed that was how they all learned to walk so quietly. Yon's father was talking but Vers had tuned him out. If they were going to act as if she was not there then she would return the favour.

 

She stopped as they passed a massive portait. It was of their family, the colours so dark against the white marble it felt like a hole Vers could step into. His mother was seated, her skin a translucent sky blue that Vers had to assume was a work of the artist's imagination. His father stood behind her his hands on her shoulders. On either side were their sons. Yon, the youngest had to have just reached his majority when it was painted.

 

He was so serious faced and golden. It made Vers want to giggle. She could not imagine her Commander as being young, but here he was rendered like an angel in oils.

 

"Stop staring, Vers" she jumped at his voice so close to her ear. He barely glanced at the painting, but Vers could not tear her eyes away.

 

"What happened to your looks?" She asked in a low voice, her mouth straining to keep in a laugh.

 

"They faded when I agreed to take on a petulant rookie from The Old Gods know where. Now double time before they notice they've lost us."

 

Vers mockingly saluted him before moving to catch up with his parents. Yon-Rogg was about to follow, but for a moment let his eyes rest on the portait of him. He wondered if he had any idea at that age the strange and dangerous world he was living in or had any premonition of what was to come.

 


 

DarRogg was creepy. There was no way around it. They had dropped her at what was to be her room and left her there to be collected at their leisure. As the cold room contained only a bed and a low couch with a twisted frame that looked uncomfortable, she had grown quickly bored of it. There was a balcony and as glorious as the sun moving low over the grass looked she found so much greenery after a year in the desert made her restless.

 

She crept out of her room, marveling that such a sprawling place seemed to only hold Yon's parents. She had seen no sign of domestic staff. As she turned corner after corner of icy marble walls, glancing into doorways that seemed to lead only to more halls she had a vague concern she would get lost.

 

On occasion she thought she heard whispers or heard the scuffing of shoes but as she would come around a corner she would find nothing there. Her suspicions grew as she passed one darkened hall and was certain she saw the low glow of a light disappearing down it.

 

The mystery was solved when she heard the movement of bodies deep in the labyrinth of DarRogg and stopped, pressing herself against a wall. She felt the cold stone against her back as she slid closer. She peaked around the corner in time to see a door slide closed in the wall.

 

That explained it. The servants moved between the walls of DarRogg. Staying seamlessly out of sight. Vers felt the thrill in her spine that was always a precursor to trouble. She couldn't help herself as she walked to where the door had been.

 

Now she was standing square to it she could see that it fit imperfectly into the wall, the soft stone worn in places from generations of use. She put both her hands against it and pushed. The stone gave and opened beneath her hands. She stepped through into the dimly lit backward world hidden inside DarRogg.

 

Each room she passed had a small peephole in its door so if you pressed against it you could see into the rooms beyond. Each room she passed was empty. She was beginning to grow bored as she meandered the paths, they were more straight forward and easy to navigate than the actual hallways. She stopped when she heard Yon's father's voice. The small coin of light called to her and she pressed herself to look into the room beyond.

 

It was a study. The cold marble walls covered by shelves of datapads and items. The floor was covered in some sort of tufted skin of a beast. Yon-Rogg was seated in a leather chair and his father was standing at a decanter. Vers held her breath as she strained to listen, curiosity getting the better of her.

 

"So, Starforce business has brought you home." His father crossed the room, holding out a cut crystal glass of spirits. Yon-Rogg took it.

 

"It is a tenuous lead. We are trying to stay under the radar. Staying here was a convenient cover," Yon could lie so smoothly when he needed to. His voice like ice. It sent a chill down Vers' spine.

 

"You mean it wasn't a sense of filial duty that brought you back to your mother?"

 

"I am fulfilling my duty. I serve the Supremor." Yon took a sip of the dark spirits. Vers felt she should leave but her feet would not pull her away.

 

"There are ways to serve the Supremor that benefit your own house, boy." Yon bristled at the name, Vers too felt her hackles rise at his tone. She wondered if she made a noise because Yon-Rogg glanced suddenly over his shoulder right at her. She stepped away from the peephole in shock.

 

"It's just the staff. You have forgotten what life is like in a properly appointed home. Starforce isn't keeping you well." His father gestured with his glass at the room around him.

 

"As someone who formerly wore the uniform I had hoped you would understand my dedication-"

 

"I wore it for as long as necessary to prove my worth as the youngest son, I didn't languish-"

 

"I am hardly languishing. I am the Commander of a border fleet." Their voices had been rising in pitch and Vers felt a knot form in her stomach.

 

"Ay and who do you oversee? A wide eyed slip of a girl and the disgraced daughter of old man Mar-Va. Plus a handful of unremarkable lower castes. Hardly an army."

 

"Xe has given you heirs. So has Ter. As the youngest it is my job to disappoint you." Yon-Rogg drained his glass. Vers' stomach turned sour. What would his parents say if they knew their son had lowered himself to mating with her? Was she part of his rebellion?

 

"You aren't a child anymore, Yon. This cannot go on forever. I had hoped when I saw your message you had come to your senses and planned to fulfill your duty."

 

"Why is that?"

 

His father reached onto his desk and produced a glowing slide of glass. He passed it to Yon and Vers pressed herself tight to the wall. It looked, as she squinted, like an invitation.

 

"Hardly the type of thing I can attend without raising eyebrows, but I need the influence. I am the last old man left in the stable. They are all young bucks now and we are slipping without young blood."

 

"Once again send Xe or Ter." Yon cast aside the plate. His shoulders rigid. His father looked like he was on the edge of losing control.

 

"Why would I send my mated sons to an event like that when I have a perfectly good, if obstinate, son who is unattached? What would happen to our connections with their in-laws if your brothers went there?"

 

"Who knows their wives might enjoy the reprieve-" Yon's retort was cut off by the hurried scrape of shoes. His mother flew into the room in a flurry of white. She was no longer the gracefully drifting cloud she had been in the foyer. She looked more like a kite pulling on its string.

 

"Agg-Dah we agreed you would leave the boy to me-"

 

"No time for that, Xen. Ronan has sent word he will join us for supper," both men straightened as his mother spoke quickly. "There are clothes in your room Yon, make yourself presentable."

 

She turned to leave in a whirl but stopped short glancing at them over her shoulder.

 

"And I am taking that rough girl in hand and making her suitable. Do not try to fight me. This is important."

 

There was a moment of stunned silence. Even Vers was frozen behind the walls. Until she realized 'rough girl' probably meant her and she would need to return to her room immediately. She took off down a hallway praying she would not get lost.

 

"I think she will find Vers a formidable opponent," Yon said. He stood and bowed briefly to his father, eager to escape the interview.

Chapter Text

Sweat ran down Vers back, between her skin and clothes she was aware of every single drop as if each were a fingertip tracing her spine. She crushed the feeling by throwing herself onto the bed, shimmying her back into the mattress, and hoping the cloth of her shirt would soak it up. She had barely stilled when there was a small precursor of fists knocking on her door before it opened.

 

She sat up trying to look surprised. Agg-Dah had regained her composure enough to sail into her room like a haughty water bird.

 

"I am sure my son has under prepared you for our expectations but in this house we dress for dinner," Agg-Dah walked around the perimeter of the room not quite looking at Vers. She glanced at surfaces as if inspecting them for dust. The small rebellious part of Vers wished she had thrown her clothes about as she did in her own apartment.

 

"You can't really tell one outfit from the other," Vers answered her, glancing down at her body, still semi reclined on the bed. "Being standard issue."

 

Agg-Dah finally turned her attention fully to Vers. She may think she had perfected the ice queen look, but Vers had been staring down Minn for a year. And unlike Minn, Agg-Dah's blue streaked when she sweat. Even if she hadn't been spying in the library, Vers could have seen she had been running.

 

"We will provide for you," Agg-Dah looked her up and down as if she were livestock. "I believe Ter's wife would match some of your measurements."

 

It was said in a tone that left Vers in no doubt some of those incongruous measurements of hers were distasteful. She bit back the desire to point out her son had no issue with her shape.

 

"Come along, it will be easier in my dressing room." Agg-Dah sailed from the room without a second glance. Vers got to her feet awkwardly and followed her. She tried to remind herself that doing as his parents asked would make life easier for Yon while they were there. She could still see his fist clenched, white knuckled, around the glass as his father railed at him.

 

Vers could only assume Ter-Rogg's wife and her superior measurements kept a complete wardrobe in DarRogg. Considering the family owned a sizeable chunk of the planet Vers guessed it didn't really occur to them it was excessive. In that moment Agg-Dah's dressing room resembled Vers' suite on Pal-Mar, every surface was coated in clothing.

 

As soon as she arrived in the room, her feet pausing to survey the whirlwind of fabrics, Vers was directed behind a screen and told to strip. She prayed to The Old God's Yon so often invoked that Agg-Dah's son had not left any marks on her. It seemed the woman would be taking care of her personally as no staff appeared.

 

"You can just give me what you want me to wear-" Vers started to protest but Agg-Dah silenced her as she came around the screen. Vers stumbled trying to hold her shirt over her body.

 

"Really, I have seen it all," Agg-Dah brushed her hands away. "Why do I feel like you have never worn a dress before?"

 

Vers shrugged apologetically. If she had ever worn a dress the memory was gone with all the others.

 

"Where do you come from?" Agg-Dah asked circling Vers who was still in only her underwear. Even if she had been fully dressed she thought it would feel invasive.

 

"Here and there," was the best Vers could manage.

 

"I won't be able to help you at dinner. We will have an important guest. At such times a woman must stay by her mate's side."

 

"I understand," Vers nodded except she didn't. Agg-Dah sniffed, seeing easily through the lie.

 

"We might as well do all we can and I would advise just stay very still for the rest of the evening," her smile was a little like Yon's, conspiratorial. Unlike Yon it resided mostly in her teeth and barely in her eyes.

 

From there Agg-Dah was all business. She handed Vers her first layer. On the surface it caught the light like silk, but once it was in her hands Vers felt like it could stop a knife if it needed to. Agg-Dah swept out from behind the screen while Vers pulled off her basics and stepped into it. She rolled the fabric over hips feeling it fit to her like a second skin. It rolled all the way up to hold her breasts. It was a near white shade of blue. If she had to guess, Ter's wife shared his blue complexion. Only Agg-Dah and Yon were pink in the family. Vers wondered if that had bothered him when they were young.

 

She had to admit it was a clever contraption. As she moved it warmed to her and fit closer, the best word she could think of was it was displaying her assests. Before she could adjust to the feel of it on her skin Agg-Dah returned was impatiently nodding her head indicating Vers should follow her. Vers smiled to herself. Another small piece of Yon.

 

"Stand with your palms out," Agg-Dah instructed and Vers looked at her with a raised eyebrow as she tried to position her body the way Agg-Dah wanted. Even so she reached for Vers, adjusting.

 

She produced a delicate ceramic pot from her vanity drawer and measured a small amount of powder in a dish. She poured in a dash of oil from a bottle and the smell of night-blooming flowers filled the air. Agg-Dah mixed it with a brush coming closer to Vers as she did.

 

"What's that?" Vers asked already flinching away from it.

 

"Powderized pearl from the oceans of Feroimum." Agg-Dah answered knocking her back into position with a couple well-placed nudges.

 

"Okay and why is it coming towards me?"

 

"It's important to remind people that though our skin is pink we can still carry blue children. I gave Xen two sons with pure blue skin." This must be where her own blue shimmer came from. "They call women with that capacity Pearls. We have the ocean inside us."

 

The idea of carrying anyone's child was enough to shut Vers up for a moment. Agg-Dah began at her collarbone, the cool slick bristles of the brush pulling over her skin, the feeling of the air moving over the oil. It was an intimate experience to be having with a stranger. They fell into a heavy silence, until Agg-Dah caught her eye with a sad smile.

 

"I always wondered what it would be like, if I were to give Xen a pink daughter. How I could teach her her own worth." She said it softly and Vers felt her throat tighten. She wondered how her own mother felt about her skin. She didn't know what she looked like.

 

"This is a very different world." Vers said softly. She wanted to move and see the oil wet on her skin, but she felt it would disrupt Agg-Dah.

 

"You don't belong here," Agg-Dah said. It was said matter-of-factly and Vers didn't feel she meant it cruelly. "You have to start learning it at birth or you will never survive."

 

Vers could only nod. She wondered if some preternatural mother's intuition told Agg-Dah everything that happened between her and Yon.

 

Agg-Dah led her to a chair and set her down, Vers was hyper aware of the drying surface of her skin. Everywhere around her suddenly seemed one thousand times more white and likely to stain. Agg-Dah put a finger under her chin and tilted her face up. With a smaller brush she began painting across Vers' cheeks. Something deep and yearning blossomed in Vers stomach as the older woman looked down at her. The desire to remember her mother, to have even just one memory of her back.

 

"At least you are pretty." Vers didn't know how to respond. She never thought much of her looks. "I am glad you are the one Yon brought. I doubt we would be welcoming Ronan into our home if he had brought another."

 

Xen-Rogg's words floated back to her. It seemed nonsensical that they would prefer her to Minn-Erva. At least Minn-Erva would survive one meal without disgracing herself.

 

"Ronan is important then?" Vers asked, lowering her lashes so Agg-Dah could work the small brush into the tight space along her nose. Agg-Dah scoffed as if she had asked what colour the sky was.

 

"He is serving with honour in the Accusers and his family are the other largest mine owners on Feroimum. It is a shame we both had only sons, we cannot easily unite our houses."

 

She set aside her brush and picked up a fan from the vanity. Air wafted over Vers and she felt her skin prickle as the oil dried.

 

"Is he often on Feroimum?" Vers asked. She longed to look in the mirror and find out how silly she looked.

 

"No, he has returned for Khurdan Tulaan. Originally, we had thought Yon had returned for the same reason." Agg-Dah took up a hairbrush and began pulling it through Vers' tangle of gold.

 

"What's that?" Vers asked feeling beyond the boundaries of confusion. It was like they spoke another language here. One her translater couldn't help her with.

 

"It is a gathering where alliances are made. Especially among those beyond the age of Solilkhurim."

 

"Why would Yon have come back for a party?" Vers asked. She felt the brush pause in her hair for the briefest of moments.

 

"Because it is time for him to be married," Agg-Dah answered. Vers kept her eyes down and felt a uncomfortable cold settle beneath her heart.

 


 

Knowing his mother had spent the rest of the afternoon with Vers was eating away at Yon-Rogg. He couldn't burst in the room or hover at the door. He had no good explanation to give about why he should care how his mother took a rookie in hand. Or why it made him nervous.

 

Then there was the looming presence of meeting Ronan again at dinner. It wasn't just that they were fundamentally opposed to one another, Ronan had sway within the Accusers and the ear of Hala should his suspicions be raised about who Vers was and where she came from.

 

He prayed to the Old God's she kept her power in check.

 

"Why are you pacing, boy? You are making me dizzy," his father growled from a darkened door way. Immediately Yon's feet stilled. He forgot how easy it was to be watched in DarRogg by those who knew how to move silently over the marble.

 

"Just restless. The Starforce crafts get cramped quickly," he tried to affect a bored cold exterior. He had put this mask in place to survive life in DarRogg but after two decades away it felt claustrophobic to wear it again, even if it existed only in his mind.

 

Vers was infinitely grateful that DarRogg had no stairs. And that one of the discrepancies between her and Ter's wife was shoe size. She had been spared the lethal looking heels Agg-Dah had produced. Her feet were bare instead, the marble achingly cold beneath her feet and the silk of her dress whispering over her like the brush of a cat's tail. Agg-Dah had wrapped her in a tower of peach coloured silk. Only the contrast between the blue of the pearl and the warmer hue of the silk stopped her from looking naked. Her hair was deemed too short to be negotiated with, so Agg-Dah had quickly secured it back with an ornate pin and called herself satisfied.

 

From there Vers was not allowed to move until she was collected. It was strange to be trapped there and watch silent Krylorian girls drift from the walls and gather up arm loads of fabric and disappear again. Over and over until the room was clean.

 

"At last, the women have joined us." His father nodded over Yon's shoulder and he turned to look. His father stepped closer to him, a shadow across his shoulders. "She is almost pretty like that."

 

His words glanced off Yon who felt momentarily turned to marble. His mother had painted her. A silly, outdated practice that had fallen out of fashion. Except it made the light skitter across her skin in a rainbow of hues. He had only ever seen her glow like this when she was too hot to touch. Or he thought darkly, as her fiery body clenched around him in glorious completion, when he had been buried to the hilt in starfire.

 

He swallowed, grateful that his father was behind him and that Vers was glancing at his mother. It gave him a moment to thoroughly secure his cool demeanor in place again. Only his mother caught his eye. Her calm golden stare made him remember guiltily of all the places he had left bruises on Vers' pale skin. Undeniable streaks of fingers on the fronts and backs of her thighs. Teeth marks anywhere flesh swelled. He inclined his head to her and she acknowledged him.

 

Agg-Dah released the girl's arm and drifted like a sun beam across the marble to take the arm offered by her husband. She did not take her eyes off her son, who after catching her glance initially had begun looking innocently into the middle distance. Why did her boys think they could hide anything from her? Even when they were small she never fell for the angelic act.

 

Vers, untethered from her guide drifted uncertainly after his mother. He fell into pace beside her, his eyes darting every once and awhile over the silk that twisted around her body, tangling slightly around her legs with each step. Intimate but cold. The feel of it like a phantom caress. He offered her his arm. She glanced down at it with one quirked eyebrow.

 

"I am scared to touch anything in case I ruin it," she murmured through a frozen half smile, her eyes on his parents' backs.

 

"It dries quickly," he assured her. He reached two fingers out and ran them over the sensitive skin inside her elbow. He was rewarded with a small shiver from her as he brought his two fingers up for her inspection. Seeing them clean she relented and took his arm. It felt foreign and addicting to walk in pace together, his muscles tense beneath her hand.

 

"This is a good opportunity for us," she said lowly. Her head bent to watch her feet, one hand gathering the silk so it did not puddle on the floor.

 

"Why?" Yon asked, his head bent as if he was listening to her, but his eyes followed the lapping of the silk over her boldly bare feet. He wanted to vanish her into a darkened hallway, bunch the silk about her waist and work his way up from the soles of her feet to the meeting of her thighs.

 

"The house of Ronan has sponsored Zai-Al since he was a child. Ronan cannot escape our questioning here," she smiled at him as if she had just made a witty comment about the weather. If possible his muscles became even more like granite beneath her fingers.

 

"Vers, you can't interrogate people at my parent's table," he whispered harshly, tugging her arm as they moved forward a little more forcefully than he needed to.

 

The double doors of the dining room parted before them and standing among the golden haze of a dozen heavily loaded trays was a deep blue mountain of a man. He bowed his head solemnly to greet them. The men inclined their heads back. His mother lowered her gaze sinking slightly at her knees, Vers followed suit with enough ease Yon-Rogg was sure his mother made her practice.

 

"Watch me," she breathed through smiling teeth as her spine straightened again and she relaxed into his side. It suddenly occurred to Yon that beauty and conviction could be deadly.

Chapter Text

While the majority of her meals had been at her desk or leaning against a counter, Vers had had the expectation that a formal dinner would require a full table and chairs. It seemed DarRogg had surprised her once again because the room they entered was all low tables and large stuffed cushions. At least, she wouldn't have to remember to sit up straight or keep her elbows off the table. Or know which fork was which. On the downside, she would have to find a way to gracefully lower herself to the floor.

 

"Forgive us Ronan, we had planned to dine family style. It does not befit your status," Agg-Dah purred. She released her husband's arm and glided to their guest both hands extended. He reached for her with surprising delicacy for his size, the pale pink entirely engulfed by the blue.

 

"You are our neighbours and I treasure you as my own family," Ronan responded his head cocked slightly as he spoke, his voice echoed a hundred times in his chest until it was as deep as water. "I am happy to dine informally."

 

He passed Agg-Dah smoothly back to Xen-Rogg. It felt like a choreographed moment to Vers, a tradition of apology and acceptance that would have played out regardless of the guests or the set up. Her eyes followed Agg-Dah, she wanted to see how she settled onto the floor in her own yards of silk. She was so distracted that she didn't realize Ronan had turned his attention to them until she heard Yon answer and felt the movement of his arm subtly guiding her about the room.

 

"I did not realize the House of Rogg was to have another daughter," Ronan said his eyes moving along the clinging curves of silk before he turned and inclined his head to Yon-Rogg.

 

Yon returned the salute, tensing his arm beneath Vers' fingers, a small pulse to bring her attention away from his mother. His mask of ennui now in place he was infallible and Ronan could not prod a rise from him.

 

"Tonight, I only serve as escort to my parents' guest. I continue to be unattached." Yon-Rogg felt that the more vague and protected he could make Vers sound the better it would be. As her attention returned to him, Yon moved passed Ronan to deposit her across from his parents where she could see his mother and have the benefit of a low table.

 

Lowering herself when she had the assistance of Yon-Rogg's firm arm to hold on to was less of an ordeal than she feared. Although, once settled Vers realized she was trapped on the floor unless she wanted to struggle ungracefully to her feet.

 

"Forgive the assumption," Ronan inclined his head again and crossed to sit next to Yon's parents, a low table separating them. Only Yon-Rogg remained standing.

 

"There is nothing to forgive," Yon responded smoothly. He crossed to the small banquet against the wall and collected a gold cup of water and a small red fruit.

 

He returned to Vers' side, passing her the items and settling next to her his far leg bent at the knee and tucked close to his body while the other rested on the floor. He took her feet, shrouded by the silk, and tucked them across his leg. Vers stiffened beneath his touch, her eyes darting to his parents. They were similarly seated and he felt her relax. Ronan's eyes were on them, heavy and violet, Yon was certain their every move was being scrutinized. His father called for the meal to begin, his eyes also falling frequently on his son.

 

Vers had the unusual view of watching the Krylorians enter through the wall and drift behind Yon's parents. They were like spectres setting the first courses on the low table between Ronan and Agg-Dah, staying seamlessly out of sight. Vers felt movement behind them and a similar tray appeared on their table. She turned her head to thank the one who had brought it, but they were already gone.

 

The plate was dark gold, the food arranged on it in a pattern of colours and textures. At the centre of the dish was a stack of small plates, enameled with greens and blues. Vers' delicate and fickle stomach froze at the sight of it all. Her eyes flicked to Agg-Dah, her nimble fingers were selecting items and arranging them on smaller plates. She passed one to Ronan first. The second plate went to Xen-Rogg. Vers supposed she was meant to do the same for Yon. She felt his body shift where they were pressed together. His hand moved subtly behind her back pressing open palmed against her ribs. For a moment as she felt his fingers spread wide, rubbing against the silk, she could not breathe. She couldn't look at him or his parents, her eyes with laser focus stayed on the tray of food. Yon-Rogg didn't look at her, his attention seemed entirely engaged with exchanging pleasantries with the group. Vers became aware slowly his middle finger was digging into her. She realized that would correspond with the dark brown soft fruit piled on one segment of the plate.

 

She took one and placed it on the small enamel dish. Next his thumb pulsed twice into the tense muscles of her back. She added two soft skinned almonds as large and as flat as pond stones. As they made a soft clink into the plate his pinky and his index finger pushed into her. She dipped the dark crust slice of bread into the thick honey and laid them beside the almonds. As she turned to pass Yon the plate his hand moved away from her and back to the pillow as if it had never been there. He took it from her without meeting her eyes.

 

Though she knew there was a steady exchange going on around her, inquiries into health and relatives, it was all so rigidly spoken the words wouldn't stick in her mind. Seeing Agg-Dah was eating, Vers took the soft brown fruit and bit into it. The inside was sticky and cloying, there was no juice the flesh was like paste against her tongue. She was still so used to flavourless squares of rations the sugar immediately overwhelmed her. Her throat tightened and she had to cough. She was desperate as her throat tingled more as she forced herself to swallow and her eyes began to water. She heard the gentle clink of Yon's plate being put on the floor. He took the red fruit from the table reaching around her so he was too close as she tried not to embarrass herself and swallow the dense choking sugar of the fruit. He also passed her the water. She drank it deeply knowing that eyes were on her, cold and judgmental. The water eased the desire to gag, but the dense sugar paste seemed to stick her. As she drank, Yon produced a knife and passed her a sliver of the dark red fruit, the insides deep purple.

 

"Hold it on your tongue for a moment," he murmured in her ear. She did as he said. The flesh was bitter and it seemed to pull the horrible sweetness that was coating her mouth away. The whole ordeal had lasted barely half a minute. Except now Ronan's eyes were on her.

 

"I did not hear where you came from," Ronan said. His focus was as intense and heavy as his presence. Vers was not shocked he had climbed ranks quickly within the Accusers, he was an unbreakable wave when he spoke. She felt Yon draw breath to answer but she would not be spoken for.

 

"I am traveling from Pal-Mar," she answered taking a piece of dry brown bread. It was perhaps safer to not eat the food.

 

"So you serve beneath, Yon-Rogg?" His tone was unreadable but his phrasing seemed to be reaching.

 

"Everyone on Pal-Mar is beneath Commander Yon-Rogg," she answered. It seemed a year of being pestered by Yon's indirect way of answering questions he did not like was finally paying off.

 

Ronan nodded. It was strange to see such a large man reclined on the floor. He wore the same layered style as Yon and his father but there was a heaviness to his clothes as if he often tore seams with the bulk of his body.

 

Their dishes empty Agg-Dah turned the plate slowly, Vers echoed her motion. This time she did not need Yon's hints, she repeated the pattern filling the dish with the foods neglected in the first pass. The Krylorians were drifting again, this time placing small goblets of wine. It would be a long evening at this rate.

 

If Yon-Rogg had hoped Vers would falter and give up her plan once confronted by the formalities of the evening he was set to be disappointed. She might not be at ease or handling the evening with grace but she was handling it. Boldly and with all her guile.

 

"You are enjoying your travels?" Ronan ate smoothly between questions, taking the food as it was passed by Agg-Dah. His place that of the eldest, most precious son. He wondered if it ate at Rogg to still be seated at the place of the lowest son, even if he had a woman in his lap.

 

"Yes, they have been unexpected," she glimmered in the low light. She passed Rogg his wine and his fingers lingered a fraction of a second too long against hers. The pale crescent at the base of the fingernail was a surprisingly sensitive place. Pressure there at the right time could be pleasurable. Ronan wondered if Yon-Rogg knew that when he pressed his fingers against hers.

 

"How so?" He asked. He wondered if the fine layer of pearl would come off when she sweat. There was something distracting about the thought of her limbs painting the sheets, leaving the outline of her body behind long after she had been sent back to her own room. His face and voice carried nothing but polite interest.

 

"The House of Ronan came up recently in my files. Your family's charitable work with the orphans of mine disasters." She smiled at him like a cat even as she turned and pressed a goda seed to Yon-Rogg's lips. He took it carefully and Ronan wanted to laugh him. If he wanted to bed the woman he should leave her in no doubt of his carnal desires.

 

The Supremor had requested he pay this visit. Rogg's change in course had caused a ripple of concern on Hala. Ronan thought this had been an overreaction. He believed more readily Rogg was pausing their journey under the guise of invesitgating a lead only so he could impress his family's importance on a conquest. It was pathetic but not unexpected from Old Rogg's youngest.

 

"It would be short sighted of us to benefit from labour, but not care for all its needs."

 

"Do you only help the families of those who work in your mines?" Yon-Rogg was trying to dig two fingers into her kidney to make her stop with her questions. Vers merely pushed more food into his mouth so he could not interrupt her questions without seeming rude.

 

"That is the majority, but in the face of need you cannot turn a blind eye. Does a specific case have your attention?"

 

Vers opened her mouth to answer, but Yon-Rogg placed a dry cracker spread thick with a tart cheese, plucked from his own plate, in her mouth. She was forced to close her lips and around it.

 

"Your family's charity is well known at the Academy. The House of Rogg would do well to emulate you," Yon raised his glass in a toast as Vers angrily chewed beside him. His father also saluted.

 

"We always look to your family for guidance when it comes to taking the highest moral path," Xen-Rogg added and Ronan bent his head accepting the compliment. It was true his House was superior to the cloying, clawing Roggs. The opulence of DarRogg would have offended his father's good taste if he was still alive.

 

The meal continued in platitudes and the exchange of flattering overstatements. Nothing but meaningless discourse ever took place in the dining hall. It would be later when they parted company and the men gathered separately that true intention could be laid bare.

Chapter Text

The meal continued for what felt like hours. Vers was beginning to understand how Yon was able to kneel in one attitude for so long, dinner was making her backside numb. Just as she was beginning to think she would become one with the carpet Xen-Rogg unfolded himself and reached for his wife. Plates began to vanish as the Krylorians moved silently around them. More plates were appearing so it couldn't be the end of the meal. Yon-Rogg stood as well and reached for her. She let him pull her up, hoping the pins and needles in her leg would let her stand on her own. She shook out the skirts of her dress, praying nothing had dropped on them.

 

"What now?" She whispered as Yon-Rogg drew her arm through his.

 

"We stretch our legs between courses. Unless you would prefer to stay seated?" He murmured back to her.

 

"I'd rather hang from the ceiling like a bat then sit back down on that marble," she hissed back feeling the blood slowly flow back to her limbs.

 

"I am sure everyone would thank you for the amusement."

 

Ronan also stood. If he was stiff he shook it off quickly.

 

"I would relieve you of your burden, Commander," Ronan reached his hands for Vers and her eyes narrowed.

 

"I am unburdened. Walk with us," Yon interceded quickly, feeling the quip on the tip of Vers' tongue as clearly as if it was his own.

 

They made a slow turn about the dining room, Yon's parents a few paces in front of them.

 

"Do you ever meet the orphans you help?" Vers asked before Yon-Rogg could introduce another topic.

 

"Are you so interested in charity work or are you trying to infer my character?" Ronan asked offering his arm to her again. This time she took it without a glance at Rogg.

 

"I just wonder that you are in the Accusers, but other the beneficiaries enter Starforce. I was curious as to their trajectory, how influential your family is on the rest of their lives." This Vers, that's what Rogg had called her, had a compelling way of speaking. Vulnerable yet hard. He could understand how on a small posting such as Pal-Mar she would be the one to catch Rogg's interest. Novelty was as great a seducer as vice.

 

"What do you know of the Accusers?" He glanced at Rogg to see any guilt or jealousy in his face. What lies had he been telling on his desert kingdom?

 

"What's there to know?"

 

She looked at him so boldly as she spoke, he found it compelling even as he felt a spike of ire that she did not know of the elite force.

 

"You are ignorant then of the honour of serving them. It is not an option for everyone. Unlike Starforce it takes more than passing marks at the Academy." His eyes drifted to Rogg again. He hoped to see more than boredom on his face. It would serve him right to show this woman the attentions of a true warrior.

 

"Isn't the Accuser fleet bigger than our own?" She turned to look at Yon-Rogg who met her gaze with polite blankness.

 

"It is," Rogg answered.

 

"How cozy," she smiled up at him, her arm still through his. He had never been insulted before in such a brazen manner. It deepened his desire to bring her to heel.

 

She released his arm and walked a little a head of the two leaving Yon-Rogg and himself to bring up the rear. Rogg's eyes flicked momentarily over her form from behind, her well muscled shimmering back disappearing into the deep vee of silk. His eyes then glanced at Ronan and he smiled from the corner of his mouth almost as if he was offering his commiseration.

 

"We have many in our lowest ranks. They are fodder for war, we give them the name of Accuser in the same way you may name a ship after a woman." Ronan's voice rolled like rocks down her spine. "What did you call your ship, Commander?"

 

"The Hellion." Yon-Rogg said, his voice low and as intimate as if he named a lover. Vers turned her head and caught his eye her face in perfect profile. He wished he could let the mask slip and smile at her. Indicate with the lift of an eyebrow how much he enjoyed watching her bat at Ronan's ego. He knew he should be concerned with protecting her but there was something irresistible about her irreverence.

 

"Why are ships named after women?" Vers asked. They had made a complete circle around the room. His parents were already settling back for the final course. Vers turned to look at them fully her eyebrow arched.

 

"To protect them from the danger they must traverse." Yon-Rogg answered. He placed a stilling hand on her arm and reached behind her to arrange more cushions on the floor. Before she lowered herself onto the soft pile she quirked her lip at him, mocking the care he took with her. He inclined his head and murmured for her ears only, "to keep you off the ceiling."

 


 

They had parted in the foyer. Deep inside the marble walls of DarRogg Vers had no sense of time. Only the bedrooms that lined the outside walls had any view of the outside. She felt like it could be sunset, midnight or dawn and she would believe it in equal measure.

 

Ronan's answers to her questions had been unsatisfying at best but she did not have the sense he was hiding something only that he didn't care. He spoke noble words about their duty but if all they did was take children in need and push them through the mill of the Academy until they entered one war zone or another then Vers couldn't see the charity in it. She had stewed in her questions through dessert. She had little interest in the foods laid out before them. It seemed dessert was less formal than the meal and anything that caught your eye could be taken. Vers trusted none of it. Although there was a certain pleasure to be found in watching Yon-Rogg eat, stealing glances at him when the others were distracted. He caught her eye once while she watched him. She turned away quickly but for the briefest moment she thought she felt his knuckle graze along her spine.

 

If she had entertained any hope they would have a moment alone to discuss the case she was soon set straight as the women were sent off to bed and the men left to continue the evening in Xen-Rogg's study.

 

A separation that was conveniently circumvented by the hidden passages of DarRogg. Vers had paused in her room for only a moment, until the small sounds of the staff faded from hallway. It would hamper her if she met them in the passages.

 

The silk of her dress whispered across the floor as she crept down the narrow space between the walls. She wondered if it was picking up any dirt or dust as it trailed behind her. Her feet would also be black from any grime as she could still feel the cold marble of DarRogg beneath her bare feet, and specks of grit digging into the soles of her feett as she walked.

 

When she reached the library she could already hear voices.

 

"I can't believe that was approved. We do good trade there," Xen-Rogg was speaking, his still sturdy body leaning against the desk. He had a tightly rolled cigar tucked between his teeth and a small crystal glass balanced in his hand the amber catching the light. Ronan and Yon had shucked their coats and stood in their shirt sleeves, cuffs rolled to the elbows. His back to her, Vers could see shadows of blue where Ronan's bulk strained against the white linen of the shirt. He dwarfed the other two men in the room and was obviously holding court.

 

"Is trade enough to blind you to their treachery?" Ronan asked his voice a dark cloud over the room.

 

"Ideology is a poor man's sport" Xen-Rogg retorted with the same tone he used on Yon. As if Ronan was a misguided child. Ronan turned to face the other way, he rolled his head side to side as if he was clamping down on the urge to part Xen's head from his shoulders. He brought his cigar to his lips and pulled deeply until a section of paper burned away beneath the bright ember. He held the smoke against his tongue for a moment before exhaling slowly. The blue cloud of smoke fell heavy around his chest, the light refracting around him so he seemed to glow.

 

"You have been satisfied by the evidence, Ronan?" Yon-Rogg asked in his lazy cultured voice that made her skin crawl with unease but also warmed other parts of her. He could be so cold, like the smoothly polished marble of DarRogg but there was something in that coldness that invited challenge. She wanted to warm him.

 

"It was gathered through an infallible source. It would be foolish not to strike. To send a message to any who consider trying to cast away what the Empire has given them."

 

"If all is in place why warn us?" Yon-Rogg asked. He brought his own cigar to his lips. Vers' fingers itched to take it from him. She could smell the jaru root, she knew the feeling that would be weaving its way through his body. She wanted him pliant beneath her.

 

"Our two families are tied by the stewardship of this planet. As you said they give us good trade. I am giving you the opportunity to discreetly adjust your assests. Accomplish what you can in a day's time and prepare yourselves."

 

"That is generous of you." Yon-Rogg answered his eyes on the shifting amber as he tilted his glass. Xen-Rogg shot his son a disapproving look.

 

"Very generous. I hope you will give us the opportunity to repay you." Xen-Rogg spoke firmly. Conviction where Yon had been ice.

 

Ronan dropped his half smoked cigar into the dregs of his drink, the small sizzle of the dying ember punctuating the air.

 

"I will leave you now," he began to pull on his jacket and the other men began to collect themselves. "Do not trouble yourselves with my escort. I know my way out."

 

He turned to leave but paused and looked back over his shoulder.

 

"Bring the woman with you to Khurdan Tulaan. I would like to extend to her the same hospitality she showed me."

 

Vers' stomach sank below her feet at his words. One dinner had been disorienting and mind numbing. She could not imagine tolerating a whole event. Especially one where she would be so out of place. At his suggestion she watched Yon's shoulders set in a deadly line, his knuckles white on the glass. She usually only saw such a slow tightening of his body immediately before he struck.

 

Ronan did not even spare Yon a look, his words said to Xen-Rogg before he walked from the room not waiting for an answer.

 

A heavy silence hung in the air both men frozen in their places, even behind the marble slab Vers could smell the burnt Jaru Root and Brandy Ronan had left in his wake. Vers wanted to run back to her room just to escape the tension.

 

"That's not an option'" Yon-Rogg broke the silence between them. He felt in him a moldering pit of anger. Ronan could speak so glibly of things that would shake another man's moral centre. The balance between peace and war was so easily shifted by the Accusers and their actions. Actions that shook the border planets and caused uprisings across the galaxy that Starforce had to quell. Sacrificing their own soldiers to the fears of an unstable populace. All while Ronan would be cavorting.

 

"You are going to Khurdan Tulaan, you are taking the girl and you are pulling your head out of your ass," Xen-Rogg responded rage shaking his voice. He knew his father hated kowtowing to the son of his equal's house. Especially when his own sons had shaken off the mantle of responsibility in their trade.

 

"You can feed me to the lions, but I won't let you throw Vers to them as well."

 

"I am not feeding you to the lions, boy. I am securing you an Empire," Xen-Rogg relit the extinguished ember of his cigar. "Only insignificant people are eaten at Khurdan Tulaan."

 

Yon-Rogg stood and inclined his head to his father, the mask suffocating his senses. He left the room with a thundering pace not sure where his feet would take him but certain he had to get Vers out of DarRogg and preferably off planet entirely.

Chapter Text

Vers had found her way back to her bed chamber quickly after Ronan left. She had not stayed to watch Yon and his father fight, nor had she truly understood what had been discussed. She felt something was happening beneath the surface that she couldn't see and it frustrated her.

 

She knew she should clean herself and go to bed, but the view from the balcony was calling to her. It had been so long since she had seen anything but arid landscapes, those vistas no longer lived in her memory. She managed to slip the silk gown from her shoulders, it pooled obediently at her feet. She picked it up and draped it over the low seat in her room. The underwear had been a different story. Her skin was warm beneath it and the idea of struggling it off her body made her tired. It seemed a problem for the morning.

 

So she stood on the balcony looking out into the darkness. The sky was steel grey and black clouds were rolling in. It seemed like a storm was approaching them. On the horizon white light would flash throwing the clouds into stunning chiseled relief. The thunder that followed each flash seemed to roll low in her belly. She leaned against a smooth marble column, it felt sturdy beneath her hands.

 

She didn't know how to feel knowing this was the world Yon-Rogg came from. He wore someone else's countenance when he was here. It drew her in and repulsed her in equal measure. She wanted to shake him when he looked at her with his politely blank expression. Or more dangerously to shock his family by kissing him every time he let something roll off him like dew over the shield.

 

It had been a pointless hope that Ronan might have known one orphan out of many. What had she expected? Him to look at her and say "yes of course I know Zai-Al. And who killed him and why." It wasn't going to be that easy. She just wished she could understand what he had got caught in. Why they needed to know the layout of the Embassy. It didn't make sense to strike there when every other square of ground had more tatical use. Robbing a single shipment from a mine would give them something to sell or to refurbish tech. The loss would mean a financial blow to prominent families. So why the Embassy?

 

She thunked her head softly against the column as the storm grew closer. She wished she could make her brain connect the pieces that were laid out in front of her. Before her head could hit the stone again a hand cushioned the blow. Vers froze as her head rested against firm fingers. She turned slowly to see Yon-Rogg behind her. She relaxed, turning so she could lean against the balustrade.

 

"Can't sleep?" Yon-Rogg asked. She could still feel the phantom of tension in him as he smiled at her but he was warm again.

 

"No. I thought I would concuss myself to help me relax." He chuckled and shook his jacket from his shoulders. He wrapped it around her, hand coming up to pull the pin from her hair. With out thinking Vers sniffed the collar of his coat. It smelled of soap, expensive oils and jaru root.

 

"You," he said moving his hand from her hair to the inside of his jacket. "Are better than a trained hunting hound."

 

He pulled a fresh jaru cigar from his inner pocket. Vers smiled impishly at him.

 

"What happened to not having special permission and fouling up the air?" Vers asked plucking it from his fingers.

 

"DarRogg is foul enough" he answered cupping his hands around the flame of her finger so from the outside all one could see is the glow on her face. She breathed in the smoke, blowing it away from him.

 

"You are too hard on this place," she said pulling the smoke close to her tongue.

 

"You have been here a day. Could you do a lifetime of it?"

 

"Your mom doesn't think so," Vers turned her hand in the fading light. The blue shimmered over her skin. It was softer than the starfire she burned with, less than her own glory. Yon-Rogg wanted to press a kiss to the naked skin of her palm. "She reminds me of you."

 

"I am sure my father would consider that a failing." He smiled at her.

 

"On your part or his?"

 

"Certainly mine," Yon-Rogg's smile turned bitter.

 

"Explain it to me."

 

"Explain what?" He asked taking the Jaru root from her lips and putting it between his own. It was warm and damp from her, he wanted her mouth again. Wanted to touch her intimately. Not stolen brushes but with intention. Touches that sought fulfillment. She watched him mesmerized as he pulled the smoke into his lungs and felt his muscles relax.

 

"We have the ocean inside us, we carry blue children. What does that mean?" She repeated his mother's words, she could see a muscle twitch in Yon's jaw. He passed the cigar back to her, small trails of smoke still escaping when he breathed. She drew in as well, the tight roll of the cigar was slowly unwinding as they handled it, becoming something soft and warm between her fingers, the heat of the ember so close to biting into her skin.

 

"Don't worry about it, Vers. We are going to leave and you don't have to think about it."

 

Thunder crackled behind them and the air shifted as the rain drew closer.

 

"We can't leave, Yon. Not yet. And I want to know."

 

"Know what exactly?"

 

"If it was hard for you growing up here. If you and your mother were treated like less. And why? Why does it matter?" Vers was so good. She was idealistic. How could Yon-Rogg explain to her that it was hard? That they were treated like less but they survived. That their lives were shaped by a belief he couldn't explain.

 

"It was hard," he said taking her shoulders. She looked up at him, and he wanted to tell her it was worth it. That it had driven him to Starforce and Starforce had brought him her. Except that was only him. One Kree among large numbers. "That is why we have to be arbiters of justice. To speak out when people are wronged. It's changing. The Supremor is changing it. One day this world will be like the Separation. Part of our history but not part of our reality."

 

Vers shook him off. She turned to look out at the rain that was beginning to darken the grass. She dropped his coat from her shoulders and lay it over the balustrade.

 

"Then how can you still fight me to find justice for Zai-Al? You say it is to protect the team but how can we call ourselves defenders of justice when the content of his DNA has held back the case? Even now you would leave before finding out why Ish-Al had information on the Embassy."

 

"I want you off this planet."

 

"Why?" The rain was falling harder now. Vers reached out a hand beyond the protection of the over hang. The rain flooded her palm and began to drip like pearls as it washed her skin.

 

"You should trust I want what's best for you," Yon-Rogg said, he could not help holding a hand out to the rain too. It was so scarce on Pal-Mar. He brought his hand cold and wet back under the cover of the roof. He pressed his palm to centre of her back and watched as rivulets of blue shimmer ran from beneath his palm. Her skin prickled in the cold but he didn't care he wanted to see her bare flesh again.

 

"I won't put whatever fears you have about me being here over Zai-Al and his truth. You are either helping me Yon or you are against me." She turned back to look at him, they stood side by side against the ledge.

 

"Staying here means going to Khurdan Tulaan," he said softly. "Ronan has asked it and my family won't deny him."

 

"I will go." She nodded. He reached out and caught more rain on his hand. He brushed his wet skin over her cheek and neck, pulling the pearl away, his thumb brushing over her lips.

 

"Then I will help you," he answered feeling the dread collect in his stomach. The jaru root made everything softer, more enthralling but it couldn't undo the knot of his fears.

 

She moved her lips against his thumb, a minute caress but it echoed the volumes between them.

 

"Is your room near here?" She asked as he forced himself to drop his hand. She was soaked and shivering. Her room was close.

 

"It is on the farside of the house," he answered with a shake of his head.

 

"Then how did you find yourself here?"

 

"It's a long balcony," he smiled pulling her away from the ledge where the rain could catch her. "Go inside Vers. It's cold. And late."

 

"Is that an order, Commander?" She asked rubbing her naked legs together like a cricket. His eyes followed the long lines of her body that were exposed by her underdress. He knew it was an invitation he had to deny.

 

"Yes," he pulled her close and pressed a kiss to her temple. A moment of warmth and reverence. "Goodnight."

 


 

Kairunn stank. That was Minn's first thought. It smelled of churned up moss and wet sand. By the time Att-Lass and her arrived the tension had grown between Korath and Bron-Char. They were confused and frustrated by the woman's disappearance.

 

It seemed hard to believe that Talia-Rath could be hiding on the planet but Minn was determined to find her. Unable to tolerate the bickering of the other two and unwilling to involve Att-Lass too deep into what was happening she had struck out on her own winding her way through the dark lush woods, searching for signs of the witch.

 


 

"Where have you been, Son?" Yon-Rogg paused mid step as he came around the balcony. His mother's voice was low and quiet, almost as if he had been sleep walking and she was loathe to wake him. The relaxing spell woven by Vers and her jaru root began to dissipate.

 

"Mother I did not expect to find you here." He pulled his mask on again. Infallible. Relaxed. Innocent of damming thoughts.

 

"Its a long balcony." Yon-Rogg smiled thinking how Vers had said they were similar

 

"Did you come looking for me?" He asked nodding towards his bedroom door.

 

"Just because it has been twenty years does not mean I won't still check if you are sleeping as you should."

 

"Where else would I be?" He asked, he was fiddling with a button on the coat slung over his arm.

 

"You should be more careful" she reached for him and turned his hand in the light, the pearl gleamed where it caught in his skin. "You will ruin her."

 

"We don't live in this world anymore." He pulled his hand away from her, his voice barely above a whisper. He knew his words would sting her.

 

"And yet the sight of her dressed as a Daughter of our House moved you?"

 

"Never paint Vers like that again." He hardened. He hated the way Vers had looked at her own skin.

 

"Is she too good for our old ways?" His mother's voice was ice.

 

"No, she does not need it. She glows on her own." He paused and thought he might as well speak his last truths. "Do not paint yourself either, mother."

 

"I did my duty and produced strong heirs," she drew away from him as if stung.

 

"You did."

 

"So why should I not wear that accomplishment on my skin?"

 

"Because you are more than it" he took her face in his hands. When had he grown so tall that she was within his reach? He wished he could banish away any heaviness on her chest before he left for Hala. That he could wrap her in an invincible shield so the pain of disgrace would never touch her.

 

"You are a good son, Yon. It is time you came home." She looked at him pityingly. She pitied him he realized. That angered him.

 

"We both know I can never do that."

 

He bowed to her the brief warmth between them turned beneath the cold soil of DarRogg. He slipped into his room leaving her in the cooling night.

Chapter Text

Talos was dreaming in his bunk again. That was all there seemed to be for him in this life of infinite loneliness; sleep and dreams. Waking on Pal-Mar had been consumed by daydreams and waiting for one of his contacts to come. He kept an eye and ear to what was said by the people passing through but half his heart was always scouring C53 for his wife and daughter. Desperately trying to remember some forgotten moment that would tell him where they had disappeared to.

 

As part of his reconnaissance he had tapped into the many jump points that Pal-Mar crossed in their orbit, it had been easy enough to do when every couple months new Transporter's Guild recruits came through the bar. Picking the pocket of one of the guild masters and gaining access to the manifests of every jump point heading out of Pal-Mar had been child's play. From there it was nothing to set up an alert if permissions were requested to transport a high energy device. That was the beauty of bureaucracy, no matter the posturing of Starforce they were quickly brought to heel by the Transporters' Guild if they wanted to use their jump points.

 

His life from that moment on had been suspended, waiting for someone to need him. He was not a limb of war but a bladder or kidney. He took what was handed to him and passed it to someone else. He would on occasion filter or meddle to put a protective cloud between the elder council and their more haphazard allies. Eventually the stagnation ate away at him so he barely glanced at the information given and he lived longer in dreams and fantasies.

 

It weighed on him that his complacency had somehow endangered Zai-Al. That he had been the cause of the boy's death.

 

They had met during happier times. As happy as days could be when you were in a war with one of the strongest forces in the galaxy. A war that was ignored by the other powers, a silent slaughtering of his people. Their bodies churned under the earth by the many legged movements of the Kree Empire. And all his people could do was hide in shadows and hope to trip or sever one leg out of thousands.

 

At least, he and Soren had been together. He had been only silently in love with her then. Words unspoken between them and his will always on guard so she could sense no softness in him.

 

Their encampment had been no more than a series of half collapsed chambers beneath an old temple. They were crouching for a few months on Herkarsis. A neutral planet dedicated to the service of all kinds. In theory.
The nuns of the temples had turned them away saying they could not risk the displeasure of the Kree Empire. How little honour the Kree had that even a hospice could not be assured their mercy? The nuns had told them of a temple fallen to the last Kree war. A place that had held the refugees of Xandar Prime's first battle. It had been bombed more generations ago than the nuns could remember. So the Skrulls had hiked there and made a small home among the rats and bones of another Kree enemy.

 

One day a child had wandered out of the brush. Zai-Al had been so small. Older than he looked, but his body undernourished and fighting against itself. Talos remembered Soren and he had been under an arch, a small piece of tech in her lap and him tending the fire for their lunch. The moment existed in his memory with such clarity it unnerved him. The world shifting on its axis.

 

Soren's hands had stilled, her body stiffening. Her unrivalled empathy had latched onto something. She had shifted the bundle in her lap and stood quickly. Holding her hands out to quiet his questions she had taken off at a hurried pace around the side of the temple. Talos had sworn under his breath, grabbing a pistol, and given chase. The blasted woman was always needing rescuing because she followed the tendrils of mercy that wrapped around her mind rather than the iron in her veins.

 

She was quicker than him, her slim body made for speed and honed through a life in constant peril. By the time he rounded the corner she had stopped on the over grown lawn of the temple, her eyes locked with the small pink boy. He was shaking, she was shaking and Talos had been furious.

 

They had stood like that for a long time. He had tried to pull her away but she was rooted to the place.

 

"The boy could be Kree," he hissed in her ear. They had to be constantly vigilant. "He could be a spy."

 

"Then they should feed him better," she responded her eyes darting from the boy for only a second. Her beautiful eyes that spoke volumes with only a glance. He knew she would not let go of him easily.

 

The boy was small. His hair was dark blond and curled around his ears. He was cut in places, the blue blood smeared where the brush had pulled at him. He wore the plain white sheath of a patient. Talos guessed he must have escaped one of the healing temples. If he wasn't a spy.

 

Soren and the boy were locked in something he couldn't understand. He could transform, he could tap into the intense physical empathy that the Skrulls used to take the form of another. You wore the other person against your skin. It was originally a holy communion that allowed them to negotiate, communicate and exist peacefully with a deep understanding of all, even those who opposed them. The war had weaponized it. Made it a tool of survival. Perverted something beautiful.

 

Talos could not do what Soren could, without changing her skin she could live inside the emotions of another. He felt the boy and her were frozen in an exploration of each other. The boy began to cry at one point. Not the wails of a child but fat silent tears of heartbreak. Soren's heartbreak.

 

She had knelt in the grass and asked Talos for food. He had left them hesitantly. He did not want her caught without protection even for a moment. When he returned with a few rations she had waved him away. He had obeyed but he had stayed just beyond the walls of the temple. She was always in his sight. If they could feel him they paid him no mind.

 

By the time night had fallen the boy had eaten the food and curled himself into Soren's arms. They were both exhausted and sleeping, Soren was wrapped around him protectively her body slouching like an arch around his thin body. It had been too cold for such nonesense. Talos had crept across the lawn and untangled them. Soren had murmured protests her arms tightening around the boy, but she was too worn out with the invisible effort of calling to him that Talos' will won out. He lay the boy gently in the damp grass and scooped Soren into his arms.

 

It was the first time he had held her. That memory was sweet in itself. It existed free from any other association but the wonderful chemistry of their skin meeting. She found his neck and pressed her nose there, asleep and unaware of how her body craved another. If he could have he would have abandoned the boy and stolen her away. If he had his death would have been swift upon her waking.

 

He placed her in his bed and pulled the covers over her. He paused only to pull off her boots. He returned for the boy and tucked him into Soren's cot. Talos would spend the night guarding the tree line with his pistol to see if the boy had been followed.

 

Now almost two decades later, Soren was lost and Zai-Al was dead. Their family scattered across the galaxy. Talos tried not to think of his body plummeting to the ground. Limp and still too small for a man of his strength and bravery. He rolled to his side and tried to close his eyes and sleep before he had to land on the surface of Feroimum.

 

That was when the first bang rocked his ship.

 


 

Yon-Rogg's comm was chirping. No message was coming through. Someone was just opening and closing the channel over and over again so that the comm beside his bed sang like one of the crickets in the lawn. Not that he had found sleep easy, but this was not helping.

 

"Vers, stop it" he growled at last. He held the comm close to his mouth and growled down the line. He heard a small laugh. Except he was not sure if it had crackled down the line of comm or it was somewhere in the darkness of DarRogg. The comm chirped again.

 

He rolled onto his back and opened the line again. "What are you doing?"

 

"Echolocating," she answered before the comm cut out again.

 

"What?" He sat up and then he saw her shadow in his doorway.

 

"I didn't want to wander into your parents room by accident," she smiled at him her shoulder leaning on the door jamb.

 

"You shouldn't be here," he murmured his voice leaving him as the moonlight caught her outline.

 

"I can't sleep," he could hear her smile. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"

 

"We aren't playing by Pal-Mar rules here," he admonished her. He slid out from under his covers, very aware of his own state of dishabille.

 

"Then what should I do?" Her eyes skimmed over his bare chest and he felt the path they took like it was traced with a flame.

 

"Take a tab."

 

"Just talk to me instead," there was a low note of pleading in her voice.

 

"Then you can use the comm. We both know it's working. Thanks to you," he was torn between walking to her to push her out of the room and knowing if he got close he wouldn't let her leave.

 

"But Commander, the channel isn't encrypted. It could be dangerous," she walked a little further into the room and he fought the urge to retreat.

 

"What could you want to talk about that would require encryption?"

 

"All sorts of things." Damn her wicked mouth. He was going to let her stay.

 

She slid into his bed as if she belonged. She had washed the pearl off so at least she wouldn't stain the sheets. She looked as she did on Pal-Mar and ridiculously out of place against the dark blue silk of his bed in DarRogg. She hummed as she moved her bare legs beneath the covers.

 

"Nicer than yours?" He asked sitting on the edge of the bed behind her.

 

"Warmer," she answered rolling over so she could look at him.

 

"Staying here means sneaking out at dawn," he told her, he reached out to push a lock of blond hair behind her ear. She was so pale and golden tucked under the blue. Like a jewel in a case.

 

"I know. Are you going to stay like that?" She raised her eyebrows at him. He sighed and lay down on top of the covers. At least, there would be a layer between him and his own foolishness.

 

"What did you want here, Vers?"

 

"To understand. I feel like I am on the outside looking in. Tell me about the Skrulls, the war. Tell me why we fight."

 

"That isn't an easy story to tell. We can only guess at the beginning, and we are in the middle. Who knows how it will end."

 

"Then tell me your side. Tell me why you are Starforce and not an Accuser. Tell me why you fight."

 

"The Skrulls have no empire. No place we can come together and broker peace. They crouch and hide like a disease on a planet. Infiltrating the populace and draining their resources." Speaking of it made something in him waver. He knew there were things he couldn't explain without upsetting her peace. He reached for her and she let him pull her back against his chest. That way he did not have to see her as he spoke. "The Accusers are like a fever. They burn out the disease but they leave destruction in their wake. They are feared as much as they are revered. Starforce is the cure. We heal the communities the Skrulls have weakened. We build up their civilizations, we bring them into the light."

 

"And the Skrulls have never had a home?" She asked, her hand slipping from beneath the covers to trace the lines of his fingers where his hand gripped her.

 

"There is legend of a place, Skrullos. They destroyed it with their greed. They hollowed it out mining for resources and poisoned the air and the rivers. It has been a dead lifeless planet for millenia."

 

"How can a war end when there is no common ground, no rules?" Vers' voice was tight.

 

"That isn't a question for our generation, or the next. We can only cure a wound as it manifests, strike when we can to end their attack."

 

"Do you think the Skrulls have invaded Starforce?" He tightened his arm around her. The thought made his skin crawl.

 

"If they have we won't know until they strike. They copy us down to our DNA."

 

Vers nodded, her fingers stilling over his.

 

"I want to end the war." She said into the quiet that surrounded them. He smiled. She was so brave. A noble warrior.

 

"The Supremor would be proud to hear those words." He thought of their impending meeting. He hoped they would survive it. That they could achieve all Vers was capable of.

 

"And what do you want?" She shimmied her hips against him through the silk, laughing as he huffed air against her neck.

 

"At this moment, to survive until morning with my sanity intact."

 

She rolled over again so she was facing him, her lips a hair breadth from his own.

 

"There was no hope of that, Commander," she murmured before she pressed her lips to his and all his good intentions were lost to the whisper of bodies moving on silk.

Chapter Text

Sweat was running down Minn-Erva neck and settling in the collar of her suit. She wanted to rub it away but once you started chasing all the small discomforts you never stopped. She was out of the treeline now and free from their coverage the sun was hot. The fertile, fetid soil had given way to dry black sand. She had found the bank of a river, the black water rushed and stole away the soft shore whipping itself into bobbing foamy caps. The smell of death rose from the water too. Everything on Kairunn wreaked of it.

 

Her comm crackled in her ear.

 

"Minn, turn your beacon on," Att-Lass' exasperated voice sounded like it was being squeezed through a fine mesh. He had called half a dozen times and she wasn't answering him. She was a bad partner.

 

She couldn't help it. She had been burned before.

 

She was tired. And hungry. She felt like she had been walking for hours and getting nowhere. There had been signs in the forest of someone coming this way, broken branches and churned up soil but once she found the shore of the river there were no more signs to read.

 

Perhaps the blind old woman had fallen in? Then it was just a matter of following the path of the water until a body was found. She was thirsty too. She walked a little farther to a dip in the shore. She knelt and lay her weapon beside her. The water looked disgusting. She reached her hand down and plunged her arm all the way to the elbow. She held it there feeling the current move around her suit. She had to stay still for fifteen seconds. Then the automatic survival mode would activate and draw water into the suit. It would be filtered through dozens of tubes that ran through it like veins ultimately collecting in a small bladder in her lower back. As she was bent awkwardly on the shore she thought she saw a flick of white across the water. She tense but she couldn't move or the filtration system wouldn't activate. She tried to look up without moving her shoulders, but she could only see a small stretch of marsh bank across from her. Maybe it had been a bird. Or even more unsettling some sort of silver fish below the surface. Minn-Erva hated fish.

 

Her suit beeped and the fins opened. She could feel the draw of cold water creep up her arm. She thought she heard a splash. She tried to turn and look along the shore, but the river was not deep enough she could straighten her body without the suit pulling in air. She couldn't risk an air bubble in the line, the delicate pressure had to be maintained or she'd lose access to the systems that let her survive. Then she would have to call Att-Lass.

 

She kept her eyes on the water, hoping to see some secret reflected there. Instead her eyes were drawn to the rippling black surface her mind wandering to places she tried to avoid. The water she thought, as it coursed around rocks and reeds looked like the flowing tendrils of a woman's hair. The colour of ink and flowing around Minn-Erva's fingers.

 

The memory of her was faded. If Minn-Erva could go back eighteen years and tell her young self that one day Nii-Ve would be barely a fleeting moment in her past she would have been livid. There was something in the first brush of her lips that had felt like the planet had tilted on its axis. She had tasted like a secret part of herself, one Minn was desperate to know thoroughly. Something in her soul had shimmered and pressed against her ribs like a disobedient school of minnows.

 

If Nii-Ve had also escaped to a world beyond their parents' sphere she wondered if they would have stayed together.

 

A question that answered itself because Nii-Ve had not chosen her.

 

"She was young and scared," a voice said deep in Minn's head. "So were you."

 

She closed her eyes shutting out the flow of the water, trying to pull herself out of the memory. She could feel the pressure on her back as the bladder inflated fuller and fuller. She should pull her arm out soon.

 

Except she didn't.

 

"Too young to be made to make such important descisions. How could you have known what the real stakes were? How could you have understood what was truly being asked of you? To have a man part your thighs for the Empire?"

 

Minn-Erva became aware these were not her own thoughts, not truly. She had thought them before, but she was passed this anger. She had seen instead children the same age dead in civilian uprisings. Soldiers that never knew the luxuries she knew. Something else was trying to push this feeling into her from the back of her own skull. She pulled against her frozen arm in the water to look at the shore.

 

Glowing moon eyes met her own, as unseening and luminescent as opals. Minn-Erva couldn't move the pressure on her back growing stronger as she pulled in more of the murky river water. Her weapon was just out of reach.

 

Talia-Rath had found her.

 

"Talia-Rath, on the orders of the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree Empire you are under arrest for desertion from-" Minn-Erva struggled to force the air from her tightening lungs. The woman didn't blink or appear to hear her but the voice grew more clear in Minn-Erva's mind.

 

"Child, the Empire has hunted me longer than you have been alive. When they made us they heavily miscalculated their ability to control their creation. We are not like you, at the mercy of their desires."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"If you have the power of the Empire behind you, prove it. Lift your arm from the water." Talia-Rath's voice hissed like silk in the back of her mind. The woman on the bank had been motionless only the voice had shaken with passion.

 

Minn-Erva could not. She could not even shake her wrist to close the filtration system.

 

"Or you could continue on your current path and keep your head beneath the surface."

 

There was a moment before her shield engaged and putrid water filled her mouth. As the glow lit up in front of her eyes she opened her mouth and let the water run down her chin. She pulled air in through her nose. She could only see the shallow bottom of the shore, gooey black pebbles were an inch from her forehead.

 

Then the pressure was gone and she could pull herself above the water. Minn-Erva fell back on the shore feeling the water slosh through the veins of her over filled suit. Her shield disengaged and she choked against the smell of death.

 

"I remember those suits. I wore one of my own before I fell through the atmosphere of Pal-Mar and burned away my eyes. That shield will keep you alive for a long time beneath the water but not indefinitely, girl."

 

"How did you survive? Why did you fall?" Minn-Erva fought against the way her body stood on the shore and began to walk into the cold water.

 

Talia-Rath continued to watch her stiff limbed and cold faced on the shore. It was eerie as if she was a spectre waiting for Minn-Erva on the other side. Cold water had reached her knees. Talia-Rath's voice laughed in a wreath around Minn-Erva's head.

 

"I was a coward who engaged their shield before the ground. I could no longer do what the Empire asked of me. Do you think you are the first one I have tormented this way? Why do you think they crafted me to be the subtle knife that weaves between your very being?"

 

The swirling water was around Minn-Erva's waist now. She felt drawn to the water. She wanted to be beneath the surface. She wanted it more than she had wanted anything. She could feel the weight on her chest of every heartbreak and disappointed hope. She felt with renewed clarity the first moment Yon-Rogg had seen the Terran and the day she had stood in her and Nii-Ve's secret place and waited for her. All that pain would not exist in the dark.

 

"Even with the shield, what good would your body have been?" Minn-Erva didn't understand.

 

"I persuaded the people of Pal-Mar to hide me. Even half dead their will fell to mine."

 

The bottom fell away and the world became darkness and green light.

 


 

Vers had tried to sleep in her own bed. Tried to accept Yon-Rogg's choice to spend the night away from her. After all, they were not mates or even truly partners. They were two people who couldn't seem to untangle themselves. Yon would need to marry. To be a part of their culture. She would stay on Pal-Mar and hope her memories returned. She would perhaps be able to leave one day and to push further the noble acts of Starforce. That was more than enough for her. To save people. To bring them hope. She wanted that ten thousand times over in as many different ways. Yon-Rogg had been right when he said she couldn't spend a lifetime in this gilded cage.

 

The bed was too soft. And it was not warming her skin wet from the rain and then the shower. She thought the cold water would wash some sense into her, instead it had left her shivering and wanting Yon's body heat. So she had followed the balcony in the direction he had left. Promising herself she would leave if he told her to. Except even as he said the words she felt him giving in. His eyes told her everything she hoped to hear. His look filling in the gaps in his words.

 

His bed was warm from him and it filled all the places she was cold. He had helped her too, told her pieces that had been missing from her people's history. What it meant to wear the Starforce Uniform. It felt even more unbelievable that Zai-Al had betrayed such a mission.

 

She shouldn't have kissed him. She blamed his words. He had said the Supremor would be proud of her but he was proud of her. She could hear it in his voice and it made heat lick through her more intimately than anything they had done with their bodies. She wanted his approval, to prove she was worth teaching, she didn't want her training to fall away to constant mating. It took so little to spark desire in him. She pressed her mouth to his, small and tight. A small tease for how much he admitted she effected him without saying the words aloud.

 

He moved like a wave breaking over her, one hand moving up to tangle in her hair while the other moved to her knee over the silk sheet and pinned it to the mattress. He kissed her so gently considering how his hand pulled at her hair. He held her down that way, her hands moving slowly over his bare chest, feeling the tension in him. He left her mouth spreading kisses along her chin and jaw.

 

"I should send you back to your own room." He grunted into her neck, the fine chords of her throat exposed as her spine made an arch into the mattress. "You never listen to me."

 

"Your eyes always beg me not to. You say you like control, Commander, I think what you mean is you like taming things. And failing." She huffed out the heavy collection of words as he grazed his teeth over her collar bones.

 

His pelvis ground into the cradle of her hips. She could feel him through the silk but it all felt alien. Every movement seemed to telegraph across the crisp surface so a grip of his hand at her hip caused the silk over her breasts to slither against her. Every touch turning into a dozen touches as her skin was on fire for him.

 

"I won't take you here, Vers," he said even as he rocked his hips into her. He released her hair and her hip. Instead, he knotted their hands together above her head so she couldn't continue to reach for him. Through the thin sheet she wrapped both legs around one thigh and tilted her hips into.

 

"Keep this up and you won't have to." If he wouldn't stoke the embers he lit she could finish against the hard muscle of his thigh.

 

"Is friction all I am to you?" He growled as her hips pressed against him. He felt the muscles of her leg tighten and her breathing become shallower.

 

"You are very good for friction," she assured him, wetting her lips and smiling at him as she pushed for more. More pressure, a better angle. Everything was so close to perfect.

 

He grinned a wicked grin and pulled his body away from her. She moaned in frustration. He could hold both her hands with one of his so he changed his grip. He ghosted his hand along her rib cage and she arched up to meet him. Feather light touches that drove her crazy. Every brush felt like a tiny zap of lightning. The movement of her hips had been so insistent against him she was shocked they hadn't made static between them. He ran the back of his hand over her stomach, up and down slowly before running a finger along the same plane and swirling around her belly button. Her laugh was broken by the hitch of her breath as his finger continued down the path of her linea alba over her soft lower belly. He traced the outline of her aching parts and she instinctively tried to close her knees. It was too much all her already flickering nerves unable to make sense of gentleness after the harsh press of bone and muscle.

 

"I am good for many more sensations than that, Vers. Let me disabuse you of the idea that you have seen alll I have to offer," he said this against her ear. More vibration than words it made her shiver all over and press against her restrained hands.

 

He lay two fingers along her and moved them in a tapping rhythm, each fall landing and echoing sensation through her flesh exactly like raindrops on the tight arc of an umbrella. It was teasing more awareness out of her and she bit her lip desperate for some firmer sensation. The cool silk becoming warm exactly where his fingers moved. It was insistent and constant. Even as her body craved more she felt a winding tightness growing between her hips. She felt herself shudder and pulse. Body clenching to recieve a fullness that wouldn't come. She could feel the silk coaxing tightness from her breasts over her stomach to where it slid over her knees. Everywhere was sensation building to nothingness. A true void. No anchor beyond the grip of his hands at her wrist and the building beat between her legs. When she did crest with hitching breath and painfully arching feet it was as if a blinding white emptiness had taken her. The sensations sweet and light. It made her want more, made her crave him seated throughly inside. When he pressed his mouth to hers to swallow a half formed cry she licked into his mouth desperate for something she couldn't articulate.

 

"That shouldn't be possible," she panted as he released her hands. "You cheated."

 

"You did most of the work, I just plucked the victory from you," he brushed his nose against her. She could feel him gloating. She landed a punch to his shoulder, their bodies curling around each other. Her half fulfillment lit a fuse in her. He rolled her against his chest again. He held her tight and she found it hard to fight the languid feeling that was spreading from her chest. "Sleep. Dawn will be here before you know it."

 

It was. He woke her when the pale light was beginning to grow beyond the shadow of the balcony. He was dressed in his training gear. They would jog along the balcony so no one would question them or hopefully why Vers was completing her training barefoot.

 

The cool dawn air pulling into her lungs was waking up her blood. The last few days of recycled air and then the tension in DarRogg had wound her tighter than she thought. They did two loops before they stopped at her room.

 

When they did slip through the door they found the place a disaster. Everything was torn up and spread across the floor. Someone had been searching for something.

 

"The crystals," Vers breathed. She walked hurriedly into the room to uncover their hiding spot.

 

"Someone knows you weren't in your room last night," Yon-Rogg said darkly.

 

Clearly DarRogg was less safe than he thought.

 


 

The second and third bangs sounded more like fists and the ship no longer shook. Talos grabbed his pistol and crept through the cabin following the sounds of pounding. They were coming from just outside the airlock.

 

Tightening his grip on the pistol he engaged the doors. He felt the ship suck in breath and pressurize. When the seals had grown fat and all was secure the jaw like air lock doors opened and he could see the swirling surface of Feroimum below.

 

A figure threw itself through the opening, rolling once they hit the artificial gravity. Their body collided with the airlock doors and the jaws closed after them. The room was lit with only red light lending a ghoulish look to the man in the space suit trying to struggle to his feet.

 

"Bastard," Talos muttered. He considered opening the door, putting a single bolt in his head and then opening the airlock again. Except knowing his luck that would not be enough to kill him and Talos would be forced to listen to his whining.

Chapter Text

Space smelled like seared meat. Not burnt flesh the way that a war zone smelled or cooked meals the way a campfire did. It smelled of the instant flesh met flame but continuous and on going. The Titan brought the smell in with him from the airlock. Talos couldn't help the way his nostrils flared and he sniffed him. The smell repulsed him and drew him in. There was a tangle of emotion attached to every smell on the ship.

 

"Like what you smell, General?" The Titan asked as he leaned on the door to the airlock.

 

"Where have you been? The Elder Council thought you had abandoned us."

 

"I needed a vacation. You should consider it General. You look terrible."

 

Talos felt his anger rise. This was why the council didn't trust the Titan. He was merely playing war. A bored, meddling diety.

 

The Titan sauntered into the ship. He began immediately to strip away his gloves then to fiddle with the clasps of his suit. He wondered towards the galley. Stripped to the waist he began going through the cupboards for rations.

 

"What do you think you are doing?" Talos followed him down the hallway gathering his gloves where he dropped them.

 

"Do you have any idea how long I have been in that suit?" He gave the General a wicked smile as he made a small meal out of what he found in the cupboards.

 

"I am surprised your kind need to eat," Talos looked him up and down as he leaned against the counter. His red hair ruffled from travel, his torso bare and pale. He looked cut away from marble like the statues Talos saw in temples.

 

"I don't have time to give you a lesson in Titan biology, unless you are very very interested," the Titan looked Talos up and down the same way Talos had done, his eyebrows quirking.

 

"I am more concerned about my rations disappearing than where you are putting them." Talos threw the gloves down on the table and sat to look at the Titan honestly. "If you are here then are you going to complete the mission as planned?"

 

"No." The Titan finished his meal and began to wander through the ship again towards the shower.

 

"What do you mean 'no'?" Talos took off after him. "You expect me to risk certain death in Kree territory for a mission you accepted in the first place. No, not even that. One you started. Did you forget this attack was your idea?"

 

"I was drunk," the Titan defended. He had reached the antechamber of the shower and was working one foot out of its boot.

 

"The entire time? After what you let Zai-Al risk? What he sacrificed? He only went to Hala-"

 

"He went to Hala to search the records for the event on C53. You forget what his last actions truly were General. He left Terius against Ronan's orders to pursue a lead for you. Learning of the Khurdan Tulaan was merely a side benefit. I know you are burdened but do not look to my shoulders to lessen your load."

 

The Titan admonished him while stripping away the rest of his clothes. Talos left him to his shower, seething at his insolence.

 

He wasn't ready to admit the Titan was right. In a way. Talos would never have asked Zai-Al to risk drawing attention to himself but he had not stopped him either. He sat in the pilot's chair body reclined and tried to focus on the task that lay ahead of him. His mind continued to pull back to long ago on Herkarsis. Memories he didn't want to sully with his blood covered hands.

 

The boy was not a talker. That was immediately obvious. He had sat with his wide gold eyes trained on Soren since he had woken up. Talos was making their breakfast and he found it unbelievably unnerving.

 

"Is he talking to you? You know-" Talos waggled his fingers between the two of them.

 

"I don't think he is powerful enough yet." Soren looked up from the broken mangle of gears on her lap and smiled at the little boy. The boy smiled back and Talos returned to the fire.

 

"That implies one day he will be that powerful," he grumbled under his breath and Soren nudged him with her boot. He caught her toes and squeezed on instinct. She laughed and his heart did a small flip.

 

He pulled the iron pan from the fire and speared a steaming dumpling from the boiling water. It smelled of yeast and meat. He held it skewered in front of the boy whose eyes turned from Soren to the food. He licked his lips and Talos moved it back and forth slightly to see the boy's pupils move.

 

"If you want this boy, I want a name." The boy reached for the food but Talos pulled it away from his grubby pink hands. "Your name, boy."

 

"Talos," there was an edge of outrage to Soren's voice. He didn't care. They would never be among friends and a lack of vigilance could be their downfall.

 

"Zai-Al." The boy barely breathed the word. It was as if it was something sacred to him.

 

"A Kree name," Talos gave the boy his food locking eyes with Soren.

 

He should kill him. No good could come from harbouring a Kree child. The boy pulled apart the sticky soft outside of the bun and gleefully ate the pieces.

 

"I like your name, Zai-Al. Mine is Soren." Soren reached for his hands with a cloth and began to clean his fingers. "How old are you? I am this many-"

 

Soren held up her ten fingers twice. Zai-Al responded with eight fingers.

 

In the present, Talos wondered how they had both ever been so young. Zai-Al had not stayed with them long that time. He had wandered back into the trees soon after breakfast. Talos had watched him go, raising his pistol so the centre of the boy's back was in his sights. Soren had grabbed his arm, pulling it back towards his side. She had pressed her forehead into his shoulder and begged him not to do it. Against everything he believed Talos lowered his weapon because he could not deny her any more than the tide of an ocean could resist the force of the moon.

 

If he had fired that shot he would have been spared so much pain and yet he would have had nothing to keep living for.

 


 

"Is anything taken?" Yon-Rogg looked around the room, Vers' few belongings were scattered across the floor.

 

She gleefully hugged a balled up pair of socks to her chest before waving them at him.

 

"Crystals are safe." She looked around her again. "My datapad is gone."

 

"We should alert my parents. That is Starforce issue if one of our staff has-"

 

"Yon, that means telling them I wasn't here last night," Vers looked at him from beneath arched brows. Yon-Rogg chewed the inside of his cheek. He knew his mother suspected. They could go to her but that meant truly admitting it out loud to her. He wasn't ready for that. Not when the item lost was not of much value. A DNA locked pad. Even if they hacked it all it contained was a matter of public record.

 

"We will leave it for now but we won't return after Khurdan Tulaan. If we can't find the leak tonight we will go to Hala anyway. No more waiting."

 

"What about the others on Kairunn?"

 

"They will have to handle it themselves."

 

Vers nodded. They had not discussed why they were going to Hala. She suspected it was so she could be fully reinstated. She dared to hope that Yon-Rogg was refitting her with armor and soon she would be one with the team. Or he would allow her to investigate Zai-Al where he stopped last before he died on Pal-Mar, either way delaying their return only delayed what she wanted more than anything.

 


 

Ronan stood in the black tiled room that served as his base for operations when he was back on Feroimum. He was not here often but as his duties never ceased he had no choice but to retain a formal link to Hala in his family home. It was from here he had put into play the final pieces of his coup de grâce. A small slice of vengeance. He preferred it this way, to slowly peel away at his enemies cutting away flesh pound by pound rather than one fatal blow. This particular act had the whiff of humiliation. A double blow.

 

A woman entered his chamber. Her pink skin covered in veil after veil of grey silk. All their servants were shrouded. It prevented them from seeing or hearing what they were not meant to. In her hands she clutched a small bundle. When she reached him she knelt on the cold stone and lifted the package on the flats of her hands so he would not have to touch her.

 

He lifted it and she scurried away. He wondered if she was one of the pretty ones. He carefully removed the item from its wrapping. A starforce data pad. He frowned. Was this the best the useless servants in DarRogg could give him?

 

He wired it into the console. The computer began unlocking it, bombarding it with chain after chain of digitized DNA. He watched the screen flicker as failure after failure was rejected. The only light in the room coming from the screen. At last, it flashed the sequence. As well as a spinning face of the owner of the DNA. It was Yon-Rogg but not Yon-Rogg.

 

A hybridization. Something partially Kree. The code was not thorough enough to tell him what else. He knew only one other being in the Universe who should share this strain. It was impossible. Unless.

 

His mind searched their conversation. Her questions. Questions that would arise from someone searching for information about his past. A past that could have been lost after a fall. A man who could have any face, who shared blood with Rogg. A man who should be dead.

 

Zai-Al.

Chapter Text

The darkness had lied to Minn. As the weight of the water in her suit pulled her to the bottom of the river nothing felt different. There was no silence to the aches she had above the surface. She was still tired and hungry. Talia-Rath was still pulling her past backward out of her so she could experience it from new sharp angles.

 

"Can you still hear me, my sweet?" Her voice echoed in Minn's head. Cloying and sultry. "Isn't it strange? All the technology in the universe and that suit doesn't know when you're in trouble. The Empire doesn't want the responsibility. It makes you beg for it."

 

Minn closed her eyes against the dizzying dark, one thousand times more disorienting than looking out into space. She could feel Talia-Rath in her head, feel her going through all her secrets with reckless abandon.

 

"I can play you any memory you want. Keep you entertained until the power in your life system is drained. Without the sun it won't take long." Minn could have sworn she felt gnarled fingers in her hair. Something clawing from the inside of her head out.

 

Minn didn't believe she would be allowed to choose.



It was a curse how good she was with children. Talos resented it. It made him long for something he could not have. He resented the whole mission.

 

"We need her. Keep her safe." The most damming words ever spoken to one man.

 

How do you not fall in love with water in a desert? How when every person you met was a gangster, a villian or a profiteer did you not fall hopelessly irreconcilably in love with kindness, bravery and genius? He just had to keep the woman alive long enough that they could send her to her ultimate destination. Some hidden place where another mad genius was planning to end the war. Except there was no straight line to safety. They hovered, they dodged, they camped, they fled. There would be no end to the mission until it was suddenly over. Either they were dead or the last tumblers of peace had clicked into place.

 

The boy, Zai-Al, had stumbled out of the woods again. Talos had braced as he saw him clear the tree line. Soren had put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

 

"He is alone," she murmured.

 

"How long have you felt him coming?" Talos whispered back.

 

"Since dawn. He is scared."

 

Now the two fools were laying on their backs looking up at the sky. Every once in awhile Soren would reach up and trace something in the clouds with her finger. He could hear them giggling. It made his stomach roll with some backward jealousy. He was pacing the crumbling upper story of the temple. In theory, keeping watch but in reality he was only watching them. For a moment looking at her he let his guard down and the full force of his frustration rolled over him like the tension breaking on a dome of water. Soren immediately sat up on her elbows. A small motion but whipcord fast as if she had known exactly where he was. He tried to gather in all that had spilled but it was hopeless.

 

That was the first time he felt it. The tendril of her power. A caress from inside his soul outwards to his flesh. He thought he knew the full scope of her empathy but in that moment, him in the temple and her in the grass, he realized she had never truly used it on him. Now she did. She tried to ease the tightness in his gut. Coax him down onto the field with them but he couldn't. He had to be vigilant. He had to be cold. He had to contain the constant bartering of his heart. His traitorous heart that tried to make deals with him. Tell her. Even if nothing comes of it unburden yourself.

 

He knew what his heart did not; that his exterior was hardened by war, that he was soaked in misdeeds like tannins until he was nothing but strangers' blood and hide. He had nothing to offer her. He disappeared from their view, walked until he couldn't feel the smoke of her in his lungs.

 

Night had fallen and Zai-Al had stayed. Talos had fed them and left them with the low glow of the fire. He assumed they would share a cot together as the boy had been near glued to her.

 

The scuffle of grit across the worn stone floor was his first sign something was not as it should be. The moon of Herkarsis cast light through the damaged foundation. Enough light he could see her moving through the chamber. He closed his eyes again, his hand creeping slowly away from his pistol. She would know he wasn't asleep.

 

He felt the thin mattress shift under her weight and felt the small movements of her removing her boots.

 

"Is the boy coming too?" Talos asked. If there was nothing wrong he should leave.

 

"He is asleep." Soren answered.

He heard the tinkling sound as she undid the buckles on her jacket. He swallowed, his heart beating so hard he could feel it in his throat. Curse her empathy she would know how weak he was. She shrugged it off and bundled it over her boots. Next to where his boots and jacket would be bundled. Side by side. He should close his eyes again, the moonlight moved over the skin of her shoulders and she felt etheral like a dream. Like he could give in to every desire. He would never burden her with them. She would be the saviour of his people and he would be forgotten. Even by her. A brief interlude before a life worthy of her began. He pressed his back into the stone wall as far from her as he could be. She lifted the covers and slid in beside him lying on her side.

 

She was mostly covered and he thought he had never desired anything more than the square inch of skin he could see in clear detail where her shoulder curved below the sheet.

 

"He knows you dislike him. It makes him uneasy." Her voice was soft but unbending. She thought he was being unfair.

 

"I am not here to be kind to anyone," he answered gruffly. Had she forgotten who he was?

 

"They've done something to him, Talos. He is in pain."

 

"That is why the Kree come to Herkarsis. He should go back to the nuns."

 

"I don't think he is with the nuns. Not all the time. I think there are other Kree here. They've meddled with him."

 

Talos sat up quickly. His heart that before beat a round low nervous rhythm now stung with adrenalin. His hand gripped the cover ready to pull it away. If there were Kree here they had to leave.

 

"What are you doing?" Her eyes were wide, she pushed herself halfway up onto her elbow.

 

"We have to leave."

 

"Why?"

 

The infuriating woman.

 

"There are Kree here." He could feel her trying to reach him. He couldn't let the calm touch him, they needed action.

 

"Talos, they will not find us."

 

"I am not willing to risk it," he wanted to leap from the bed but he couldn't think how without touching her. He couldn't touch her.

 

"We have to stay. Zai-Al needs us. He needs you." She spoke with conviction turning to look at him. She was so beautiful. So close to him. In his bed but it was her words that froze him.

 

"Why?"

 

"They have meddled with him," she said it again like he should know what she meant. She searched for better words to make him understand. "They have tried to give him our powers but they don't understand them. They don't understand how they work and when he can't do what they want him to they hurt him."

 

He was speechless. It felt like an eternity their gazes were locked together and she tried to reach for him with her power. Talos felt anger building in him she couldn't assuage.

 

"Let me get this clear," there was an edge to his voice sharper than a blade. "You want me to train a weapon for the Kree to use against us."

 

"No," she said with her own fire. "I want you to teach a little boy to protect himself from a war that wants to tear him apart and put him back together again over and over until he can do the trick they want."

 

"He is not our concern."

 

"He has as much Skrull in him as Kree. You should protect him as one of your own. Including from feeling your anger now. If he wakes he will be scared." She lowered her voice to a hard fast whisper. Talos wanted to laugh it was so absurd.

 

"And what should I do to make his sleep easier? Think happy thoughts?" He leaned in close so she could hear his every word.

 

She kissed him. She pressed her mouth firmly against his, bold and reckless. He grabbed her clamping down on the small fire that began under his skin.

 

"Don't you dare." The words came out harsher than he meant. They cracked out of him like glass. Soren looked scared. He should ease his grip into her but he could not.

 

"I thought. I thought earlier-" she stammered and blushed. "I'm not good. At it."

 

Talos made his fingers uncurl.

 

"I am a brute. I have been alone a long time but I have honour. I won't bed an unwilling woman." He turned away from her, his arms resting on his knees. There was silence.

 

"Do I seem unwilling?" She asked with a small disbelieving laugh. A small tingle of foreign desire moved up Talos' spine. Her own. The scientist could play seductress.

 

"You are trying to barter kindness from me." He was bitter. He felt his own foolishness wielded against him. He thought her better than that.

 

"No," she insisted. She moved to her knees and reached for him again. Her hands moved in the dark to find the fastenings of his shirt. Her hands were clumsy as they parted one button. He pulled in a sharp breath. "I want to be kind to you."

 

"That smacks of pity," he trapped her hand against his chest. He thought he would be torn apart by the animal in his chest howling at him to let her pity him.

 

"Do you not think of me as a woman?" She asked hesitantly. Her free hand moved to her face and then chest. "I can look different if that would be better for you."

 

"Don't you dare," he said reached for her other hand. He tug to pull her closer, her body bent on her knees. "Run away, Soren, run away and don't let me catch you or I will never let you go."

 

Her eyes widened as he lowered his defences and allowed the full weight of his desires to push against his weak flesh. He released her hands so she could flee. She rose up on her knees and to his surprise placed her shaking hands on his shoulders. He felt soft like moonlight a wave of desire move over him. Not as hot as his own. It moved through him like cool water, renewing and desperately desired. It was sweet. Hesitant. It lapped and retreated.

 

"I have never really done this before," she confessed her lips hovering over his, her body bent so far his hands came up to hold her waist.

 

"I can teach you," he growled low his whole body shaking with the effort of stillness. As he slid his hands higher brushing his thumb just below her breast. He was terrified she would resolve into dew. He wanted to roll her beneath him.

 

"No," She said moving to straddle his lap pressing exactly were his flesh was heavy for her. "I will learn this way."

 

"Go easy on me," he smiled at her, he breathed out what could almost be a laugh. She smiled at him, her hands coming up to trace his face.

 

"I always know it's you," she murmured her lips pressing warm and soft to his jaw. "I will always know you."

 

The words made some forgotten wound in his heart weep. As if she could find and heal his oldest hurts. He would find her pains and ease them. He swore she would never be unhappy because of him.

 

She kissed his lips hesitantly. He stayed as still as possible, softening his mouth enough she could capture his lower lip cautiously with her teeth. He groaned when she kissed him again, opening enough to trace wetness against her lip with his tongue. She hummed against his mouth. He cupped her cheek with one hand and she shivered.

 

Her hands dropped to his shirt again and she dropped a dozen tight kisses on his mouth and chin as she worked the buttons free. Her hands running over his skin felt like trails of lightning. He could feel the ghost of her touch even as she moved her reach lower so it was as if she was everywhere at once. Her hands fell to his belt as she started kissing his neck. Soft adoring kisses.

 

He stilled her. She looked at him questioningly.

 

"Not yet. I want to learn you as well." He reached for the hem of her shirt but she pushed on his shoulders forcing his back to the mattress.

 

"Don't disrupt me when I am concentrating," she admonished him, her hands returning to his belt.

 

"I don't know if I can withstand much more of your focus," he muttered. His eyes rolled back as her searching fingers reached for him.

 

Talos thought it might be the perfect torture having a brilliant woman sitting on your thighs and memorizing every curve of you. Soren was unsure in her touches. Each brush featherlight. His groan must have sounded more pained than he meant because she froze.

 

"Show me how you do it," she said. He looked down his body at her. It was an obscene view. Him in pleasure wracked disarray and her flushed and hovering over him. His dreams had never been so explicit and even as it overwhelmed and embarrassed him, he was completely in her thrall.

 

Obediently he wrapped his hand around hers, warm and heavy he showed her how to move over him. He tightened his grip to show her how much rougher she could be with him. He might shatter but he wouldn't break. After a few slow experimental pumps he released her and his hand fell back to the mattress. She was a quick learner. She changed rhythm every time he drew close and he felt as if his spine was nothing but pins and needles.

 

"I don't think you are prepared for how this will end," he grit out through his teeth as she leaned close to his mouth to kiss him as her clever hand continued to work between their bodies.

 

"I have my mouth or the sheets. I understand something of the male prerogative," she smiled at him and the soundless prayer that was coming from his lips.

 

"Minx. Even your dirty talk is beyond me." He panted out clinging to an edge that came closer with every second.

 

He barely managed to plead her name as a warning before he spilled over her hand. Warmth seeping over him then cooling. He should be disgusted with himself but all he felt was the languid pulse of bliss through his body and her golden pleasure weaving around him. He pulled her down beside him, cleaning her hand with the edge of the blanket. As she lay nestled in his side a smug pleasure radiating off her he pressed a reverent kiss to her temple.

 

"Shame on you, in a temple no less," he teased as he righted himself as best he could. She laughed. He felt a moment of peace descend on him that he had not felt in his lifetime. An addicting, blinding serenity.

 

She tried to roll away from him but he caught her hips and pulled her against him. He nestled his chin into her shoulder, his hand moving over her stomach.

 

"Where are you going?"

 

"I am going to sleep." She murmured to him settling herself against him.

 

"I warned you not to let me catch you, Inamorata." He kissed a line down her neck and feeling her arch into him.

 

Now he would never let her go.

 


 

"I will never let you go," Talia-Rath muttered in her ear. "I know it seems cruel but it will be quick once the water seeps in."

 

"I thought you wanted to stop hurting people," Minn-Erva bargained. She spoke out loud unable to picture just thinking soundlessly at the disembodied voice.

 

"For the Empire, yes. You are hunting me. You would turn me over to them. There are secrets in my head they can never have." The voice was bitter.

 

"Like what?"

 

"I am not going to just tell you," Talia-Rath mocked her.

 

Minn-Erva thought of the panic button on her chest. All she had to do was hit it and her beacon would turn on. Then Att would find her. Except that might mean the witch had him too. It was better- she thought, if she just stayed where she was.

 

Except a small worm of dissent curled around her heart. A tiny desire to see the surface again. She tried to move her arms. The weight of the water pressed down on her. She didn't have the will to fight against the current.

 

"Of course, I can see all your secrets," the memories grew in Minn-Erva with the sound of Talia-Rath's voice.

 

Solilkhurim, a night she didn't want to return to, except it rose in front of her like a catfish from the mud bed. A whirl of colour but in the centre of it all a beautiful pink skinned girl, dark hair to her waist looking pale as a pearl in forest green silk.

 

Nii-Ve

Chapter Text

There was nothing to do but clean up the mess and pretend it never happened. Vers certainly didn't want Yon's parents thinking she lived like this. She did but they didn't need to know that.

 

She had only just sat on her newly righted bed when a figure appeared at her doorway.

 

"My lady requests your presence," a soft voice spoke through the slatted door that closed the guest rooms of DarRogg. Vers realized she had yet to hear any of the staff speak. Her stomach dropped away as it sunk in that Yon's mother was summoning her. Did she know?

 

Vers hopped to her feet and followed the silent girl through the hallways of DarRogg. They did not go to the communal rooms or the family wing, instead they passed all the way to the central courtyard.

 

The square building of DarRogg opened in the very centre to a tiered court yard. The first terrace was blue black granite with twisted iron furniture that did not look inviting at all. The dark leafed topiaries were painted purple by the dawn light and the swollen stone still held water from the night before. Below that stone steps descended to an even lower tier, here there was nothing but a deep black pool of water. It was lit by burning gold tipped braziers. In the black stone wall was a small round dark wood door, large enough for a body to pass through but small as if it was meant to trap something inside it.

 

If you stood on the balcony above you could look down at the pool. Above them the fading morning stars shone. It felt like a sacred place.

 

Yon's mother was already there. Her light brown hair was loose down her back, longer than Minn's or Lai-Rah's. Vers tucked her own short hair behind her ears and wondered if cutting her hair off had been an unusual thing to do. It seemed simpler. Agg-Dah wore a coarse linen dress, it wrapped around her body and showed her long pink limbs free of the blue pearl powder. Her back was to Vers and she could see on her shoulders a constellation of warm brown freckles. For a moment in the silence she looked soft and lovely.

 

The sound of Vers' boots on the stone made her turn, her look was all business.

 

"At least you rise early," she said unfolding the white dress over her arm.

 

"You asked to see me?" Vers arched her eyebrow as her eyes swept the place.

 

"Khurdan Tulaan is tonight. We have to start early."

 

Vers stiffened. She did not want to spend her day being primped and prodded.

 

"Not this early. What are you going to do to me that will take all day?" She was suspicious and hesitant to put herself into Agg-Dah's hands again.

 

"Where are you from?" Agg-Dah asked drawing closer to her, her eyes suddenly shrewd. Vers froze. She swallowed and held Agg-Dah's gaze. She gave a small shake of her head, barely perceivable. "Will you not tell me or is it that you don't know?"

 

Vers looked down.

 

"What kind of person doesn't know where they came from?" Vers asked her back teeth clenching. She hated her brain for not being able to answer a simple question, she hated the galaxy of answers she could give and not a single one would have made her good enough for Yon. Agg-Dah would know his mate's entire life. She would be someone known to them, her pedigree scrutinized and accepted.

 

"A lost person," Agg-Dah answered. She stepped even closer to her. She held out the white dress to Vers, similar to her own. Vers took it from her with hands that shook from being known. "Not all Kree know our etiquette, our private rituals but all Kree would recognize where they stood now. Khun Zan Uil. These words mean nothing to you."

 

"Should they?" Vers asked her eyes darting to the deep dark pool that filled so much of space.

 

"They should awaken in you your earliest memories. They should whisper to the oldest inheritance of your blood."

 

"And if they don't?" Vers clenched the garment in her hands. She couldn't look at Agg-Dah.

 

"Then I repeat the question, where do you come from?" Her voice was calm without misleading inflection. It was also inescapable. Vers would have to answer.

 

"I don't know. The Skrulls shot me down. The Commander rescued me." Vers felt as if the whole pathetic truth had been pulled out of her backward.

 

"Where?" Agg-Dah's eyes looked softly at her.

 

"Classified. I woke on Pal-Mar. They can't tell me not until I am reinstated." She braced for whatever action Agg-Dah took next.

 

Agg-Dah's eyes swept upward and her demeanour changed. She seemed uninterested in Vers again her thoughts elsewhere.

 

"I will leave you to change," Agg-Dah indicated a screen tucked in a dark corner with a graceful sweep of her hand. "Wear only that."

 


 

Yon-Rogg was making a quick retreat over the granite stones of the terrace. He was certain his mother had seen him.

 

"Yon-Rogg still your feet," her voice was soft and deadly over the peace of DarRogg. Just like when they were children running about the halls. He froze. His chest tight with childish forgotten fear.

 

"Good morning, mother," he turned slowly to face her. He tried to smile nonchalantly. "I have disturbed your peace. I will leave you."

 

"Is that girl already tied to you?" She asked with iron in her voice. She closed the distance between them. He felt very small even though he stood much taller than her.

 

"What would make you ask such a thing?" He folded his arms and cocked his head. The venerated Commanding Office, impenetrable, unquestionable.

 

"Do not play me for some subordinate." His mother shook with barely contained rage although her voice never rose above a hush. "I carried you, I birthed you, I taught you every misdirecting word you weave around yourself. She does not know the Khun Zan Uil."

 

Yon released his stance mouth opening slightly in silent denial. No lies came from him. He reset his jaw and glanced at his feet before answering his mother.

 

"Vers told you she has no memories."

 

"She did."

 

"And she told you why."

 

"She did."

 

Yon bit his lip and shook his head.

 

"So you assume what? I rescued her and opened my vein to her. Even if I did. What significance would that have when we both serve our Empire?"

 

"Blood is sacred. Blood was what the Skrulls tried to strip from us. They did not just take our resources, our culture, they came for our bloodlines. Kree warriors forged through generation after generation of careful mating, crafted with glorious vision, muddied and destroyed by their deception. They weakened them. Clouded the purity of great family lines. Blood shared between two bodies binds them to each other. They become the other's keeper. They are bonded by it."

 

"I am not held by such faded beliefs."

 

"You think because you fight this war you can dictate what it means? You think you can shake off the old ways as if they were burs on your back? You were honed by such beliefs, birthed into the universe because of them. Your blood a carefully sought after stream that cost me greatly. And your father greatly. And you would give it away without a thought?"

 

She leveled the accusation at him, pain in her eyes. Pain he had seen before but never let himself consider. That his mother had wanted something different from her life, that she may have loved before. The memory of Lai-Rah's lips on his own, the feeling after pushing her away of desperately wishing she was another, that his mother since she had reached her majority had been haunted by that feeling. He bent his head.

 

"I promise you I had many thoughts, mother." He looked up at her letting for one moment his mask fall away. This was a burden he had never shared with another. "I cannot reveal the full breadth of them but they were thoughts of our Empire, of our House, of a future where the Kree might was indomitable."

 

His mother softened and closed the distance between them. She held his face in her hands as she had done when he was a little boy.

 

"Does she know you did this for her? Does she remember what it means?"

 

He shook his head. Some petty part of him had hid it from Vers. The act, the meaning. At first it had been because she had meant so little to him he did not want her to think herself his equal. That had changed. Now he hid it so her affection would be undeniably his. No sway from ancient rites, no feeling of being in his debt. She would give herself to him over and over only because she desired him as he did her.

 

To his surprise his mother laughed at him. It was small, half delirious sounding. As if whatever she felt in that moment surprised her.

 

"And did you ever wonder why you could not resist each other?" She smiled at him. He saw in her eyes an affection she rarely let show. "It seems to me, my youngest boy, you are held more firmly by our old ways than you are willing to admit."

 

"Perhaps I am," he answered. In that moment under the fading stars looking down at his eyes in his mother's face it occured to Yon-Rogg that he felt more for Vers than he had admitted to himself. His every move had been coloured by it, stained by his blood given without regret, until Yon-Rogg no longer remember the world as it should be.

 

His mother released him and turned to descend again to the rites pool.

 

"Where are you going?" He called after her worried she might reveal his secret to Vers.

 

"It is a parent's job to teach their children the Khun Zan Uil. You have brought me an ignorant daughter and I must correct it." She answered him, a laugh in her voice that he had not expected to hear after crushing her expectations for his life at DarRogg.
He took a step closer to her.

 

"You are going to teach her the way?" The thought drifted warmly in his chest settling somewhere just beneath his heart. His mother couldn't know the full extent of Vers' ignorance or the reason for it but that she would correct his oversight bolstered his feelings for both of them. He felt foolish for forgetting to teach her the ritual. It might call to his blood in her and settle her restlessness. She may find peace in the ancient parts of their lives.

 

Agg-Dah must have seen some emotion in his unmasked face, she leveled a hard look at him and his steps slowed.

 

"You come anywhere near that ledge, my boy and I will have the servants whip you." She held up a warning finger. Yon-Rogg knew she was serious, that she would allow no interlopers to the sacred lesson.

 

He bowed his head and took a step back. As his mother descended the stairs again he refixed his mask.

 


 

Talos had woken in a haze, there had been a moment when his eyes first opened and he saw the early dawn light colouring the stones of the temple that he thought it might have all been a dream. The fear faded quickly as his waking stirred her and he realized she was still there. Still real. Still his.

 

He had meant what he said in the grip of unfulfilled desire for her, by coming to him she was giving the last pieces of herself over to his protection. He would never be parted from her now. Even the council could not pull him away.

 

"Isn't this a mess?" He murmured to her as she turned to settle against him.

 

"I don't know what you mean," she laughed at him. His arm came around her and he drew small interlocking circles into the sensitive skin stretched over her shoulder blade. She hummed and tilted her head to look up at him.

 

He bent his head and kissed her, turning them so she was beneath him again his hand exploring her skin. Her breath shook as he touched her. It must be overwhelming, he thought, to be inside both their heads as they came together. She had been nervous the night before, he could only reveal her skin inch by inch. She had tried to explain how dizzying she found her own pleasure when there were two of them. She insisted it would be enough to focus on him. He had disagreed. They could learn together he had whispered against her skin.

 

Even now her eyes were closed tight and her lip worried between her sharp teeth. He tried to shield his own feelings from her as he had all these months so she could feel for herself. He brushed his nose along her jaw breathing in the heavy honeyed smell of her. How could a woman smell good to eat? She would be the destruction of him with her perfection.

 

"I mean," he whispered below her ear. "The Council will be shocked when I tell them you seduced me."

 

Soren's eyes flew open and she half sat up in shock. "You won't tell them."

 

"So you agree you seduced me?" He shifted with her and traced the tense muscle of her neck with his tongue. He tried to contain his laughter. She was so earnest, his Scientist.

 

"I did no such thing. And you won't tell them."

 

Talos smiled against her shoulder, biting into the skin a little before he spoke. "I have to. They need to know the mission has been compromised."

 

She tried to turn to see his face but he evaded her finding new places to press kisses down her side. She could not hold back all the small coils of her desire or her surprise. Her emotions bled into him and he enjoyed playing with her.

 

"Talos," she lay back onto the mattress overwhelmed by the slipping of his guard. She panted around her words as his teeth found a new sensitive spot against the hard curve of her ribs. "I forbid you from telling them."

 

"It is too late for forbidding, Inamorata, they will find out eventually when I marry you." Her fist rained down on his shoulder. At first, she tried to knock him off but as his tongue soothed where he bit she could only grip into the muscle there and pull in breath.

 

"Don't talk like that," she gasped. "You will forget me once you deliver me to the Star."

 

His head snapped up and he moved quickly up her body again. He needed to look directly into her face. Needed her to see there was one thing he would not joke about. "I will never forget you."

 

Her eyes twinkled with challenge. "You have already forgotten your promises from last night."

 

"And what promise was that?" He growled settling his hips against her, knowing she could feel how desperate for her he was.

 

"To help Zai-Al," she murmured pressing her own kisses to his temple, cheek and jaw. He lifted away from her.

 

"Minx, I promised no such thing." To be honest there had been moments when he was so wracked with the pleasure of taking her he couldn't remember what he had said.

 

"You very clearly promised to do whatever I wanted until it killed you." She smiled at him it was sweet and triumphant. Talos wondered about the ettiquette of parting a woman's thighs while you argued with her.

 

"That was not what I meant and you know it," his eyes darkened at her. It was a look that had scared many a young recruit. She just smiled slower at him, her hand sliding between their bodies. He supposed it was less effective on her as she could feel his soul gasp for the relief of her body.

 

"It is too late for arguing, Inamorato," she breathed over his skin. Her hand found him and she remembered all her lessons from the night before. He pressed his forehead to her shoulder muscles already quaking. "I have already won."

 

That was how he found himself hours later face to face with the boy. The sun had risen fully and Zai-Al looked at him nervously.

 

"Now boy, tell me why you are on Herkarsis." The boy looked down at his feet with his brow furrowed. Talos wondered if he would even speak. He waited for him, tried to pull from a well of patience that had run dry long ago. At last, the boy found his tongue.

 

"They say I am broken," he muttered his toes flexing into the grass.

 

"And are you?" The boy nodded. "Why?"

 

"I cannot do the trick anymore. I could-" Zai-Al looked up at him, pure childhood honesty twisting his face. "I didn't lie when I said I could. I just can't remember now."

 

Something deep in Talos twisted as he watched the boy swallow hard against the large emotions moving in him.

 

"This trick, does it look like this?" Talos gripped onto the memory of the nun at the temple who had told them of this place. He felt his cells shiver and expand around the memory and then everything grew tighter, smaller. Zai-Al's eyes went wide. Talos shook the nun off quickly, her regrets tasted sour where they rubbed against Talos' newfound joy. The boy nodded.

 

"Then tell me, boy, the ones who say you are broken do they also tell you not to feel? To control your emotions?"

 

Zai-Al's eyes went wide again. Talos felt sick. How typical of the backward Kree logic, build an empath and then train them not to feel. Talos knelt to the boy's level and took his thin shoulders in his hands.

 

"Zai-Al, listen to me. You are not the broken one. They are. Those emotions you feel; the anger, the sadness, the joy. They make you strong. You have to feel them in yourself and also in others. What do you feel when you look at me?"

 

The boy narrowed his eyes as he stared deeply at Talos, as if he was some amateur mind reader.

 

"You are happy today but mad too." Talos nodded.

 

"I am. Today is a day where I feel a lot of things. Try to feel those things too." Talos released his shoulders.

 

"Then will I remember the trick?"

 

"Not yet. You must be patient." The boy looked at his feet nervously, even Talos could feel the apprehension rolling off of him. He could also hear the boy's stomach growl. With luck Soren would have built a fire by now, the boy was a bottomless pit. "Just practice feeling what I feel and I will make us breakfast."

 

Together they walked back to camp.

 


 

Vers was standing staring down into the pool. She was wearing the smock Agg-Dah had given her. It reminded her too much of her time in med centre, the darkness and oblivion that surrounded those days. She had felt as if she had been drained away and never truly filled again. The weakness, the dependency, the emptiness of her own mind had been like one extended torture. She tried at all costs to stay away from those memories but there were times like now when she was confronted by them.

 

When Agg-Dah returned there was something in her eyes Vers could not read. She was not warmer or softer but she was different.

 

Agg-Dah walked behind her and turned her focus back to the pool. She placed her hands on Vers' shoulders. Together they looked into the black water. Vers could see as clearly as a mirror Agg-Dah watching her reflection.

 

"Khun Zan Uil, it is how we prepare ourselves for any important event. It predates the Supremor, the Separation and even the Subjugation. After all our people have been through we have guarded this one piece of ourselves. Whether you remember the words or not they are inside you."

 

"I don't remember this," Vers repeated.

 

"I will teach you as my mother taught me then you will have this piece back again." For the briefest moment Agg-Dah brushed Vers' short hair from her forehead. Her chest tightened. Much like Yon once had, Agg-Dah overwhelmed her. She could not read from one moment to the next how the woman felt towards her. And just like Yon Vers knew she had to guard her heart from her. There were things that could never be hers.

 

Agg-Dah stepped away from her and sat on the edge of the pool. Her hand barely traced the surface of the water. Vers' reflection rippled.

 

"It is a cleansing ritual. There are many ways to honour it but first you must have the cleansing herbs, water and the black clay our most ancient ancestors used to make their pots and bricks. It was dug from the banks of the mightiest rivers on Hala. We believed the power to flow like the water, to take the shape of any vessel, came from those rivers and resided in the clay. Though we have evolved past such illogical ways there are pieces of our ancestors' intentions that we carry with us."

 

Vers nodded as Agg-Dah spoke and she wondered if they ever thought about how strange it was to desire the ability to flow like water and take the shape of any vessel and yet they could not live in peace with the Skrulls. Vers bit her lip. Such thoughts unchecked would have her thrown out of Starforce.

 

Agg-Dah stood again and led her to the small door in the wall.

 

"DarRogg is well set up. We can purify with heat as well as water. The herbs are in the steam beyond this door. We begin here. Absorb it into our skin and our lungs and allow those things that poison us to leave our body as sweat."

 

She reached around Vers and opened the door, ushering her into the humid dark room and pulling the door tight behind her.

 

The heat clawed at Vers lungs and in the air was a smell of earth and darkness. She felt stilled by it, entranced. She paused just inside the door and Agg-Dah had to take her arm and lead her all the way in. Hot drops of water fell from the polished black stone and stung as they hit Vers' skin. Sweat and steam were making the dress cling to her.

 

"See," Agg-Dah whispered comfortingly to her. "Your body remembers even if your mind does not."

 

They sat in the darkness and Vers felt a millenia of history press against her skin and she was scared to let it in.

 


 

The greenhouse was humid and smelled of fertile soil. Minn-Erva had escaped in here because she had thought the starlight had looked calming compared to the press of Solilkhurim. Opening the doors she found it to be oppressive in a different way. The heat was deeo and intense, meant to keep all sorts of species wet and alive. Like jungle noises she could hear sighs and purrs in the darkness that spread beyond the circle of moonlight that had drawn her in here. Couples had sought a different sanctuary in this gilded cage but Minn-Erva knew they could ignore each other.

 

She observed one particular cluster of orchids, clinging to a knotted trunk. Their shape was beautiful, curves nested together in evocative colours. Their petals swollen like flesh. Minn-Erva reached out a single finger to brush one, a larger trespass than disturbing the mating couples.

 

"Do you like flowers?" A musical voice asked from too close to her. Minn-Erva pulled her hand away and looked about her. She saw no one.

 

"Who said that?" She asked the darkness.

 

"Look up."

 

Minn-Erva tilted her head back and the first thing she saw was swinging pink legs and slippered feet. Green silk twisted around her body and a beautiful face was obscured by black hair.

 

"How did you get up there?" Minn-Erva stepped back so she could see all of the girl in the tree.

 

"I climbed," she shrugged as if it was the most natural thing in the world. They spoke softly so none of the couples would be disturbed.

 

"Why?"

 

"If they can't find you, they can't mate you." Her grin was mischievous. The girl must come from a powerful house if men were seeking her specifically.

 

"What is your name?" Minn-Erva asked circling the trunk to find the way up. Her moragu coloured dress would hinder her but if this girl had made it up the tree in her burden then Minn-Erva could do it in hers.

 

"Nii-Ve."

 

Minn-Erva nodded. She understood then. The House of Ve would be a powerful ally to anyone whose house dealt in goods. Her father controlled many shipping lanes in the Pama system, optomized for automated transport. He circumvented the guild's refusal to allow unmanned transports through their jumps.

 

"I gave you mine. You must give me yours." The girl chastized her from her perch."

 

Minn found a foothold and began to climb the tree, wary of the flowers that clung to it.

 

"Minn-Erva," she panted and the girl mouthed the words. They didn't mean anything. Her father was Mar-Va and her mother Mal-Er. In all things they made compromises. She was all alone in the melded House of Erva. On nights like this she reveled in the anonymity.

 

The girl shifted slightly along her branch so Minn-Erva could sit beside her. She did not want to think how they would get down. Sweat clung beneath the silk of her dress. It was even warmer far from the grassy path.

 

"Will you hide up here next time?" She asked, turning to the girl whose eyes were on the stars through the glass roof. She shook her head.

 

"That is how you get caught. I will hide somewhere else," she smiled to herself. "Will you find me?"

 

Minn-Erva felt her chest tighten and she forced herself to look at the stars too.

 

"Yes. If you want me to."

 

On the heavy branch beneath them their pinkies brushed side by side and Minn-Erva for the first time could taste her heart.

 


 

"Do not hesitate when you reach the pool. Sink all the way beneath the water," Agg-Dah whispered close to Vers' ear as they waited one hand on the door. The intention was not to let too much heat leave your skin before the water. The sweat could not dry. The water had to wash the heat and impurity from you. Agg-Dah pulled open the door and pressed her fingers between Vers' shoulder blades.

 

They moved quickly their skin prickling as the fresh morning air hit it. They made long strides to the pool edge. Even though she knew she could not pause Vers' feet stilled at the edge. She was gripped by the strangest feeling of history repeating. Of feeling the cold air on wet clothes, of feeling nervous with rough tiles beneath her feet. The water though was bright blue not black. It only took a second but she wondered if this was a memory returning. Her own parents teaching her the ritual. Before she could grip it firmly Agg-Dah's hand pushed her again and she was submerged in the black water.

 


 

Minn-Erva was angry. She was filled with a rage she had never let herself feel before. Talia-Rath had pulled a memory out she had no right to touch. The last untrampled place Nii-Ve existed in her memory. The first meeting her parents had failed to discern. Minn-Erva had sealed it tight like a holy relic but Talia-Rath had smashed the box. Opened it up to be worn away by resentment and fear as all the other memories of her had been.

 

"You are mad I found her?" Talia-Rath whispered in her ear. "I could cut this memory out if you like. They taught me all the ways a blade can slice."

 

"No," Minn-Erva protested.

 

"Why not? She causes you pain. You could fall asleep here and be free of all of it," her voice was so persuasive. Minn-Erva could feel her grip loosening. She began to repeat to herself as she felt Talia-Rath move in her mind.

 

The dress was green. The orchids smelled like rot but sweet like fruit. The way their hands looked next to each other, different skins painted by the same moon.

 

"No hope of holding onto it once I start plucking girl. You will be happier in a moment. I am kind you see. I always gave them happy deaths."

 

She felt as if small threads were breaking. The sudden creak of a weakening seam. She fought against it but Talia-Rath was right that she could not push her out from within. The current pressed hard on her body but there was strength in her limbs again as Talia-Rath was distracted with her cutting. Minn could bend her arm. She could bend her arm and hit the button her side.

 

She did, as the colour of Nii-Ve's dress drained to grey she felt the button in her side sink down and around her formed a ball of blue light. The snipping stopped.

 

"What did you do? Girl, I asked you what did you do?" Talia-Rath's voice was no longer silk but the scrape of a ship against the hanagr floor. Desperate and groaning.

 

"About time, Minn. We are already in the air." Att-Lass' voice crackled to life in her ear.

 

"You better run Talia, they are coming for me," Minn-Erva croaked out.

 

She had no response, her mind blissfully empty. Even with the weight of the water in her suit Minn kicked her feet against the muddy bed, her eyes on the rippling surface above.

 


 

Vers broke the surface of the pool with a gasp. She slicked the water away from her face and looked to see if it had stained her skin. Agg-Dah smiled at her as she twisted the water out of her long long hair.

 

"The colour comes from the black clay tiles that form the pool. Don't worry Yon has forbid me from painting you again." There was something soft in Agg-Dah's smile as she said it. Something that reached her eyes.

 

She swam to the shallow end of the pool where her feet reached. The water, as she stood, ran down her sides and stuck the linen to her body. For having three grown sons the woman was not weakened by age. If Xen-Rogg thought he was too old to compete with the young Kree on Feroimum, Agg-Dah was still more than enough to take on their wives.

 

"Why would he say that?" Vers folded her arms on the edge to keep herself a float. She did not know if it was rude to look at her or not, as Agg-Dah gathered a basket of bottles and cloths from the side of the pool.

 

"He seems to like you as you are," Agg-Dah raised her eyebrows glancing at Vers in the water. She said it so casually but it made something deep in Vers' chest glow.

 

Agg-Dah waded back in with basket held above the surface dark surface.

 

"Now what?" Vers pushed away from the side and eyed the bottles nervously.

 

"We wash and begin again," Agg-Dah answered the cool look back in her eyes.

 

"For how long?" Vers looked at her as if she was insane. Agg-Dah put the basket on the edge of the pool.

 

"Until I decide you are clean." She put her hands on Vers' crown and with surprising strength dunked her beneath the water again.

Chapter Text

"Boy."

 

His father's voice called him from his study as Yon-Rogg crossed through the empty marble halls. Yon paused and considered walking passed as if he had not heard him but he knew it would not do. His father would be more than willing to pursue him.

 

"Yes, Father." 

 

Xen-Rogg was behind his desk but he stood when Yon-Rogg entered. He looked tired as if he had not slept.

 

"Is your mother still with the girl?" He asked leaning against the desk and crossing his arms around him. 

 

Yon-Rogg inclined his head slightly, crushing down the warmth that bubbled up when picturing Vers learning their culture from his mother. Crushing as well the memories so old they were worn smooth, of his mother running the cloth over his sweating limbs as they stood in the shallow end of the pool. She had whispered magic words to him, a spell that made him a true Kree just like his older brothers.

 

"Will she embarrass us tonight?" His father asked his eyes reading Yon's body carefully.

 

"Do you suspect Ronan of inviting her just to mock us?" He raised an eyebrow. His father was worrying a little late.

 

"I don't want her distracting you from your work with her roughness." His father picked up a black disc from his desk and engaged it. A spectral light radiated from the center.

 

"Do you require more from me than just my presence?" Yon asked as his father called up shadows in the light. Xen-Rogg gave him a look.

 

"Of course, I expect you to make a match. One which will ease the way for the glory of our house not complicate it."

 

"I can only assume you have families in mind." The thought made Yon-Rogg feel cold. He no longer had an obligation to match well. He felt no pressure with his fate at the Supremor's mercy. He had nothing to offer a woman and he certainly would not be returning to this house.

 

The shadows became firm as his father manipulated the disk. It was outdated technology bulky and slow but his father was comfortable with it.

 

"Our empire will always struggle in the same ways; our production, our sales, and our transport. There will be men at this event that are powerful in all these arenas. They will have unconnected women with them. Pay attention to them both equally. You are courting more than just a bride and if that rookie catches anyone's eye ensure she understands she is required to be amenable."

 

Yon-Rogg bristled against his father's words. He didn't care the empty promises his father extracted from him but Vers would play no part in the sport. His mask remained impeccable.

 

"I can hardly solve all three problems tonight, do you have one that is particularly pressing?"

 

"Don't get smart with me, boy. A man of substance could deliver to me on all three before the end of one evening. If he cared for his empire."

 

"I am sorry I am only myself," he bowed to his father full prepared to leave the study but admitting his inadequacies was never enough for his father.

 

Xen-Rogg put the disc aside to lecture his son. It was paused on the spinning likeness of the oldest son of the Lar family. Yon-Rogg recognized him from their boyhood. He had heard Woh-Lar had spent many years in great universities studying the sciences. He had gained skills that had increased his family's small mine production tenfold in only a couple of years.

 

"Your brothers protect our shipping interests and keep our largest client happy. It is boys like this that cause me stress,"  his father passed his hand dismissively through Woh-Lar's quivering head.

 

It had been no secret that Feroimum's stores were dwindling. Not that this generation would suffer or the one after it but there would come a time when they would be risking the stability of the crust if they continued. Men like Woh-Lar sped up the oncoming crisis. His small family mine was nothing but if the House of Ronan gained him then the planet would be stripped in years instead of generations.

 

"So, he is where you would like my focus?"

 

"I won't have him allied with the Ronan." His father shut off the projection and walked behind his desk again.

 

"I understand," Yon-Rogg knew his father would never outright tell him to offer for a daughter of Lar. That left more room for Yon-Rogg's failure. 

 

He bowed, hoping to draw the meeting to a close. All this was meaningless as he and Vers would have their leads to follow. They needed to find why the bar owner was interested in Feroimum and keep an eye out for familiar faces. Or at least as best they could at a masked gathering.

 

"You will be honoring Khun Zan Uil-" his father called after him as he left. Yon-Rogg paused.

 

"Of course," he inclined his head. His father looked vaguely uncomfortable as he shifted behind his desk.

 

"I could-"

 

"That will be unnecessary." Yon-Rogg bowed again. "I will see to it alone."

 

"As you prefer," his father answered, he looked relieved.

 

"And our assets. You have secured them as Ronan advised?" Yon-Rogg asked. Feeling guilty that he didn't particularly care what efforts his father had dedicated the better part of the last night and morning too.

 

"As best I could with help from Ter's In-Laws." His father answered deflating at the thought of losses.

 

"I am glad my brother has served you well once again."

 

"Don't be glad, boy. Serve me well yourself." Xen-Rogg said in parting to him.

 

Yon-Rogg found himself once again in the marble foyer. He was unsettled. A vague uneasiness sitting in his stomach. He was not made for disobedience, even to his father who had repeatedly rejected him. It was not in his nature to listen to instructions he knew he would not follow. His thoughts were disrupted by a small commotion coming towards him through the winding hallways. Laughter and near-silent footsteps. He paused listening to it.

 

Briefly, through the opening in the white stone wall, Vers appeared. She was wrapped in towels and her hair was roughly dried, curling madly around her flushed cheeks. She paused for the briefest second catching his eye. Her laughter faded but she smiled shyly at him. He felt the unease turn to liquid and roll down his spine, puddling as warmth below his stomach. He held her eye for as long as he could. He knew how the smell of his ancestors would cling to her hair and that her skin would be bitter beneath his tongue. The heat pooled lower. It was only a second before his mother appeared, her long hair braided. She took Vers by the shoulders and kept her walking. She caught Yon-Rogg's eye with her own golden ones. She gave him a stern look and he bent his head to her.

 

His greatest disobedience disappearing whisked away to his mother's room.

 


 

Minn-Erva moved through the ship in her compression shirt and basics. Att-Lass was asleep in one of the chambers so she had no worries of being observed. She could not stand to be crammed in her suit at the moment.

 

After she had pulled herself on shore and drained the valves of her survival system it finally felt like the crushing pressure had lifted but still, the air felt stagnant in her lungs like her body had forgotten the trick of breathing. She had lain on the ground looking up at the sun, her vision becoming white with the bright unending light and all she felt was grateful. She felt intensely, ridiculously grateful.

 

A shadow crossed her face and Att-Lass' voice was in her ears.

 

"Stay where you are, we are in pursuit. She isn't moving fast."

 

"Maintain surveillance, do not engage. She is dangerous."

 

Att-Lass could have laughed but he didn't.

 

"Understood."

 

She didn't turn her head to look but she heard the thrum in her earpiece of cloaking being engaged. The whine and dip of the comms cutting out for an instant. Minn-Erva tried to breathe out the air from her lungs and let the relief that Att-Lass was at least taking her seriously. Even if Talia-Rath was blind she could sense other things. She had other skills. Skills that defied the imagination. Maybe the cloaking would block her extra senses too.

 

Att-Lass had returned safe, Bron-Char and Korath were monitoring Talia-Rath from a distance while Att-Lass and Minn-Erva slept. They would take shifts.

 

Except Minn-Erva couldn't sleep. She was raw and tired. She curled up in the pilot's chair and combed her fingers through her long hair. She rarely wore it down but now it felt like a shield from whatever spell she was under. Even though she knew it was a mistake she comm'd Pal-Mar.

 

Lai-Rah answered, dressed in her smock she appeared on the shield like a specter.

 

"I didn't realize Starforce had relaxed their uniform standards," Lai-Rah commented as soon as Minn-Erva's image was projected in front of her. 

 

 "You owe me a report," was all Minn-Erva answered her. 

 

"I thought you had run away to Kairunn. Why are you still working the other case?" Lai-Rah asked. Minn-Erva could see her body recline, though the world around her was no more than particles of light Minn-Erva could picture her in her office.

 

"Are you saying it's not ready?" She was cold, the ice forming around her heart where Talia-Rath had chipped away at it. Lai-Rah sighed. She sat up and punched a couple of buttons.

 

A report split the shield, Minn-Erva reached out to scroll through it. She didn't particularly care it was Lai-Rah she had wanted to see. She tried to look interested anyway.

 

"See? Was that so hard?" She asked her eyes flicking back to Lai-Rah. She was pulling the pin from her hair and shaking it loose. Minn-Erva froze watching her. She reached for her collar and unsnapped two buttons.

 

"What are you doing?" Minn-Erva breathed out. She tried to sound hard, dismissive but the words only choked her.

 

"You are making me feel overdressed," Lai-Rah answered rolling her head slightly side to side. Lai pulled her hair back into a loose low bun and brought a mug of caf to her lips. She raised her eyebrows at Minn over the comm. "Don't you have questions?"

 

"All seems to be in order," Minn cough awkwardly knowing she should close the channel.

 

"I don't think you called because of the report. What happened?"

 

Minn-Erva couldn't look at her. How could she explain she had nearly been killed by something she didn't understand? How could she justify that despite the disdain she wore on her sleeve she had wanted to see Lai-Rah again? Even if it meant nothing to her.

 

"Do you like being a medic?" She asked her eyes on her fingers tracing patterns into the console.

 

"Yes."

 

"Did you become one when your family threw you out?" Her voice was tight. Disgraced Daughters never spoke of their exile, even to each other. It was deeply personal to acknowledge it had even happened at all but Lai-Rah had opened these floodgates already.

 

"I was one before. Or at least interning. That was how I met him. Before the unpleasantness." Lai-Rah fiddled with some dark shapeless thing between her fingers, just on the edge of the projection.

 

Minn-Erva nodded it stung her gut to think of Lai-Rah with a man. To know they were different in that way.

 

"Where were you?"

 

"That's classified," Lai-Rah smiled wickedly and Minn-Erva glanced up.

 

"So classified you can't share it with Starforce?"

 

"Especially with Starforce. The Accusers wouldn't like me sharing all their secrets."

 

"They carpet bomb whole planets on barely a lead. They don't strike me as having secrets." Like many Starforce, Minn-Erva had no respect for the Accusers. They were fundamentally opposed, she was intrigued that they kept secrets from each other. "How did you end up on a Starforce base?"

 

"I assume my former fiance thought I would find it humiliating when he recommended the transfer. He wasn't wrong."

 

Minn-Erva curled her lip. She didn't want to admit the dig landed but it did. She thought of Nii-Ve and wondered what humiliation had been visited on her. Like Lai-Rah but ten years earlier Nii-Ve was being courted by a son of Ronan too. They liked to be cruel in their rejections. Even if it meant losing powerful allies like the House of Ve.

 

"Is that all you wanted to know?" Lai-Rah distracted her from her thoughts. Minn-Erva ran her fingers through her hair. It soothed her, made her feel present. What else did she want to know?

 

"I nearly died today." Lai-Rah had the decency to look shocked.

 

"Do you want to talk about that?" Her bedside manner emerging from some forgotten chamber of her heart. She may deal in the dead now but there had been a time living beings were under her care.

 

"I saw something, felt something that should be impossible." Minn-Erva fiddled with a piece of her hair, brushing it over her fingertips as her mind tried to sort out what had truly happened to her.

 

"Can you tell me about it?"

 

"I don't know," Minn-Erva wanted to. She wanted someone to tell her it was real. That it was possible. 

 

"Why don't you try," Lai-Rah leaned forward and looked at Minn-Erva with eyes that were soft, warm. Eyes that were everything Minn-Erva had banished out of her life two decades ago.

 

She sighed feeling the truth push from beneath her tongue.

 

"Do you believe in psychics?" She asked with a self-deprecating smile.

 

"I believe in a lot of things," Lai-Rah purred.

 


 

Talos remembered when Zai-Al was fifteen almost sixteen. Those seven years had been hard. Although it was impossible it seemed like there had been more partings than meetings. They always seemed to be leaving him somewhere unsure of when they would see him again. The facilities the Kree kept him in growing larger and more advanced as his skills grew. A cruel irony of their training, the more Talos gave him the farther they took Zai-Al away. And yet Soren had been right, he could not leave him defenseless against his own body. At the time they hoped, as a family, he would be sent to the Academy on his sixteenth birthday. That was the tradition for the poor or the uneducated. Zai-Al was both. He had nothing but what the Kree gave him and he had no formal teaching. It was Soren who had taken his ignorance in hand.

 

When he went to the Academy they would always know where he was, they would be able to meet easier even if only through encrypted commlinks. Nobody could encrypt like Soren. 

 

Before they left Herkarsis she had forged an unbreakable link with the boy. A small device that allowed him to hijack any comm with his own private channel. They had used it until Zai-Al had died, hiding it even from the Elder Council. They would have wanted the technology from Soren and she would have had to give it even though its scarcity was how it worked so well. It was rare, unique and therefore untraceable.

 

Talos wondered what had happened to the small black disc.

 

He shook his head banishing the unanswerable question. Instead, he focused on the memory of Zai-Al. He had called them. They were hunkered on Torfa briefly, the storms making communication difficult. Zai-Al had appeared in waves, zigzagging lines distorting his face. 

 

They were making a stop on their journey to meet the Star. It seemed more than just being Soren's bodyguard Talos was an errand boy. They were to pick up Vibranium on the way. They had been very carefully planet-hopping since their mission began. Two Skrulls in the galaxy moving unpredictably, unique and untraceable. The Star would be doing a similar thing, edging their way slowly across the known universe. Patience was vital because this was to be the final mission before peace. Not to mention they could collect everything they needed on the way. The inside of their ship was beginning to look like a bazaar of alien goods. It was lucky they shared a cabin now because Soren's room had become storage.

 

The boy had been beaming when Soren had brought Talos the comm disc.

 

"I don't like that look, boy," Talos immediately chastised him, hiding his smile as Soren settled in his lap. She smelled of machine oil and sweat. Even with Zai-Al watching them Talos felt the desire to lick the taste of it off her skin. He would never tire of her. Zai-Al beamed harder and Talos banished his distraction with his wife.

 

"I have news," Zai-Al said. "Do you have news for me?"

 

"What news could we have?" Talos asked leaning his chin on Soren's shoulder so he could see the screen better.

 

"I keep hoping for a brother or sister," Zai-Al smiled wickedly. The boy had learned charm since he was a clammed up child.

 

"Zai-Al-" Soren laughed. She was embarrassed. A wonderful flush creeping up her neck, inches from Talos' mouth. He had to force his eyes back to the screen.

 

"Don't you cause us enough trouble?" Talos asked pointing his finger at the projection. His other hand squeezed Soren's thigh tight. Gods of Skrullos how he dreamed of having such news but not yet. Not until peace was in their grasp. "Now speak."

 

"They said they aren't going to send me to the Academy," the boy told them looking too happy with himself.

 

"What?" They asked in unison. Talos could feel Soren's heartbreak with his own. The boy grinned again.

 

"At least they weren't until I met with my sponsor."

 

"You met with someone from the House of Ronan?" Soren was breathless with fear. They were a war-mongering House disguised as dealers in minerals.

 

"Yes, and the fool left his mind unguarded."

 

"Zai-Al." Soren was wary, her body tensed. They barely had time to teach him his powers let alone caution how to use them safely.

 

"I know it is dangerous but I convinced him to let me be in Starforce. He thinks it is his idea. That I will be useful and cast suspicion away from the Accusers."

 

"He wants you to be a spy?" Talos asked though it was barely a question. It was no life for a child. Talos knew that well.

 

"I can help you better if I am in Starforce. And it means I will go to the Academy," he looked so pleased Talos tried to swallow his fears.

 

"That was neatly done boy but never risk yourself for us."

 

"We're family. One day we are going to be together and I am going to help that day come quicker."

 

Talos' heart squeezed as he remembered the boy's optimism. Zai-Al had never met his sister. Not properly. Never held her and seen with his own eyes how lovely she was. Soren had said she felt him on the day. She had reached for him with her endless mother's love. There had also been risky nights before hatch day had come when Talos had found them both asleep on other sides of the comm. Both watching the uncracked surface of the egg.

 

It had been dangerous. The longer the comm line stayed open the more likely they were to be discovered. They knew better but Soren had missed him even more desperately as the days to Indes' hatch had grown closer. How could Talos deny them?

 

Now he wondered what dangers that sentimentality had left them open to. He should have guarded them better.


 

Vers felt lighter than air. She felt like there was space between her cells and it was filled with glorious purpose. She felt this way after Yon-Rogg would take her running or would spar with her, but now it was more. More intense. More grounded. She felt like a tree with deep roots. She looked at Agg-Dah in the mirror, she smiled at her. The woman laughed a small laugh. Hesitant, the way Yon-Rogg laughed. Vers thought maybe something had shifted between them.

 

She was brushing Vers' hair. Separating it carefully into sections.

 

"I thought it was too short?" Vers asked.

 

"I have more time today," Agg-Dah replied pulling a box of long deadly looking pins from her vanity.

 

"I'll say. It isn't even midday." Vers raised her eyebrows. "Why are you doing this? I thought you would pass me off to the staff."

 

Agg-Dah smiled to herself as she picked up on clip. As it came closer Vers could see it was pure onyx. Agg-Dah lifted a section of hair and wrapped it around the thin shaft. It was secured with a tight-fitting silver clip.

 

"I have all boys, I never had a little girl." Vers smiled. "If you have no memories I don't suppose you remember your mother?"

 

"No, it's just me in here I am afraid," Vers lowered her lashes and tapped a finger to her temple.

 

"When a Kree is raised in their culture it is like giving them a blade. They can use it to defend the boundaries of their morals, it is what draws the line in the sand for their actions, their ethics." Vers looked at her in the mirror as she curled another section of hair around another pin. Her voice was soft but unmoving. Vers hung on every word. "Every time we gather as a family we teach our children to use the blade to defend. As women, when we are alone like this, we teach each other how to wield the blade with intention. How to attack. How to protect ourselves from those that would overwhelm us. For Khurdan Tulaan I would give you the blade my mother gave me."

 

"Are we talking about a metaphorical blade?" Vers asked looking back at Agg-Dah, suddenly unsure if she followed. Agg-Dah shook her head. She placed cool fingers on Vers' temples and held so she looked straight into her own eyes.

 

"Beauty, refinement, and grace. They make men scared of us. There are ways to warn them to look but never touch. And there are ways they would still try to wash over us like waves. Remember that we contain the ocean. We would drown those who would try to master us."

 

"You make this sound like more than a dinner party," Vers blanched. What had she agreed to?

 

"Khurdan Tulaan is where we are our most ancient and our most dangerous selves. It is where Empires are formed, destinies aligned. And if you are not careful you will be walled up in their plans."

 

"Yon-Rogg will be with me," Vers didn't know who she was reassuring, Agg-dah or her.

 

Agg-Dah smiled sadly as she continued to craft a halo of spikes, curling Vers' short hair along onyx pins made for Agg-Dah's long tresses.

 

"Let me warn you anyway. So I can sleep while you are away."

 

Vers nodded feeling the odd tug and weight in her hair like a crown she never expected to find on her head. 

 

Around them the marble glowed in soft candlelight and Vers was struck with the thought she would never see this room again.

 


 

Water rolled over the planes of Ronan's chest as he emerged from beneath the black water. He could feel it collect briefly in the deep cut hollows of his collar bones before pouring out and down him again. He would perform the ritual many more times before the evening arrived. He walked from the wedge-shaped pool. It met the black marble floor like the ocean met the shore, the water dwindling until it barely covered his feet. He walked to the pedestal that contained the mud from Hala's sacred rivers. He dipped two fingers in the silky surface, feeling the water move through the mass, sucking at his fingers. He brought them dark and glistening to one shoulder. He drew a line down his body to his navel before coming up again to the other shoulder. He took more mud and traced more lines. They were meaningless their formation a meditation in itself.

 

Not every family interpreted the ritual in this way. They thought it primitive. They would cavort in sweating masses behind the closed doors of Khurdan Tulaan but they would not admit their ancestors were ever so barbaric as to smear themselves with mud. He would bake it into his skin in the tight room with herbs burning in the brazier then immerse himself in the water to wash it away. By the time he was done a layer of mud would be collected on the bottom of the pool where it had drifted down through the water.

 

He thought how he had found no trace of the girl, Vers in Starforce records. Nor assignments through their medical teams. She was without history. She was suspicious. She asked too many questions about his family. On the datapad, unlocked by a hybrid of Rogg's DNA, were files after files on Zai-Al. His death well laid out but the name on the reports had made hot blood flow through his veins. A familiar name. A name he owed nothing but his ire. A name that galled him but that was useful to him.

 

She must be truly desperate now, she must see how alone she was. She could never hide anything from him. She would be able to answer all of his questions. He would summon her, use her as she once used him. Then he could be done with her knowing he spared her the first time with good reason.

 

He opened the door to the room burning with low fires. The smoke hit him first, then the heat. He would enter the room of ash one more time before he called her. He wanted the glory of the Kree deep in his lungs when he faced her again.

 


 

"Are you asleep?" The Titan asked, sitting heavily across from Talos in the small galley. He groaned as he stretched his muscles.

 

"Did you use all the water? I have to wait hours for it to stericycle in this thing," Talos focused his eyes on the red-headed bastard. His thoughts had been elsewhere. The Titan shrugged and smiled cheekily at him.

 

"I have been in space for days. I need to get the radiation off somehow. I will get you a better ship if you want. Newer, top of the line-"

 

"Never touch my ship. She means more to me than your life," Talos growled.

 

"I don't think I have ever received a poorer comparison."

 

"We land soon. This is your last chance to take back your mission."

 

"You will be more than capable of taking care of Woh-Lar yourself. I have other things to occupy me. It's cleaner if you handle it."

 

"I barely understand the plan."

 

"That seems to be your own failing." The Titan yawned stretching his pale torso over the stiff back of the chair. His limbs popped and he moaned in delight. "Honestly gravity feels good on my joints. I should get a ship."

 

"Will you focus?"

 

"I don't know why you are so nervous. All you have to do is kill Woh-Lar and take his place. Isn't that your area of expertise?"

 

"I also have to convince one of those damn Houses to use his invention but not before I sabotage it. Machines are not my expertise."

 

"It's simple, my friend. Just reset the frequency. Suddenly instead of forming feriosilicon at ten times the rate, the damn stuff becomes unstable. Extraction causes it to liquefy and three generations of the most precious metal in the galaxy becomes useless sludge. The Kree will even think it is corporate sabotage and your people are home free. Frankly, I am a genius."

 

"And how will I know how to reset the frequency, genius?"

 

"You don't have to know, Woh-Lar knows." The Titan smiled again, his damp hair falling boyishly in his eyes. Talos wondered what it would take to kill him.


Korath was watching the heat signature. It had not moved in many hours. It appeared Talia-Rath was hunkered down hoping to lose them as they passed over her. Bron-Char was next to him, penitent and silent. He looked up suddenly.

 

"Do you hear that?" He asked his eyes looking wildly about.

 

"Hear what?" Korath demanded. He was impatient with him and the ship was silent.

 

"I thought I heard-" his words were cut off by a shadow appearing above them, rocking their ship as they came too close to them. They jumped into action, bracing the ship and opening the comm.

 

"Captain," Korath called through his comm. The line came back busy.

 

Minn-Erva woke with her head on her arms, curled up with the channel open in front of her. Lai-Rah was gone and she felt foolish. She wiped the damp where her mouth had rested on her bare knee and saw there was a call trying to reach her through the Starforce channel.

 

She opened it to hear a riot of static.

 

"Korath, come in. Korath, what is happening?" She heard a crackling voice. It was a moment before she could hear Korath.

 

"Accusers," was all he said before he cut out.

Chapter Text

Yon-Rogg paced in the low lighting of the marble foyer. He was waiting for Vers, waiting for the transport that would convey them to the Khurdan Tulaan. His body was tight, braced for a dizzying night. Solilkhurim had been hard enough and those nights were chaste compared to what they were about to embark on. Yon-Rogg had only heard rumours before. Tales told by older officers of what to expect. It was a night for raucous vulnerability. Where older Kree could at last capture a mate or unhappily mated men and women could seek reprieve from their marriage beds. It was all the darkness the Kree hid deep inside themselves given free reign.

 

He did not want to step into the darkness but even more than thar he did not want to take Vers with him. He adjusted his uniform. It was borrowed from his father as Yon's dress uniform remained in his suites in Pal-Mar. It fit him well, a nagging reminder that his father and he were not entirely different. It was dark green wool, the design unchanged for many generations, the lapel crossed in the front and closed with brass buttons. It was all clean lines and grace. In his hand he fiddled with his mask. Golden and the shape of a man's jaw it would cover his mouth.

 

Khurdan Tulaan tradition. Women covered their eyes and men covered their mouths. At least until the debauchery truly began. Until then it was meant to symbolize a concession of power. The women were no more than themselves, their identity symbolically hidden, and the men were no more than their actions. Their ability for pretty words and lies curtailed by the masks over their jaws.

 

Yon-Rogg checked his comm again. Their team had not checked in and he had no time to reach to them. His time here had been distracted. First with family and protecting Vers then to the Khun Zan Uil. He had washed himself over and over once Vers had been taken away by his mother. He had tried to drown beneath the surface of the black water his deepening desire for her. He wanted to enter the charged atmosphere of the Khurdan Tulaan free of the all consuming need to possess her. He knew before he even saw her that he had failed.

 


 

Desire was the greatest weakness. Ronan had seen it tear apart the strongest alliances, pollute the waters of family homes. He was a man in complete and blinding control of his desires. He could not be swayed by flesh or material gains. He existed only to right the wrongs brought down upon his family by generation after generation of war. He did not allow wanting in himself and he did not court it in others. Perhaps that was what had poisoned the woman against him. She could have his name, the protection of his house and the honour of carrying his progeny but she could not have him. Only glory had any claim to Ronan.

 

Her choice in lover had indicated her disdain for him. She had tried to hurt him. To use the boy against him. She did not understand that for Ronan the boy was a more certain channel to glory. He was a weapon against the cultures that plagued the galaxy. A man who could wear any face but was allied to the Kree, beholden to their blood and to the house of Ronan.

 

So he has banished her to the saddest desert hole he could picture to suffer away from him. He had kept the boy. Watched him suffer the throes of disappointed love, even fed on his pain, but never revealed the fire he had been playing with. He had made him suffer too, sent him to filthy backwaters to monitor the Accusers assests. Allowed him to hide within Starforce so none of his acts ever touched the Accusers.

 

Now he stood dressed for Khurdan Tulaan, a night made for desire. He could no longer deny his duty to his house. He needed a woman. He needed to spread her thighs and grow from her body the new generation. There was greater war on the horizon. Ronan could smell it in the air, taste it among the ash of the villages they left burning. He was not so naive to think he would survive the changing of the winds. A wise man buried his seed deep in a willing furrow before he made an act of war.

 

So he had called the woman back. Not to mate her but so she could witness the taking of another. So he could use her to lure weakness from those that opposed him. So he could manipulate from her lips the truths she hid behind smiles.

 

When he had called her he had seen in her eyes surprise and desire. She wanted to return to the life her impertinence had cast aside. He saw she would buy it over one thousand fold with her ever changing loyalty. She was weak. She repulsed him but he was willing to endure her for one evening if it meant exposing his true betrayers.

 


 

Agg-Dah had told Vers many rules. Warned her of many things. Her head nearly spun with it as she sat with her onyx crown. Agg-Dah had ordered a large plate of food to her room. She had made Vers eat until she was full. And drink too. That was her first warning. Only take what Yon-Rogg handed her. Stay close to him. Think of the myths of other planets where women were trapped in foreign realms because they drank the wine or ate the food.

 

Never let herself be led away. No matter how unnerving she found the evening she must face it unblinkingly head on. She must not hide from it. Must not stray from the well lit main rooms.

 

With each warning Vers felt her gut clench tighter. This was no ordinary dinner party.

 

By the time she descended into the foyer she completely regretted agreeing to attend. Yon-Rogg had his back to her. She could tell he was tense. He kept checking his comm beneath the cuff of his dress uniform. It fit him obscenely well, he was a slim man and the wool traced him perfectly. She focused on her feet. Agg-Dah had shown mercy and had a pair of black slippers brought in her size. They fit close to her foot so she hopefully would not trip. She had strapped to her thigh, beneath the frothy skirts of her dress, a holster. It held the crystals close to her and a small pearl handled knife Agg-Dah had left surreptitiously next to her as she dressed.

 

Yon must have heard her because he turned to look at her. All she cared about in that moment was the trail his eyes took down her body. His face was impassive, but where his hand wrapped around the gold faced mask his knuckles were white. Her mask was already in place, black lace over her eyes with pin pricks of diamond stars.

 

"Hi," she breathed as she came close to him. He smelled of cathedral smoke. Wood and the crushed herbs of the Khun Zan Uil. The same smell clung to her hair beneath the scented oil Agg-Dah had rubbed into her skin.

 

"Hi," he answered back just as low. His eyes flickered over her shoulder and he smiled. Agg-Dah had come to say goodbye.

 

Yon-Rogg slipped by Vers and he bowed to his mother. Her hair was loose in greying waves down her back and she was wrapped in white silk. Her pale pink skin was unpainted. The first time he had seen her without her pearl powder when she was not performing Khun Zan Uil.

 

"Be well, Mother," he said bowing his head to her. She smiled and took his face in her hands. She knew her eyes searched him for some assurance he would be back. That he would do his duty. He could give her no such comfort. "Tell Xe and Ter they have to be good to you."

 

"My sons are always good to me. All of them," Agg-Dah answered him, dropping her hands to his shoulders before pulling him close. A final goodbye, then. They were both meeting it with open eyes.

 

She released him and nodded to Vers who dropped her head in a slow salute. They should slip out before his father came. Yon-Rogg did not wish to see him.

 

He offered his arm to Vers so they could walk together into the night.

 


 

Att-Lass pulled himself from the narrow sleeping chamber as their ship whirred to life. He stumbled to his feet and fought against the rocking of take off as Minn-Erva spared him a glance over her shoulder.

 

"What's going on?" He called to her over the whine of take off.

 

"Accusers are on planet. They know we have the deserter cornered." Minn-Erva answered flipping switches so the ship evened out inside the atmosphere of Kairunn.

 

"What about Korath and Bron-Char?" Att-Lass strapped into the co-pilot's chair.

 

"They're out numbered."

 

"And we will change that?" Att-Lass raised a skeptical eyebrow at Minn.

 

"Better than one cruiser against a destroyer," Minn-Erva glanced at him a wicked gleam in her eye.

 

"Why would they want her?"

 

"Who knows but I am not about to be scooped by some steel-plated masochists," Minn-Erva answered her hands gripping the steerage. She channeled the anger she felt and her embarrassment at baring her soul to Lai-Rah into the deadly energy of confrontation. Att-Lass nodded.

 

"Let's give them hell," he whooped as Minn-Erva picked up speed to where they had left Bron-Char and Korath hanging above the witch like a star.

Chapter Text

Vers had never been in a transport before. The door opened as they approached and Yon-Rogg helped her in. It rocked slightly as she ducked her head and slid into the dark plush interior. She looked around as Yon-Rogg followed her. The space felt small. The lace over her eyes made the world even darker. She couldn't see clearly and it made her chest tight. She felt him settle on the seat beside her. He was closer to her than he had been in hours. Unlike DarRogg, where they were constantly vigilant or watched this small place was all their own. Vers ran her hands over the rough fabric of her dress. Although she didn't doubt its quality, or that the jewelry she wore was worth more credits than she could imagine, the netting was embroidered with a spider's web of stars and leaves that made it scratch against her skin. Each layer was shockingly translucent but when set one on top of the other they obscured her enough to be decent. The dress had small crystals sewn into it so she glittered as she moved. It also had a slit in the front almost to the apex of her thighs. When Agg-Dah had left the room for a moment Vers had practiced kicking in it. She was certain if necessary she could fight in it. She hoped that wouldn't be necessary.

 

Lights passed the window of the transport. They were not in the city yet, each passing beam illuminated some part of the DarRogg estate. So massive, she had barely explored a tenth in her wandering around the family home. She wondered if even Yon-Rogg had seen every inch. She glanced at him, the orange glow painting the tightness of his jaw and the set of his shoulders. In his hands he turned the gold mask over and over.

 

"I can feel you thinking all the way over here," she said elbowing him. He gave her a tight smile. She glanced down at the mask in his hands. "How am I supposed to hear you through that thing?"

 

He looked at it as if he hadn't truly seen it yet.

 

"There is a secret," he said pulling a small diamond studded coil from inside his lapel pocket. He crouched in front of her, his skin pale and obscured by darkness and lace. She could feel his strong body between her knees, the wool itchy against the sensitive skin of her thighs. She held her breath. She wanted him to kiss her, to tell her she didn't look like an idiot. His warm hesitant fingers brushed her wildly curling hair away from her ear. Her chest ached from holding in air, as if exhaling would make him disappear. He fit what she realized was an earpiece in her ear. "Now you will be able to hear me."

 

She nodded breathing out slowly. His eyes were on her and she wished she could see through the stupid mask well enough to know the way he looked at her. She didn't have the words to tell him how DarRogg had effected her. How unprepared she had been for his mother to be kind to her. How it made her ache for things she could not remember, things she would break her heart over wanting.

 

There was the ghost of his fingers trailing the long muscles of her legs before the pressure of his body was gone, returned to the seat beside her. She reached for his hand.

 

They would be there soon.

 


 

"What do you have there?" The Titan asked looking over his shoulder as Talos secured the crystal shard beneath his clothes. He needed to find a Kree identity and quickly.

 

"Don't think about it," he growled. The Titan was dressed in a tail coat. He was planning to attend the damn party as blithely as if Talos wasn't risking his life by completing his mission for him. "We have bigger things to worry about."

 

"Like what?" The Titan leaned nonchalantly against the console spinning his mask in his hands. Talos didn't want to know how long ago he had stashed these items in his ship. How long the Titan had been planning to abandon his mission.

 

"Like finding me a body so I can get off this ship and into the party."

 

The Titan gave him a wicked smile.

 

"Just be me until you can find someone else," he held out his arms so Talos could get a better view of him, as if he hadn't seen enough when he first arrived on board.

 

"Why would I lower myself to being you?" Talos asked, turning to survey the guests pouring into the Embassy. They had been planning this for so long now it was here it felt like a dream. So far it had all gone too smoothly.

 

"Do you have a better plan?"

 

Talos grunted. It would make it easier to reach the Embassy doors. Talos was hesitant to take the life of a Titan against his skin. He worried it could be more than he could contain. At least, if it was too much he could let go. Who knew, it could incapacitate him to the point the Titan had to complete the mission as planned.

 

"You still haven't told me why you are going," Talos complained. He straightened up from the viewscreen and started to collect his impressions of the Titan in his mind. He allowed the rhythms of the Titan's body to pass through him. It was overwhelming. It was pulling him deep into a star system of memories and at the heart a pain and sorrow Talos could not even begin to find the edges of. He forced himself away from that blackhole, his cells shook as they formed into a new body. Talos panted against the effort. He felt sick as if he had been hurled through space without a ship.

 

At last, his quivering muscles settled. He ran a hand over his jaw and felt the smooth foreign curve of it.

 

"I must say General, excellent work." The Titan circled Talos' hunched body. His own face looked up at him with murder in his eyes. The Titan met his look with a seductive grin. "Honestly, this is opening up an avenue for me I had never considered."

 

"I have no interest in your narcissistic fantasies. Tell me why you are coming." Talos breathed out the words as his skin stretched from an existence so large he could barely contain it.

 

"You are wearing my face, don't you have the answer inside you now?" The Titan asked as he paused behind Talos. He could hear the man's smug grin and Talos was certain he was checking out his own ass.

 

"You know as well as I do your brain is too much of a mess for me to know anything," Talos growled at him. He had never simmed such a disorganized identity.

 

"Then I will take pity on you. All you need to know is that I am planting the seed for you to grow a powerful ally. If only you manage the future correctly." The Titan rested a hand on his shoulder.

 

"I don't want to picture how you plan to plant that seed," Talos batted his hand away. "How will I know them if you won't tell me your plan? Who would be my ally among the Kree?"

 

"You let your grief blind you, General. There is so much you don't see." He put his mask on and lowered the gangplank. "I will see you inside. Good luck finding another body as pretty as mine."

 

He waved Talos down the plank, watching his dark coat disappear into the dark.

 


 

"Is this really Supremor approved?" Vers asked looking around her at all the splendor. Yon-Rogg kept her close to him, his hand firm against her waist, she wondered if he could feel the holster on her thigh pressing into him. If he too, was concealing a weapon.

 

"The Supremor has no physical body, Vers. If we don't invite them to the party they have no way of knowing." He reached out and brushed a curl from her temple, his finger tracing a line behind her ear. Vers shivered. "We can be our darkest selves."

 

He had secured his mask in place while still in the transport so his voice was for her ears alone. The mask came to just below his eyes, the gold was stoic and unmoving as he turned to look at her. His statue-like face suited the cold walls of the Embassy. On every side marble rose up reflecting the bright lights that shone on them. The walls were so white Vers felt a chill looking at them. Below them were bodies upon bodies, moving in waves all in jewels with their faces covered.

 

Finding the men they were looking for was seeming more and more unlikely. Vers' gut tightened as she tried to force herself to focus on their mission. Information was being leaked. They had to find out why and how. There could be in this room Skrull sympathizers, or worse Skrulls. Whatever their reason, someone in this room could be betraying the Empire. She must have looked worried because Yon-Rogg held her tighter.

 

Yon-Rogg couldn't help touching her. He had wanted to do nothing but look at her since she had appeared before him in the foyer of DarRogg. His mother had out done herself this evening. A woman of refined taste she knew how to travel through the highest echelons of Kree society with the subtly of a obsidian blade. She had not painted Vers again but she had drawn down the centre of her lip a shimmering blue line. So perfect and even it would be sacrilege to smudge it. Her dress was suitably daring for the evening inviting the eye to look at all the wonderful ways her body curved but clasped around Vers' throat like a fist was the diamond collar that had been in his family for generations. It glowed like star fire in the bright lights. A sure sign to many that, even when masked, there was only one man this woman belonged to. Considering Vers' propensity for attracting trouble it was a good way to ensure she was returned to him swiftly at the first sign of mischief.

 

They could not hover in the entrance way for forever. He guided her down the steps into the swirl of colours and the din of voices.

 


 

The Grand Hall opened on a marble stairway. It descended on three sides. Forward led down into the sunken floor. In the pit couples moved to the music or scuttled away to find privacy. Soon such decorum would devolve as more food and wine was consumed, as their blood heated from rubbing against one another. The other two stair cases met the raised marble walk way that circled the floor. The balcony opened from this level, the heavily perfumed Feroimum night as inviting as any dark corner.

 

Ronan was stalking along this walk way. He was watching the arrival of guests. They gathered at the Embassy as it could be considered neutral ground. It had no allegiance to any House. Their host for the evening was the representation of the Supremor on Feroimum. Not that the Supremor would encourage evenings like this, not that they would stop it either. The Supremor recognized the need for primitive behaviours, valued the power ritual had over every species. In the same way they tolerated Khun Zan Uil. They could even understand the part they played in it. The absent parent. The all seeing power they hid their trespass from.

 

Ronan believed the Supremor was wise. He believed they saw more than him. He was willing to serve them. Until they fell from power. While there had not always been a Supremor there had always been Kree. They would continue long after they had a new ruler. Their culture was what gave them strength. It was what made them superior. Ronan would serve that until his dying breath. He would always seek out the enemies of their way of life.

 

He was watching the door for the new threat to arrive. The woman who asked too many questions. He would solve it tonight. Assure himself he had been successful in his guardianship of the Kree way. If he was wrong about her. If he had read too deeply into her presence on Feroimum then at the very least he could cause suffering in those he disdained by seducing her. A blow to Rogg's ego. Better too, if there were many to witness it.

 

He stilled in his pacing as he saw her arrive. He knew her walk. He knew the unusual gold of her hair. He recognized at a distance the Starforce dress uniform of her companion. He watched them pause for a moment at the top of the stairs. He saw her look about in wonder at the delights laid before her. Yon-Rogg had a tight grip on her. She was the centre of his focus. How little he suspected Ronan would pry them apart before the evening was done.

 

He watched them descend the stairs into the lower level. Ronan's hand came up to check his mask was in place, he felt against his palm the cold ridges of the iron skull's teeth made warmed by his breath. Certain all was as it should be he made his way to the small set of stairs next to him and entered into the crush.

 


 

Despite promises to Agg-Dah she would not let herself be separated from Yon, Vers found she was very much alone. He had been beside her one moment and gone the next.

 

The diamond loop he had wrapped carefully around the shell of her ear before pressing it inside, came alive again with a brush of static. It made her shiver that his voice was so close to her when she could not see him.

 

"Vers, where did you go?"

 

"Where did you go? I haven't moved." That was marginally the truth. She had been distracted when a crowd pushed against them.

 

"Tell me what you can see." She looked around trying to fix on one specific detail that would allow Yon to find her again. All her eyes met was dizzying opulence and moving bodies. Until the crowd parted and she saw him.

 

She would know him anywhere. The man who had hidden in Ish-Al's bar. The man who broke into her suite. His eyes called to her through the holes in his mask. A mask that didn't cover his jaw as the other men did. A man free to lie.

 

"Hold on. I will find you later," she murmured.

 

"Vers, what do you mean?" Yon-Rogg was angry but their reason for coming had appeared from the crowd and she wouldn't let him escape.

 

He smiled and crossed deliberately to her. His one hand wrapped around her waist and the other took her hand so before she could protest she was effortlessly in his control.

 

He led her from the edge of the room to the dance floor before she could explain she did not know how to dance. Yon-Rogg's voice continued to try to reach her. The Man leaned in close his cheek next to hers, his ear listening at her ear, Vers stiffened as she felt the brush of his skin.

 

"Let's forget the Commander for a moment, shall we?" He plucked the diamond loop from her ear and tucked it in his breast pocket. Any hesitation Vers felt began to melt away.

 

"Are you still not going to tell me your name?" She asked as they swayed together to the music. Other couples were pressed closer. This was obviously not a dance that required skill.

 

"Tonight I am Mr. Fox and you it seems are a fallen star. That makes us well suited." He smiled at her, turning them quickly so that the room became a swirl of white marble and blue bodies.

 

"How so?" Vers gripped him tighter and laughed. His words made no sense.

 

"On Earth, foxes are the only creatures that can look up at the sky." He brought them to a stop and whispered in her ear as the room continued spinning in her head. Vers had never heard of Earth.

 

"That can't be true," she knotted her hand in the smooth fabric of his coat, willing the world to stop moving so fast.

 

"No, it's not but tonight the fox has caught the star and thats all that matters." His hand slipped higher up her back and his words filled her senses. Vers tried to remember if she had drank anything since arriving. She felt drunk.

 

"You are very charming for someone who lies so much," she pressed her forehead into his shoulder.

 

"Lying is the heart of charm. You can't have one without the other."

 

"Maybe that is why I lack charm. I am bad at lying." She looked up at his eyes, pale through the mask.

 

"You shall have to practice with me tonight." He made it sound like it would be fun to lie to him.

 

"I have never heard of Earth," she murmured. It was so nice to dance slowly like this. She wondered where Yon was and if he would dance with her.

 

"No? Then you should go. You would love it. Unless that was a lie. It was told well." He leaned back slightly so he could see her face.

 

"I don't want to be charming with you so I won't lie." She scrunched her nose at him and he chuckled at her. His hand moved lower his thumb tracing along her spine. Perhaps she did want to charm him considering how close she was letting him hold her. There must be a reason she needed to talk to him.

 

"Too late for that Star. I am completely in your power." She let her head rest on his shoulder. She laughed at the way he spoke. She closed her eyes, for a moment it was only her, the music and strong arms holding her.

 

That was when she heard the crackle in his breast pocket and it all came back. Yon. The mission. The crystals. And this man knew all of it.

Chapter Text

Vers lifted her head from the Stranger's shoulder. She was trying to grip onto any emotion that was not relaxed pliancy. Every shred of concern, anger, purpose seemed to seep out of her like steam.

 

"How are you doing this?" She asked as she tried to step away from him. He didn't resist, did not hold her tighter. He merely looked at her with mild concern.

 

"Doing what?" He asked eyes innocent through the mask.

 

"Distracting me," she answered her hands reaching for the link to Yon tucked into his breast pocket. He stepped smoothly back her one hand still in his. It was effortless the way he began to guide her from the dancefloor. He moved as calmly and as naturally as a lover whisking his partner away into some dark corner.

 

"You are right I am dawdling. I told you to forget the Commander for now. We have much to talk about and he does not have my trust."

 

They were already slipping past the crowd. A gold lit passage appeared behind him as if he had summoned it. Vers remembered what Agg-Dah had said about fairy stories and letting herself be whisked away but she was gripped by some enchantment she could not loosen and she followed him her hand limply reaching for her diamond comm, his body always stepping just beyond the brush of her fingers.

 

"The Commander and I are a package deal," she responded looking over her shoulder hoping to see a flash of gold. She knew he was searching for her. She knew there would be trouble when he found them.

 

"And yet he is much less pleasant to dance with." Mr. Fox answered. He started opening doors along the hallway closing them quickly as he found them occupied.

 

"Where are we going? Why are you here?" Vers asked her eyes darting into rooms, lowly lit with writhing forms.

 

"I realize I left you with all the pieces and not the key. Although as you are here I assume you figured something out." At last he found a darkened room that was unoccuppied. He opened the door and waved Vers into the darkness.

 

She entered coming face to face with herself in a mirror. The room was lit blue with moonlight, around her were the shadowed shapes of furniture. In front of her the mirror rested on a desk. She saw the stranger move beside her and remove his mask. His eyes watched hers in the mirror. It felt like a different world.

 

"Thank goodness for the vanity of the Kree, a mirror in every room. They provide everything we need and do not know it." His hand settled on her waist and he stepped with her closer to the mirror. Close enough she could touch it if she wanted. "Remember that is the first step, you need a mirror."

 

Vers watched him carefully over her shoulder, he was so close to her. His white waistcoat glowed in the moonlight.

 

"What do I need next?" She asked licking her bottom lip. Her heart beat low and hard. She wondered if he could have eased her fear even more, if he chose to let the anxiety creep up and down her spine.

 

"The crystal," he said it low in her ear, his hand skimming down her waist and over her hip, his fingers reaching for her thigh. He must have felt them when they danced. "I know you brought it with you."

 

Faster than his snaking hand she reached for the holster at her thigh. She brought the thin pearl handled blade to his throat. He looked down his nose at it, his eyes crossing slightly. He laughed as he held up his hands and took a step from her.

 

"I need to tell Yon where I am," she insisted. She held her other hand up. He reached into his pocket a pleased grin on his face and held the small ring of diamonds for her to see.

 

"By all means, I just thought you would want to know how to open the crystal."

 

"I do know how. That is why we are here," she gripped the knife tighter. She gestured with her fingers for him to hand the comm over. He set it in her palm. She immediately holstered the knife and returned the delicate loop to her ear.

 

"You can't know all of it. Or you would not have followed me alone into the dark." She paused her finger hovering above the comm.

 

"Show me," she said dropping her hand and setting her shoulders. "Without the groping."

 

He grinned wickedly at her, "I will endeavour to keep my hands where you can see them."

 

He stepped behind her again, hands hovering over her shoulders.

 

"Be so kind as to produce the crystal from wherever you have hidden it," his voice dropped intimately filling the air between her ear and his mouth with unspoken promise. It occured to her if she turned her head and kissed him he would willingly give her a very different lesson.

 

As she reached for the crystal beneath her skirts the channel opened. "Vers, this isn't a game tell me where you are."

 

Vers froze. She could hear the anger in his voice but also the tinge of fear. How long had she been gone? Mr. Fox moved for her, he pressed the button to open the channel.

 

"I am afraid I borrowed her, Commander. I am showing her how to properly use a crystal." His eyes glittered as he met hers in the mirror. Yon growled in her ear.

 

"Tell me where to find you, Vers. And tell that bastard if he touches you I will kill him."

 

Vers opened her mouth and looked around she realized she didn't know what this room would be used for. She opened the channel.

 

"We are five doors down the hall, single door on the left." The channel closed unceremoniously. Mr. Fox was looking at her ear closely. Her implant glowed beneath the glittering comm.

 

"I have been meaning to ask you about this, Star. It glows so prettily. Where did you get it?" He asked, his finger barely skirting the shell of her ear before tapping softly on her implant.

 

Vers blinked. She didn't want to say it. She didn't want to give him any more of herself. Except looking into his pale eyes she felt deeply she could trust him. "I don't know."

 


 

The Accuser's ship was big. The current of it merely existing in space was enough to shake their tiny cruisers. Minn-Erva felt the rocking deep in her gut. She opened the channel to the Destroyer.

 

"This Pal-Mar C9345, you are interrupting a Starforce exercise. Identify yourselves."

 

A woman appeared across their shield, her face was framed in the sculpted hood of the Accusers.

 

"This is the Venestrion, we have been assigned the collection of the deserter Talia-Rath. Your unit has been ordered to stand down." Her voice was deep and round as if it was summoned not from the gut of a woman but a brass barreled instrument.

 

"We have received no such order." Minn-Erva was rigid in her seat. She yearned for the fire power to drive them from the sky.

 

"I have just given it to you. The Supremor thanks you for your service but you are no longer necessary."

 

"Captain, what should we do?" Korath's voice crackled through the other channel. Briefly Minn-Erva wondered if he had been the one to betray them. She stamped it down, turning back to the woman on the screen.

 

"I don't believe you are equipped to hold this prisoner," she answered icily staring down her nose at the Accuser, willing her not to notice her state of undress.

 

"Then you would be wrong," the woman answered. The connection closed and the shield once again showed the horizon of Kairunn.

 

"Captain, they are deploying pods," Att-Lass informed her bringing up the feed of dozens of Accusers plummeting to the ground in their polished black seed shaped pods. "Can we do anything?"

 

"Captain, this is useless." Korath added over the link. The ship bobbed with the air moving around the pods as they dropped. Minn-Erva felt once again the pressure of the water on her chest. The hopeless drowning she had endured. She smiled.

 

"We fall back. If they think they can handle her let them," she answered swiveling back in her chair. They had done all they could. At least she could savour the knowledge that Talia-Rath would cut through the Venestrion like butter.

"Return to the fueling station. We will update the Commander then take our next steps."

 


 

Ronan moved through the crowd. He knew he had seen them descend but now he had lost them. It ate at him that he could not track them better. This evening was a carefully balanced tower. Although each piece could exist on its own there was better fuller lusher pleasure to be had from consuming all of it. He would strike a blow to his enemies, he would secure the technology from the House of Lar that would change his family mines, he would humiliate those who offended him and he would solve the mystery of the woman.

 

He was losing time on one trying to trace the other.

 

Around him bodies moved, he was aware distantly that there was music that they were keeping time to. Khurdan Tulaan was about the sensual pleasures. It was about forming alliances through mutual passions. This was the first stage. The initial encounter. If you could intrigue your partner here in the marble pit where music played and bodies made heat together then you could drift to other places. Fulfill darker promises.

 

He wondered if Rogg had succeeded with her so quickly. If they had already slipped through here to the many chambers afforded by the sprawl of the embassy. It seemed unlikely. There was much to distract a woman, better mates to be had and Rogg would have a duty to his house beyond the enjoyment of their insignificant guest.

 

As he stalked through the masses, the crowd parted and like a sign from his ancestors his other duties appeared before him. The hours before his final blow to their enemies were fading. Ronan wanted to time his pleasure well.

 

Woh-Lar first, then he would find the mystery woman. Perhaps word would reach Rogg that Ronan was paying court to the wunderkind of Lar House and the bastard would be forced to come up for air and bring his pretty companion with him.

 


 

Yon-Rogg moved through the crowd. There were bodies crammed on the edge, seated on heavily stuffed seats and curled around each other. He cursed the revellers who had swelled and flowed towards the dancefloor parting Vers and himself. He should have gripped her tighter but he had been distracted looking for Woh-Lar in the group, his filial duties weighing on him. He had been thinking with half a mind about Vers and the other half about the damage Ronan could do to his homeworld if he gained Woh-Lar's favour.

 

She had answered him briefly, been on the verge of telling him how to find her again when she had seen something, someone who had distracted her. And like the hard headed fool she was she had chased them. Now they were separated.
She had stopped answering him. He wondered how he looked to the other party-goers, his face an unmoving gold mask but his eyes must have burned because those that looked at him stepped quickly out of his way.

 

"Vers, this isn't a game tell me where you are," He tried her one more time. He willed her to answer him before he was forced to start throwing open doors. In his chest a clenching consuming fire.

 

"I am afraid I borrowed her, Commander. I am showing her how to properly use a crystal." The smooth voice of the Intruder broke through the comm. He was soft, faint as if he was pressed against her ear. Yon-Rogg remembered how their bodies moving together and her intense pleasure had made the heat leave her hands and caused the crystal to pour its secrets across the floor. He felt a growl leave his throat at the thought of another being so close to her.

 

"Tell me where to find you, Vers. And tell that bastard if he touches you I will kill him."

 

She paused. An agonizing drawing of breath followed by silence.

 

"We are five doors down the hall, single door on the left." He closed the comm not looking around him before tearing towards the golden marble hall he saw open beneath the balcony.

 

He was about to reach it and pass beneath the arch when someone crossed his path.

 

"Commander?" She purred.

 


 

Vers held out the crystal, moving away from his trailing finger. She hated admitting she did not know something. She hated even more that it was an answer implanted into her skin.

 

"Is there a lot you don't know? About yourself? About your people? I remembered once you told Ish-Al you wanted the truth. Do you remember that?"

 

"I do," she swallowed at the mention of Ish-Al. She had so many questions about the man she had considered her friend.

 

"Even if that truth goes against everything you believe? Even if that truth is bad?"

 

"How can something be true and be bad? Justice and truth are what Starforce are sworn to uphold." She set her shoulders gripping the crystal in her hand, wondering what it would tell her. Fearing it.

 

"So you would seek justice for Zai-Al even if he had behaved in a way you would consider traitorous?"

 

"You do know Zai-Al," she latched onto his small admission. Feeling as if the truth stood before her.

 

"I do. He is the son of Ish-Al."

 

"No, his parents are dead. He was taken in by the House of Ronan."

 

"That isn't entirely correct."

 

"Why can't you just tell me? Why do you want my help with your mission but you won't tell me what it is?" Vers felt her anger rise and this time it did not ebb away.

 

"I am a small self-involved piece in a much larger puzzle. I don't have the answers. I stumble along trying to ease injustice when I see it. You will have to dig deeper on your own, Star." He shrugged reaching for her hand. He opened her fingers and evened her palm in front of the mirror.

 

"And what injustice do you want me to right for you?" She asked looking behind him to the door wondering where Yon-Rogg was.

 

"That is the ugly truth. One you will only believe if first you open the crystal."

 

"Then show me how," she said find his eyes in the mirror, her mouth set in a hard line.

 

The stranger cupped his hand beneath hers, lining his body up with her, one hand on her waist.

 

"The crystals are ancient technology from my people. They need a surface and a source of energy. I have seen your power," he pushed her fingers with his thumb until they inclined enough the crystal slid and clinked point first into the glass. "Breath and bring up your power slowly, find the frequency the crystal likes best. It is never the same."

 

Vers breathed out, allowing the stranger to guide her with the tension in his body. Her hand began to glow softly. He whispered in her ear encouraging more heat from her, more power. She did not think herself capable of such fine tuning but she focused, eager to see what had been hidden for so long. She thought his hand beneath hers was pulling power from her, helping her to control the slow feeding of energy to black surface.

 

The crystal warmed in her hand, becoming a thing of light and vibration.

 

"You are close now, Star, push it over the edge." She tried to loose the smallest amount of energy. The crystal made a delicate sound like a hairline crack in the surface of glass.

 

Suddenly the mirror filled with the image of a lush world.

 

"What is that?" She asked breathless as she tried to maintain her control.

 

"This is not my crystal," Mr. Fox said. He released her hand and slid a finger over the silvered surface. The image changed. "Where did you find this?"

 

"It was in Zai-Al's suit when he died."

Chapter Text

Yon-Rogg stopped short. His lips were sealed behind the golden mask. Lai-Rah stood in front of him. She wore dark purple silk and her face was obscured by a golden mask with curling wreaths of leaves. He would know her voice anywhere.

 

"Commander?" She said again, her smile glistened and his brain stuttered for how and why she would be here. He inclined his head to her and her look turned predatory. "I thought you were returning to Hala. I did not expect you here or that you would be in the market for a wife."

 

She made to reach for him but he side stepped her, bowing apologetically. He could not be delayed if Vers was alone with the Intruder. He could not allow himself to be distracted by Lai-Rah's presence, there were too many pieces in motion already.

 

Her face fell as he escaped her. He did not look back as he dodged down the hall. She did not follow him.

 


 

Vers was looking at the images. There was nothing in them to tell her anything. Dark green jungle, mud covered tents. Large holes in the soil. Mr. Fox's hand curled tight into her hip as if he had forgotten there was flesh beneath his grip. He flicked through the images. He must be seeing something Vers was not.

 

"What do you see?" She asked turning to look at him, their faces so close she practically whispered the words into the hollow of his throat. He glanced down at her as if he had just remembered she was there. He eased his grip and stepped away from her.

 

"I would not want your commander to find us like this," he smiled at her.

 

"Forget Yon, tell me what it is you see when you look at this," she looked at the final image on the screen. Massive white stones being rolled from the openings in the ground, littering the mud like soap bubbles.

 

"It's not for you," Mr.Fox replied plucking the stone from her hand.

 

"Hey I found it. Give it back," she set her fists and shifted her foot into a fighting stance.

 

"Or what?" He asked his face losing its boyish charm.

 

"Or I will take it," she said through firm set teeth. She meant it. The anger rolled off of her in waves and she wondered where Yon-Rogg was.

 

He angered her more by looking amused.

 

"My method for getting my way, Star, is not through violence. This was meant for someone else and I will see they get it."

 

He slipped towards the tall window, Vers made to follow him but she stopped. Something within her quivered. She shut her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to find the shape of the sensation.

 

"Comfort your Commander. We have upset him," Mr. Fox said with his hand on the window latch. As he clicked it open, the door was thrown wide and golden light spilled into the room.

 

Vers was rooted to the spot a rolling feeling in her heart like the tight turning of a paper parasol.

 

"Vers," Yon growled shutting the door behind him, plunging them into dark again. "Where is he?"

 

Yon-Rogg closed the distance between them in four short strides, Vers hands came up to grip his coat. Words failed her but she was desperate for the feeling of him beneath her fingers. She was certain only he would make the winding feeling in her stop.

 

"Yon," she murmured fingers searching for brass buttons, he was so close, he felt like everything she needed. "Yon, you found me."

 

"Where is he?" He asked with renewed energy, his voice deep in her ear mixing with her pounding blood. His eyes above the mask willed her to answer. She reached for the edges of it, abandoning his buttons half undone.

 

"Vers, what are you doing?" He gripped her.

 

"Weren't you looking for me?" Her hands fought against the press of his thumbs into her metacarpals. Her voice was barely a breath as the desire for his skin against hers tightened. She grinned at him, hoping to tease some reaction from him

 

"We are on a mission. What has gotten into you?" He could not read the look in her eyes through the lace of her mask. He placed his hands on either side of her face, his thumbs just a brush away from the thin blue line across her lips. Her skin was warm and her pulse beat wildly against his hands. "Did you eat something?"

 

She shook her head and her hands returned to his buttons. She freed his collar and slipped her hand beneath the layers.

 

"Did you drink something?" He asked. There must be a reason why she gripped so hard at his clothes, why her clever hand was seeking his skin beneath his collar. He held her firmer and grit his teeth against the desire to remove the mask and smudge the blue across her lips. "Did something happen?"

 

She nodded her head and he drew her closer to him.

 

"Tell me what," he said as her hands found the edges of his mask. This time he let her peel it off of him. He felt like he could finally draw breath again without the gold against his skin. She gripped it between their bodies and made to press her lips to his. He held her shoulders tighter. He could feel her disappointment but this wasn't Vers. There was something more at play.

 

"Kiss me," she breathed. She could have no idea how badly he wanted to.

 

"Tell me what happened first," he insisted.

 

"Mr. Fox showed me how to open the crystal, but then he took it because he said it wasn't- for - me-" her words drifted off and shrugged away from Yon.

 

"Mr. Fox?" He asked as she broke from his grip. She seemed to be mouthing words to herself, reliving a moment he couldn't see. She walked to the window and opened it looking out into the night.

 

"That bastard, he distracted me again." She shut the window angrily and stalked back to Yon. She shoved his mask into his chest. "The crystal Zai-Al had on him had pictures of a mine. The markings on the tents were Kree. I think he might have been a double agent."

 

She walked to the mirror, moving her skirts to grab the last crystal. Yon-Rogg's mouth went dry as he saw the pearl handled knife cradled in the powerful dip of muscle at her thigh. Her wildness, her lack of grace, her recklessness always called to something deep in him that desired rebellion. He opened his mouth to ask who she thought he was aligned with but he was interrupted by a hail on his comm. He flipped over his mask and pulled from the mouth the slim black line of the link. He answered the call.

 

"Commander?" Minn-Erva's voice came down the line Yon-Rogg glanced at Vers. She came closer forgetting the crystal.

 

"Captain, we have been waiting for you," he answered her. "What is the status of Talia-Rath?"

 

"Captured." Yon-Rogg sighed with relief at Minn-Erva's words. They could leave immediately if they had to.

 

"Well done."

 

"Don't congratulate me, the Accusers came."

 

"What? How is that possible? How did they know your status?"

 

"We have a leak," Minn-Erva answered, her words hesitant. "I told the Medic Lai-Rah our position."

 

Yon's chest clenched and released, a moment of heart stopping clarity. Lai-Rah was here. She could not have returned on her own. And there was only one Accuser present at Khurdan Tulaan. Lai-Rah, who had some shape of what Vers was, where she came from, was allied with Ronan.

 

The silence must have been eating at Minn. Her voice was tight over the comm link.

 

"I am sorry, Captain. I should not have compromised the mission. I accept whatever punishment-"

 

"Nonsense, Lai-Rah is stationed on a Starforce outpost. You should have no reason to distrust her. This is her failing not yours."

 

"Thank you, Commander." He could hear her head bow, feel the relief in her voice. "There is more. We have the report for the soils found on Zai-Al."

 

"Hala, I know."

 

"Not just Hala, Terius and Feroimum as well. He has been busy."

 

"He was here?" Yon-Rogg looked at Vers, her eyes were wide.

 

"Yes. Sample was degraded."

 

"We need to keep moving here, stay on Kairunn."

 

"Understood." The comm link went dead. There was in the room a heavy silence.

 

"We need to find Mr. Fox. He has all the pieces. We need to make him give them to us." Vers insisted taking off towards the door.

 

"No," Yon-Rogg's voice stopped her. "We need to go to Hala, now."

 

"But-" Vers looked ready to argue, to charge out the door on her own.

 

He caught up to her and took hold of her shoulders.

 

"We have enough here. He was a double agent and it got him killed. Once we inform Hala of this the case will be closed. There are things we need to set in motion before its too late. We have already waited too long for nothing."

 

Vers shook him off. "We are back to this again? Is this how we uphold justice? Decide his murderer is none of our concern? If he was a double agent he should have appeared before the martial courts. He should have been questioned. This isn't just murder it is treason against us."

 

He hauled her against him again, desperate to make her understand without admitting his sins.

 

"We agreed you would trust me when I made descisions." He said through gritted teeth. If he thought he could he would have thrown her over his shoulder and put her in a transport.

 

"And you said you would help me," she whispered back, tired of earning his help then losing it at the first sign if trouble.

 

"He is not here. He will be gone," Yon-Rogg insisted.

 

"No, Ish-Al is here I know it. Zai-Al was important to him. This is all connected and I know he is here. We have to hurry before we lose him."

 

She broke free of him and moved to the door. Yon-Rogg abandoned his mask on a desk and followed her if only to protect her from herself.

 


 

Woh-Lar was the eldest son of his house. Ronan considered him carefully. He had a woman curled around his side, feeding grapes into his mouth. Woh-Lar crushed them between his teeth, the wet flesh and hard seeds soaking his mouth. Ronan felt a tinge of disgust. A man who lived too much in his head and didn't understand his body. He could tell that by the moon-like look in Woh-Lar's eyes whenever he glanced at the red head who rolled the round fruit across his lips and giggled when his teeth caught her. His mask an over-large bird beak was abandoned on the cushions beside him. Evidence of his desire to be greater than he could handle.

 

"Ronan," a voice disturbed his thoughts. A familiar voice. One he had learned to hate after she had betrayed him. He turned to her, muscles stiff and body controlled. She was a specimen of Kree physical perfection. She drew eyes as easily and as naturally as a flowering willow. Had she remained faithful their union would have been unstoppable.

 

She came to his side and linked her arm through his. The fluid movements of her body disguised the tension in her but he had spent so many hours of his youth memorizing her he could read the hesitation hidden deep in her core. He knew intimately all the places she quivered.

 

"You are still too bold, Daughter of Rah," he said without looking down at her, he heard his words echo behind the teeth of his mask. She was tall but he always overwhelmed her. The crown of her head barely pressed to the bottom of his collar bones when he had held her. Now he would rather embrace the fire of ten thousand suns than hold her to him again.

 

"You like my boldness," she answered, he knew her eyes were focused on Woh-Lar and the woman. "Do you desire him? Or her? that you can't look away."

 

"I have no use for desperate women," he told her.

 

"Or weak men. I see both. What is it you see when you look at them?"

 

"I see a means to an end. I won't have him allied to the House of Rogg." They could not stand arm and arm like statues, he began to walk and she followed him. They would circle closer to his prey.

 

"Yon-Rogg has staked no claim. Last I saw he was on the other side of the Embassy."

 

"You have seen Rogg?" He tried to control the edge of his voice but she was like a hunting hound. She could sniff out the smallest change. Her teeth knew the taste of his blood.

 

"Yes. I was surprised. I thought he was on his way to Hala."

 

"Did he have a woman with him?"

 

"You sound too interested I don't want to tell you," she answered as the crowd jostled them and her silken body was pressed firmer to his side. He turned his head so his words could be heard through the iron against his mouth.

 

"You will answer me. Lai-Rah." Their slow circle had brought them to the edge of the room, his height allowing him to watch Woh-Lar. Lai-Rah's body like a sounding board filled in the smallest gaps of their conversation. She was firm, angry. A hell cat when she wanted to be. It was grit beneath his skin how strong they could have been.

 

"Or what Ronan? You will banish me to a worse desert? Haven't I paid my debt?"

 

"Your slight against me will never be repaid. Even your lover's death won't satisfy it."

 

It was her turn to pull away from him. He would not let her. His hand covered her slim one wrapped around his arm.

 

"He abandoned me too. I was not made to be loved, it seems," she hissed at him. The old accusation; his love had never been enough.

 

"Your impatience was your downfall." He stepped quickly behind a pillar. He moved her as easy a leaf, trapped her body against the marble. Her eyes were lowered. She would not even look at him and he wanted to shake her for it. "If you had been aligned with my house. If your weak and needy flesh had waited for our marriage I would have made your body the foundation of a new Empire. Nothing could have stopped us."

 

"I do not allow myself to fester in what might have been. I may never earn my freedom from my sins but for a moment I knew what it felt to be the godess and not just the offering."
She kept her hands pinned against the marble and her eyes down. Did she know how breakable she looked in that moment? He could never trust what was her and what was manipulation. Despite his anger, and his hate he felt the desire to part the silk and reach for her. He had abstained all those years ago. Controlled animal instincts so that there were a hundred mysteries between them. It had burned Zai-Al had knowledge he did not.

 

He curled his fists into the marble cracking his bones against the smooth surface.

 

"You want to come back from your exile? Purchase it with your humiliation." He gripped her chin, her face so small in his hands. He turned her head roughly back to the crowd, he moved his head closer so metal jaws hovered above her fluttering heartbeat. "Mate the moon-eyed fool and give him to my house."

 

"You trust that once I leave you will ever see me again? There are ones here who would save me just to spite you."

 

"Why would I let you leave? I would watch your success." His voice was dark and deep. Lai-Rah shivered against it as she watched the red head slip her fingers beneath the collar of Woh-Lar's shirt. She had to choose how to turn the situation to her advantage and this was the closest salvation at hand.

 

"We better move quickly then before we are out manuevered," she breathed the words from her tight and quivering lungs. She felt Ronan's eyes leave her profile and flick to the pair on the couch.

 

"The woman will be nothing to dispose of. You are lovelier fruit even if your seeds are rotten."
He caught her arm again and pulled her from where her body had melded to the marble. "Once we have him in our orbit you will lead us towards Rogg and the woman."

 

They would hunt together.

Chapter Text

Talos had to fight the urge to spring to his feet when the couple approached them arm in arm. He knew both of them. Both had meddled with his son.

 

Zai-Al had insisted she was different than anyone he had met at the facilities. He had been young, sheltered, fresh from the Academy. Despite his intense power, his childhood of bodily torture there was something indelibly naive about his son. He was like Soren. Incredibly powerful, brilliant and with skin that refused to harden. That was why Talos tried to be hard for both of them. They resisted him but if he could have stood between them and a world made to scar them he would have. He could not stand between his son and this woman. Not just because they were separated by a galaxy, but because sometimes heartbreak was the fastest route to resilience. Or sometimes the universe surprised him.

 

How could he have intervened when his own love was just as ill-fated? Soren should have been a love too close to the sun but Talos could have never denied her. So he had watched with an uneasy heart as his son from a distance crested the waves of new love and then fell to the bottom of the ocean.

 

Now she was in front of him, her body curled around the man who had puppeted Zai-Al from his sixteenth birthday to his death. It all felt like too cruel a fate and the sugar of the grapes turned to chalk against his tongue.

 

"Khurdan Tulaan is not about singular pleasures, brother Lar. It is to be enjoyed together. Let us persuade you into our company." Ronan's voice came from so deep in his chest and echoed in his mask until it came out with the commanding tone of an old god. The inky haired woman released his arm and nestled on the couch beside them. Her smile was knowing. It held the promise of pleasure. Talos wanted to put his thumbs in her violet eyes. Instead Woh-Lar stammered.

 

"I-I-I am a man of singular pleasures, b-brother Ronan. I would be qui-quite overwhelmed b-by you and your companion."

 

"The point is to be overwhelmed," the woman murmured close to Woh-Lar's ear, it made Talos' skin crawl. "If you won't be moved perhaps we can convince your companion to accept on your behalf."

 

"Th-then I would be quite s-singular," Woh-Lar protested. Talos did not trust the motives of these entwined snakes.

 

Ronan thought neither Woh-Lar nor his companion looked easily moved. He was a cowardly man and she perhaps knew the limits of her attractions. Lai-Rah was artfully removing Woh-Lar's necktie and reaching through the buttons of his shirt. He blinked his big wet eyes at her and she paid him no mind. Ronan wondered how anyone could trust her. Even this reptile of a man could be the subject of her ardour. Her lips lightly brushed Woh-Lar's sunken cheeks. She was shameless in her service of him.

 

"We will not force you, Brother. Come, we will find other friends." Ronan reached his hand to Lai-Rah and she allowed herself to be pulled away, breathing a sigh as if her heart would break.

 

"N-n-no need, Ro-Ro-Ronan. Ay-Lah and I will join you." Woh-Lar stumbled to his feet and reached for the woman at his side who seemed to be hiding her face behind her long red hair. She stood beside him, her eyes darting between Lai-Rah and himself. She was sensible then to the shuffle that would snatch her prize from her.

 

"I am glad of it. Allow my friend to lead you." He gave Lai-Rah a significant look. She had better hope her bloodhound's nose could find Ronan's other prey.

 

She lowered her eyes and walked ahead with Woh-Lar. The woman who fell into step beside him must be from somewhere very far away that she was not even deferential towards him but instead glanced away always hiding and ducking her face. Or perhaps, he thought, she was so effected she could not look at him. She was wasting her blushes she would be shoved into Rogg's incapable hands.

 


 

Vers charged into the hallway, her eyes scanning to try and pick the best route. Either one she chose had the same likelihood of success. Her mind raced with a dozen thoughts.

 

Zai-Al was a double agent. His blood half Kree and half Skrull. Ish-Al was his father and he shared blood with one of Starforce. She ached to know if it was her. Had Ish-Al known? Had he known some blood of his was in the tiny settlement of Semit?

 

She did not care if it was his treason that had got Zai-Al killed, Vers believed justice was not served by one man to another. Justice was an organ of society, connected to and fed by a larger organism. If Ish-Al suspected who had killed his son she would ask him to his face. Then she would arrest him for treason and allow his crimes to be punished by the courts. She would also bring justice to his family for Zai-Al's death. It did not have to flow all one way and she would not abandon the chance to find him by running from whatever corruption Yon feared waited for her here.

 

Yon-Rogg emerged behind her, his hands found her waist and picked a direction for her.

 

"We will make one turn of the Grand Hall then I am calling the Hellion and we are leaving." He whispered in her ear.

 

"If their attack is successful-"

 

"This is the most highly guarded planet in the galaxy. Every jump point is guild run. There is no easy escape and no easy blows can be struck. This is beyond us now, Vers"

 

They walked quickly side by side their steps in sync but their plans hopelessly at odds. As they turned the last corner that led to the Grand Hall their path was blocked by a party of people.

 

"Stay calm they can't know," Yon-Rogg said through his teeth as he felt Vers stiffen next to them.

 

"Brother R-R-Rogg," Woh-Lar greeted him. Lai-Rah was wrapped around his arm and the man looked vaguely stunned at the situation.

 

"Woh-Lar," Yon-Rogg inclined his head. He was viscerally aware of the mountain of a man who was behind this couple.

 

"Rogg, you will join us," Ronan spoke from behind an iron toothed mask. Yon-Rogg was desperately trying to restrategize. Ronan had Woh-Lar and Lai-Rah in his clutches. The keys to destroying Feroimum and Vers, he found when confronted with destruction he could not bear to lose either. Vers was still hard beside him, her eyes no doubt falling on Lai-Rah.

 

"An honour," Yon-Rogg answered and he pulled Vers to the side so they could follow them. He could feel her begin to protest but he pressed his mouth behind her ear and growled. "For the love of the old gods trust me."

 

She bit her lip and nodded though she did not understand how this was meant to help.

 

Agg-Dah had told her grace and beauty could be wielded like a sword but as Vers watched the broad back of Ronan in front of them she thought she was sorrowfully underequipped with either. She was better with a real sword. Or she suspected she might be given the opportunity. Her hand slipped between the folds of her dress and she stroked the cold pearl handle that lay across her thigh. A small comfort should any hands but Yon's find their way to her.

 

Ronan led them to an isolated room. It was paneled all in dark woods, the smell of lemon oil and age hung heavy in the air. It was bare except for a banquet to the side laden with food and a mass of couches and pillows sunken in the centre.

 

"A w-well app-pointed room," Woh-Lar observed his hands clasping nervously at a silver bird beak that must have been his mask. Ronan removed his own mask and lay it on the banquet table. His hand came up to rub his jaw. He was no less intimidating without the skull creeping up his face.

 

"I have been planning this sanctuary. I am glad our host was able to accommodate my desires."

 

Vers glanced at Yon whose face was settled again behind his politely bored mask. She wished she could be like him and conceal easily everything. He guided her to the sofa and settled her on it. His hands made quick work of the buttons crossing his body, he undid them with greater ease than her fumbling feverish fingers had managed. Once they were loose he knelt in front of her, picked up her hand and kissed her fingers before pressing her palm beneath the wool to the heat of him. It would have looked to all those in the room that he had pressed her hand to his heart but in truth he guided her to the cold butt of his pistol. He was armed. They would leave here by force if they had to. She smiled at him as he released her hand. She caught his finger and tugged his hand to her thigh. He could feel through the gauzy layers the hilt of the knife. It was a second of caress, a deadly agreement between partners.

 

Woh-Lar had settled across from them and was blinking at them as if he was learning some trick. The red headed woman had scampered back to his side as Lai-Rah joined Ronan at the banquet. It seemed they would play host to this farce.

 

Yon-Rogg was trying to form a plan. He had to accept there was no way he could remove Woh-Lar and Lai-Rah. He would have to pick one. Feroimum or Vers. It was not a difficult choice. His plan if necessary would be to lead Lai-Rah away at blaster point. They would go to Hala. He glanced at Vers settled on the sofa, her finger nervously tracing her implant.

 

She had at her throat a small fortune of diamonds. Enough for Lai-Rah to start over in comfort. He knew she could be bought, he only had to get close enough to her to make an offer.

 

Ronan walked closer a flute of liquid silver in his hand. He stepped down into the smooth depression in the marble.

 

"We are all clustered as we began," Lai-Rah purred from behind him. He turned to look at her, the step made them almost the same height. She carried two flutes of her own. She ducked her head and caught his mouth with hers. She kissed him like someone who had found fruit in the desert, sucking at his lip before running her tongue over the wetness she had left. She pulled away from him and he felt rage bubble in him as he met her wicked violet eyes. "How boring."

 

She stepped lightly into the circle of couches and passed a glass to Woh-Lar who looked close to panic. The other she passed to Ay-Lah whose eyes were narrowed.

 

"Ay-Lah bring this to the Commander will you?"

 

The woman schooled her face into a pleasant look and took the glass to Yon-Rogg who was forced to move from his partner's side to take it. Ronan licked his lips with the same relish one might bring to tasting bitter root. He could not deny Lai-Rah manipulated a room like a master as she slid beside Woh-Lar and took a sip from his glass. Ronan moved to intercept Yon-Rogg before he could return, seating himself beside his woman.

 

Ronan had been watching her expressive face, hoping for any glimmer of recognition when she saw Lai-Rah. If she held the traitor Zai-Al inside her then dangling his lost love in front of him was a sure way to lure him out. Her eyes stayed on Rogg.

 

"Coming from Pal-Mar this must be overwhelming for you," Ronan murmured lowly to her. Forcing her to look at him. Her eyes had such fire he looked forward to seducing her more than he anticipated.

 

"Are all of you f-from Pal-Mar?" Woh-Lar asked he looked surprised at Lai-Rah. "D-did you travel together?"

 

"No, we have met friends by chance," Yon-Rogg answered his tone light and conversational. He remained standing as did the red head, Ay-Lah. Both seemed on edge as their trysts were disrupted.

 

"We came to see Yon's parents," Vers supplied, her eyes caught his, in this strange charged atmosphere she longed for his claim and protection.

 

"And are they w-welll?" Woh-Lar asked. The conversation was already coming off the rails with banalities that had been bred into the bones of the sons of wealth.

 

"Very," Yon-Rogg inclined his head. He opened his mouth to return the question but he was stopped short by Ronan taking Vers' feet and tucking them across his lap.

 

"Lets not speak of other places when there are pleasures here that cannot be had anywhere else in the galaxy." Ronan's hand wrapped around her ankles as he spoke to her. Vers tore her eyes from Yon-Rogg, she had been holding his gaze willing his grip to loosen on the delicate flute. Ronan offered her the glass in his hand. "Fornaxian brandy. It is said to be fermented in the heat from a dying star. It is incredibly potent. Made to awaken the senses."

 

When she did not immediately take the glass he slid further beneath her legs and put the cold silver to her lips. It moved like liquid metal and she was fascinated by it as the smell of burning ozone and honey rose from the glass. She took the glass so he could not just tip the contents down her throat. She wet her lips with the glittering liquid and licked it from them. From just those drops she could feel the warmth spreading across her lips. Making them soft and pliant. Ronan's hand brushed her jaw and he made a low rumbling sound like thunder in his chest.

 

There was a cracking sound and a low curse. Yon-Rogg had snapped the stem of the flute between his fingers. Vers pressed the glass back into Ronan's hands and sprung from the couch. Blue blood dripped from between Yon's fingers. Ay-Lah looked disgusted as he tried to juggle the shattered stem and baseless glass with his slippery fingers. The smell of his blood was hot in the back of Vers' throat. She did not know why but it caused a clenching down to her core. Her heart raced as she watched it slide across his palms like sapphire.

 

She reached him in two long strides.

 

"Careful Vers," Yon-Rogg murmured trying to keep his bleeding hand away from her as she took the broken stem from him and passed it to a disgusted looking Ay-Lah who sat down in shock at the blood.

 

"You're the one who is bleeding," she whispered back as she reached into his inner pocket and removed a hankerchief. She turned his hand so she could see the cut. It was not at bad as the blood made it seem.

 

"You are too tightly wound, Commander," Lai-Rah laughed at him. Woh-Lar looked at him slightly stunned. Yon-Rogg could see Lai-Rah had succeeded in unbuttoning most of his buttons.

 

"Academy r-rules, Brother. You break the glass you must drink it in one go."

 

Yon-Rogg grunted and looked around the room his eyes finally settling on Vers' bent head. She brought his cut finger to her mouth and sucked. He hissed and hid his reaction by drinking back the thick mouthful of silver. It burned all the way down and heated his blood. He could not be sure if it was the liquour or Vers' clever tongue pulling the smallest shard of glass from his skin that made his knees buckle. She wrapped his hand in his hankerchief and stepped away from him. He sank easily onto the couch behind him trying to negotiate with his static-y limbs that now was not the time to be weak.

 

"B-bravo Yon-Rogg" Woh-Lar cried out giddily, the drink creeping to his head.

 

"Sorry to steal your thunder, Lai-Rah but I don't think he will need stitches," Vers smiled at her.

 

Ronan stood and took her arm again.

 

"Nothing I admire more than a useful woman," he said. "They should be appreciated fully."

 

Yon-Rogg wanted to stand but his movements were sluggish.

 

Ronan reached for his comm and stroked a finger across it. The lights dimmed so only the glasses of Fornaxian brandy were like lights in the darkness. Even Yon-Rogg's throat above the collar of his uniform had a soft silver light where the liquor had coated his insides.

 

Vers disappeared from Yon-Rogg's view, but he could see the glimmer of her implant reflecting in the diamonds at her throat.

 

Yon-Rogg tried to stand but he could not. His hands met the naked knee of the red headed woman as he tried to push himself upright. She tensed beneath his hand. He should explain that he hadn't meant anything by it.

 

Hands were gripping Vers' shoulders, heavy large hands. Thumbs caressed her beneath the cold line of her diamond collar and brushed under the straps of her dress. She breathed through it. She had to move slowly for her knife and then she could escape silently through the dark.

 

"I don't think this is my kind of party," she said, feeling hot breath closer to her.

 

"Tell me then do we know each other? I caught your interest when last we met," Ronan's voice echoed in all her body's chambers. She could hear around them shifting bodies and whispers. She thought she might kill Ay-Lah if her hands were anywhere near Yon.

 

Talos felt the hand on his knee and he thought if his skin could light on fire with rage it would. The murdering bastard began to mutter something but Talos stopped his words by bringing the broken stem to his soft throat.

 

"Do not breathe Kree or I will stop your lungs." He growled low in his ear in the woman's high voice. He felt him stiffen and Talos reveled in the momentary victory. He would have to come for Woh-Lar another time. Now only escape was sensible.

 

"Who are you?" He muttered around lax lips as Talos made to slip from his side in the darkness. His hand reached out for him in and caught his dress. Talos' swiped with the glass and caught him shallowly on the arm so he hissed in surprise.

 

At that moment a spectre emerged from the centre of the floor, the hooded shape of an Accuser cast a dull blue light.

 

Ronan stepped back from Vers to greet the messenger.

 

"Is it time?" He asked, his eyes glowed.

 

"Yes," the Accuser bowed and the image changed to a city at night. Swirls of lights floated in the still air as everyone's eyes were held by the screen.

 

Talos had paused like a fly caught by a flame.

 

"Ronan, you can't expect us to watch this," Yon-Rogg had found his tongue. The strange words of the woman forgotten as Ronan's plan began to play before them. "Xandar Prime are at peace with us. You risk too much."

 

"A new peace is meaningless after one thousand years of war. I do not attack them. I attack the disease they harbour behind their ivory walls."

 

Talos' heart was frozen. The lights of the city exploded in massive bursts of fire. The hot blue white flame of magnesite bombs. What was not burnt away by the heat would be choked by the noxious smoke. The Elder Council. The last bastion of his people was being attacked and Talos was trapped in the room with the warmongers. He felt something in him shatter.

 

He turned to run from the room, run for his ship. They would follow him if he ran, he realized he needed a distraction. His eyes moved over the dark shadows sick with disgust and desperate for escape. He saw the glowing brandy had made Woh-Lar's throat glitter. It would not be a thorough revenge but he could extinguish one light.

 

A cry tore through the room. Vers who had been frozen in shock seeing death reign down was moved back into action. There was a wet, startled sucking in of breath and the sound of running feet.

 

"What is happening?" Ronan demanded. His victory disrupted. He had wanted to mate Rogg's woman beneath the light of Xandar and the Skrull infestation burning. Instead chaos had erupted.

 

He brought up the lights as a red headed form disappeared through the heavy doors. Lai-Rah was pulling away in shock as blue blood burbled around the stem of a wine glass impaled through Woh-Lar's throat.

Chapter Text

There was barely a half second of in action before Lai-Rah sprung forward. She was shocked at first, her mind not fully wrapping around the protrusion of silvered glass sticking from Woh-Lar's neck, the round base like a satellite. The gurgling of his throat brought her back. It had to be a neck wound.

 

"We need a medkit, now" she cried out. She needed more than a medkit she needed a miracle and an entire surgery set up. By some grace his big round eyes were closed. She didn't think she could have tolerated having them watch her struggle to save him.

 

"The woman," Ronan said his voice terse with shock. He was an immovable rock in every crisis. He was inaction. He was the source of the command but never the match that struck the fuse. It was something she could never make peace with about him. The power and the control. It had bound around her tighter and tighter as their marriage loomed on the horizon.

 

She ripped into Woh-Lar's jacket, finding stuffed inside a pocket delicate silk hankerchiefs. Their slick fibres would do nothing to soak up the blood that would skim across their surface. She pressed the wadded tissue against the place the broken shard went in his neck. His blood was blue as an ocean but hot against her hands.

 

Around her movement had stilled then exploded. Yon-Rogg and his pet had shared a panicked look before leaping into action running for the doorway. Leaving her alone with the mountain of molten heat behind her that was shaped like a man but moved like an ancient beast. She could feel him, even as she poured all her focus into the soft yielding flesh of Woh-Lar.

 

"The key to your freedom is bleeding out," he observed behind her. The attack on Xandar still played behind them, a sliver of chaos hanging in the room like a star. She wondered if he looked at her or looked at the image.

 

"If you don't get me a medkit it will be your fault," she said. Some forgotten soft part of her hoped Woh-Lar couldn't hear them. That he was far away now. Returning cleansed by the waters of Khun Zan Uil to his ancestors. Unsullied except by her leading sighs and wandering hands. She needed him to live but there was already too much blood.

 

"I will be disappointed in you if he dies," Ronan said before leaving the room. His heavy steps muffled by the closing door. Lai-Rah swallowed her panic. She could do this.

 

She had opened the shell of Zai-Al's suit and scraped him out like an oyster. She had incinerated his body and delayed in alerting Hala. Resigning the man who had loved her to an unmarked death so the secret of his life could not be used against the House of Ronan. She had used him though to batter at the door of the Rogg clan and beg sanctuary. When she had failed there were more tricks. She had used Minn-Erva's trust to claim more glory for the Accusers. She had traded and bartered every last piece of her integrity to buy back her place here. She had fought back wracking sobs and hardened herself to return. She could perform one last miracle.

 


 

Vers' feet wanted to slip on the marble floors. She skidded out the door and paused to look either way down the hall. What way had she run? Yon-Rogg was behind her. He reached with his bloodied hand for her wrist. He meant to pull her back to the Grand Hall.

 

"I am calling the Hellion, we are leaving."

 

"No," she pulled away from him. "We have to find her."

 

"We have no jurisdiction here. We should leave before-"

 

"Call the Hellion. Give me until then to find her," Vers bargained already gathering up her skirts to chase.

 

"Vers, if you are not careful-" he began to beg her but she already was taking off at a run deeper into the Embassy. Yon-Rogg hated splitting up but he needed to escape this stone mausoleum if he was going to get a signal to reach his ship. He ran the opposite way, his eyes scanning for a flash of red. It was only as he brought his wrist level to search for a signal did he see clasped in his fist was a shard of crystal hanging from a broken string. He had thought his hand had caught her dress. He had barely given a thought to the scrap hanging in his hand as Woh-Lar had gurgled and Vers had run into danger. Now it seemed he had stolen a key.

 


 

She had chosen this path mostly because it was the one Yon was not taking. She felt like she had been turned inside out by the last few hours. She needed action, she needed to run, she needed to find the woman. She needed to know how it all connected. What it meant.

 

It seemed hopeless as she turned a corner down another marble hallway, painted gold by the low lights. So warm and decadent but hidden behind each door could be a murderer. And beyond any door there was escape. She remembered the tall stranger who slipped from a window.

 

She realized how foolish it was to pursue her through the Embassy. She would have a ship. It would be hidden out on the lawn.

 

Vers threw open the nearest door, not caring what she would find behind it. A tangle of sweating limbs or a murderer. Beyond the doors was moonlit silence. A last piece of calm for her to transverse before she slipped through the window and the chase began anew.

 

The slab beneath the window stung her feet as she landed on it and she knew the gauzy fabric of her dress was slowly being dragged to tatters. She could not see well in the dark with the lace of her mask so she pulled it from her face and dropped it at her feet. The last layer of the night removed. The final give before she left the world of Khurdan Tulaan entirely and it was as if the night came alive around her. The grass fuzzy and distant before sprung to life before her starved eyes into a billion separate dewy blades. The moon that had been soft now rendered the night in sharp relief. She could search like this.

 

She walked around the outside of the Embassy, her feet catching small stones on the pavement and her ears desperately trying to sort out the sounds of the night from the sounds that drifted from the windows. As she rounded back around the building, moonlight glinted off the thick blue hued panes of an open window. Her heart pumped thick blood like syrup. It ached. She looked across the lawn and saw a moving figure. Vers had wanted to see her so badly she was half convinced she was a figment of her imagination.

 

She ran for the baulstrade and vaulted into the grass. Her feet immediately wet with the touch of it. It whispered over her ankles as she ran, but the woman had too long a head start. Vers pushed speed, grateful her body was not hampered by the vices she had cooked it in for the last year.

 

The night was lit by the dropping of a gangplank, the open jaws of a cloaked ship revealing itself along the treeline. She was so close but so far and the woman would reach the ship first.

 

Above her the lighted underbelly of the Hellion tore through the air. Time was up.

 

"No," she shouted. She wanted the woman to pause. To fumble. On the gangplank she saw feet appear. Long legs clad in tuxedo trousers. Vers did not think. She stopped and her hand pulled the knife from her thigh. It was as thin as a stylus but better weighted. If there was one this she could do it was hit a mark with a stylus. She hurled it deadly into the night. As the woman's foot touched metal the silver white blade sunk to the hilt in her shoulder.

 

The woman fell like she had been deflated. The Stranger rushed down the ramp to her, ready to drag her body up. The woman shuddered as he wrapped his hands beneath her shoulders. She rolled so she was on her back and her body shook. Vers closed the distance between them, igniting her fists.

 

"Don't move," she growled, stepping her foot between the woman's legs as she reached the gangplank. The woman panted looking at Vers with betrayal in her eyes.

 

"What happened to Justice, Little Miss Starforce?" She bit out, her voice dropping to a deep baritone as her body tensed and she morphed before Vers' eyes into a Skrull man in a tight fitting armoured suit. Her knife had found a seam and pierced where he was weak.

 

"You," she growled. "What happened to truth?"

 

He had the gall to laugh at her as Mr. Fox propped up his body.

 

"What would a Kree know of truth?" He hissed through his pain. "Will you kill me? I was your only friend."

 

Vers bared her teeth at him, rage filling her and igniting her skin.

 

"You lied to me," she grit out wanting to burn the mocking from his eyes.

 

"This is war," he roared at her before coughing as more blood leaked around the knife. Mr. Fox was holding him tight, as the Skrull's breathing evened Vers wondered if he was pulling away his pain. "We all lie. And yet I always end up caring for you."

 

"For who?"

 

"You hybrids, you abominations that your corrupt military creates and then leaves to suffer. Do you think you were born, girl? That you have a father and mother who miss you? You are tissue from a lab. And they burned that power into you."

 

"Zai-Al was Ish-Al's son. Your son," she insisted.

 

"Ish-Al took his name from his son. I named myself for the family he was to me. The family I had left after the Kree took everything from us. Your Commander killed my friends and has hidden my wife and daughter."

 

"No!" Vers would not accept it. Yon-Rogg was a peacekeeper. A man of intergrity. And the man in front of her had lied to her from his first word. He was their enemy.

 

"I raised Zai-Al to be a better man than the Kree could imagine. My people took care of Talia-Rath. Made her a healer instead of a weapon. What have the Kree done but chopped up your mind and buried you in the desert?"

 

"Zai-Al died a traitor and I would still find the one that killed him. The Kree will never forgive injustice" Vers grunted. Her body glowed and her words were dipped in poison. The Skrull had the nerve to laugh at her.

 

"Vers where are you?" Yon-Rogg called over the comm.

 

"I have the perpetrator. We are on the far side you can see our lights." she answered him her eyes holding Ish-Al's willing him to feel her hurt and anger. He only grimaced at her.

 

"Vers, do not engage. Wait for me." She could hear Yon-Rogg begin to run.

 

"Too late," she answered before pulling the comm out of her ear. She wanted no more distractions.

 

"I won't be taken in by that Bastard," Talos wrapped his good arm around the Titan's shoulder. He had made the pain ebb to nothing but he was still so weak.

 

"I know why Zai-Al was coming to you," the Titan whispered to him. The Starforce girl strained to hear, her unnatural glow casting light on them both. "The Accusers have discovered Magnesite on Terius. Enough to-"

 

"Xandar has already fallen. We must go." Talos cut him short. He felt his failure down to his bones. Their largest gathering of Elders wiped out in an instant. They were scattered now. With no one to unite them. Except for Talos.

 

Vers could not believe they were ignoring her. She had them pinned and they had turned from her as if she was no more than a moth.

 

"Oh never mind me. Pretend like I am not even here," she fired a bolt next to them. Leaving a smoking hole in the metal. "It's not like you are in the middle of being detained."

 

The Skrull glanced down at the hole in his ship. He felt his rage boil. No one touched his ship. His last sanctuary before Soren had been lost. He growled struggling to stand.

 

"You watch those fists, girly. I have slaughtered men for less."

 

"Murderer." Vers flung the word at him.

 

Talos grunted. There was the sound of someone running through the grass.

 

"You are not wrong," Talos muttered. He reached into the Titan's coat and pulled out a blaster. He fired and the girl curled in, her arms raised as if she could deflect a bolt. It whizzed passed her with a flare of green light. She looked up at him confused how he could have missed before she looked over her shoulder to see the silhouette her commander sink to his knees.

 

"Yon," she cried out. "You bastard."

 

"You want the truth, girl. Have the stones to look for it." The Skrull tossed a drive to her that she caught with fumbling fingers. She turned from him and ran to where Yon-Rogg had fallen. Behind her she could feel the rumble of the ship escaping.

 


 

Woh-Lar was dead. Lai-Rah tried to breathe through the panic. Woh-Lar was dead and she was alone on Feroimum with Ronan. This had not been the plan. Her hands were stained darker blue with his drying blood. She stumbled into the hall knowing there was blue down her silk dress. She had to find an escape.

 

She walked as if in a dream onto the starlit balcony. Ronan hung like a spectre over the Embassy. A dark figure that she didn't know when he would appear to claim her.

 

In her fog she collided with a warm tangle of limbs. There was a groan and a near fall. She began to smile, to apologize when she saw it was not a pair of lovers wrapped around one another but two bodies one braced on the other. She saw golden hair.

 

"Lai-Rah, you're coming with us."

Chapter Text

It was easier to move Yon with Lai-Rah taking his other side. He groaned as she ducked beneath his shoulder and they shifted his weight onto his two feet again. He was bleeding into Vers' side. It was soaking into the wool of his coat from the wound beneath his ribs. They made their way to the ship, as they approached the belly of the Hellion opened and swallowed them whole.

 

They lowered Yon against the galley cabinets and Lai-Rah began shucking his ruined uniform from him. With a groan and echoing clunk the ship sealed around them.

 

"What happened?" Lai-Rah asked as she opened the buttons of his shirt. Vers was pulling apart a panel gathering up the medkit.

 

"He got shot," she answered bringing armloads of supplies.

 

"Obviously," Lai-Rah cracked a bottle of sterilizer as Vers cushioned Yon-Rogg's head with his rolled up jacket. He was barely awake as the blood seeped out of him. "Who shot him?"

 

"That's classified." She left Lai-Rah on the floor, forcing herself away from Yon. It felt like her blood that was seeping through his shirt. She needed action. She went to the console and plugged in the drive Ish-Al had given her. It was only manifests from the guild jumps around Pal-Mar. She could have smashed her fist through the dash. What was this supposed to mean?

 

Lai-Rah grunted in frustration pouring the burning sanitizer over her hands before soaking a rag in it and pressing it to the seeping wound on Yon-Rogg's side. He hissed, his body jolting with the sting.

 

"We need to get him to a medcentre," the wound wasn't deep. Whoever had shot him had only clipped him. Either poor aim or an excellent shot using their nondominant hand. Either way moving him had caused more damage than the bolt.

 

"We have to go to Hala," Vers said strapping herself into the pilot's chair. She tried to coax her hands into remembering what Yon had done. Something deep in her memory whispered to her but it was senseless in the dark panic that was seeping into her.

 

"What?" Lai-Rah looked up from the crumpled Commander in shock.

 

"His last Command was we go to Hala. So we are going to Hala," she did not turn to look at them, she was numb her hands moving through commands of their own accord.

 

"He needs a medic."

 

"You are a medic."

 

"He needs a medic with more than a medkit and some sterilizer."

 

The Hellion beneath them began to rumble to life. Vers turned in the pilot's chair.

 

"We were just shot by Skrull spies on the lawn of the Feroimum Embassy, the Accusers have attacked Xandar and violated a generation of peace and Yon-Rogg's family owns half this planet. If we got to a medcentre here we don't leave. If war breaks out we don't leave. Where do you want to be stranded here or Hala?"

 

Lai-Rah let her words sink in. The idea of being trapped where Ronan could find her filled her with dread. More dread than she felt for Yon-Rogg's life.

 

"We can make the jump and be in Hala in eight hours. All I can do is stabilize him."

 

Vers nodded, "do what you can."

 

She felt in her gut they couldn't stay here. As she had reached Yon's collapsed body in the grass he had rasped into her ear. Told her they had to leave. They had to go to Hala. They couldn't stop until they reached Hala. She believed him. She trusted him. She prayed to the old gods he swore to that she was making the right choice. She searched through the central command program trying to figure out how to get the bird into the sky.

 

Why hadn't Yon taught her to fly?

 

"Do you know what you are doing?" Lai-Rah called out as she shifted Yon-Rogg to the floor. His body was rigid with pain.

 

"Sort of," Vers answered, flicking through the logs.

 

"That's a yes or no question."

 

She found the preprogrammed course to Hala. Relief flooded her.

 

"Yes, I do."

 

She initiated the sequence and she felt the weightless feeling in her gut of the ship taking off.

 

The program was old. Made before they rerouted. It would fly them to the jump point they had been approaching when they changed course.

 

Lai-Rah braced her body against the cupboards as the ship rose in the air. One hand gripped a handle and the other gripped Yon-Rogg's undamaged shoulder to try and stop his slipping.

 

They levelled out quickly once the broke the atmosphere.

 

"Why aren't we jumping?" Lai-Rah called over the rattling of the ship.

 

"Bad news about that. Our next jump isn't for another six hours," Vers called over her shoulder, body braced against the force of them breaking the atmosphere, hands trying to coax the ship to do what she wanted.

 

Yon-Rogg groaned his eyes rolling slightly back. There was blood soaking everywhere.

 

As soon as she could Vers unstrapped and returned to Yon's side. Lai-Rah was curled over him her body shaking with the effort of holding pressure on another wound, of having more blood soak into the purple of her dress until it turned black.

 

"What can I do?" Vers asked breathless. Her fear was trapping the air beyond her lungs. Yon looked so pale.

 

"Hold this," Lai-Rah said nodding to the compress. "I am going to stitch his side and then you are going to give him a blood transfusion."

 

"Me?" Vers' eyebrows shot up. It seemed too intimate to fanthom her blood pumping through Yon-Rogg's veins. Her hands covered Lai-Rah's and she let go. She stretched her shoulders weak from the effort.

 

"I can't do it. I am the medic." Lai-Rah's voice dripped with condescension. "Besides at least I know you are compatible."

 

"How?" Vers worried her lip as she wondered how his wound could be so hot when his skin was so cold.

 

"Who do you think saved you when you came to Pal-Mar?" Lai-Rah was sorting through the tangle of med supplies that had spilled across the floor during take off. Gathering together everything she would need.

 

Vers was shocked. She looked at Yon-Rogg's face as he clenched in pain. He was far away from them now but she would give anything to see his eyes again. The eyes that had haunted her in the Pal-Mar med centre. Eyes that she didn't understand how they looked so deeply into her.

 

The transfusion was easier than it sounded. Lai-Rah had pierced her skin and her blood had wound its way down the clear plastic tube, filling the transparent sack. She felt a cold sweat raise on her skin. Her head thunked back against the panelled wall as she sat on the floor of the Hellion, her legs splayed in the tattered dress and her hands curled in her lap.

 

To think it had only been a handful of hours since she naively hoped Yon would dance with her. Now Lai-Rah was stitching him closed. When she finished she came to Vers and unhooked the tube from her arm.

 

"How are you feeling?" Her voice distantly professional.

 

"Don't I get a cookie?" She murmured with her tight voice. The world had begun to feel very far away around the time the bag was half full.

 

"Cookies are for pilots who don't strand us to fly through space for six hours while their Commander bleeds out."

 

"How is he?" Vers asked closing her eyes against the spinning feeling.

 

"We will move him into a sleeping chamber as we do the transfusion. The oxygen content is purer in there."

 

Vers nodded sleepily, vaguely understanding that would mean she had to move soon.

 


 

Vers sat with her legs over the arm of the pilot's chair. They would be reaching the jump point imminently. She crunched a vitamin wafer in one hand and tapped the crystal shard on the console with the other. She had found it in the pocket of Yon's uniform. She didn't know where he had gotten it. She was scanning through months of manifests wondering why Ish-Al had given it to her.

 

Lai-Rah emerged from the shower. Her long hair was damp and twisted in a knot on her head. Vers had given her her training gear to wear. The blood on her own dress itched her but it was nothing compared to what had spattered Lai-Rah.

 

"So I guess you are going back to Hala," Vers said around a mouthful of wafer.

 

"Not exactly how I pictured it."

 

Lai-Rah sat in the co-pilot's chair and looked at the scrolling lists.

 

"What is all this?"

 

"No clue. Probably just another distraction."

 

"Are you still looking for his killer? After everything?"

 

"Justice. It's this thing I can't let go of," Vers smirked at her. She could never quite figure out Lai-Rah's coldness. Her ability to compartmentalize.

 

"He wasn't anyone." Lai-Rah looked down at her hands watching the crystal tap against the metal of the console.

 

"He wore our uniform. He had a father. He died on Pal-Mar. More than enough reason to care someone killed him."

 

Lai-Rah reached into her pocket and slid something dark across the console. Vers sat up her eyes locked on it.

 

"Where did you get this?"

 

"It was in the sand where he died. I don't know if it will help." Lai-Rah shrugged.

 

Vers wrapped her hand around it.

 

"I will take all the help I can get."

 

They were silent for awhile. Both exhausted. Both feeling alone despite sitting next to each other with the expanse of space opening to an incomprehensible number of inhabited planets beyond the shield.

 

Lai-Rah glanced to the sleeping chamber they had sealed Yon into.

 

"Do you love him?" Her voice was cold and dismissive on the surface, but buried beneath Vers wanted to believe there was an ache she couldn't understand. A sadness that came from a journey Vers couldn't imagine.

 

She didn't know how to answer her. She didn't know if her damaged brain remembered what it was like to love without dependence.

 

"We share something I can't explain," Vers shrugged. The answer to that question was something she owed Yon-Rogg first. "He has been a total pain in the ass this whole case."

 

Lai-Rah laughed. A surprised harsh laugh that caught them both offguard.

 

"I will tell him that when he wakes up."

 

"He knows."

 

"Did he really never tell you he gave you his blood?" Lai-Rah's eyes searched Vers' face.

 

"It didn't come up." Vers had turned back to the manifests. They would be at the jump point soon. Lai-Rah nodded.

 

"When we hit the jump enter us as a medical ship. I will give my id number. I don't want us getting flagged by the Trafficker Protocol. We have no time to lose."

 

Vers nodded, opening the hail through the Guild channel. It was quick. Seamless. They would jump no problem.

 

Except.

 

Like the tumblers of a lock a thought fell into place. The Guild jump. The ship that had come in too hot.

 

What if that hadn't been the plan. He had tried to jump but something had gone wrong. Vers began to move through the Guild files. Looking for denied entries. He would be routing from Terius. There was one flagged from the date he fell. Vers saw the crystalline fracture of the jump point open in front of her as the recording started. The blue lasers of the life scan shimmering on the nose of the Hellion.

 

"This is Starforce vehicle Valkeryie why am I being detained?"

 

Lai-Rah froze as what could only be Zai-Al's voice played across the cabin. The blue laser reached them moving silently as Vers heard Zai-Al speak.

 

"What is that?" Lai-Rah asked sounding as if she wanted to choke or faint.

 

"There is an error in your manifests. Lifescans show 2 on board. Please wai-" The Guild computer answered him and in the same moment the Hellion shuddered as the Jump point froze around them. Vers was on her feet as an ominous creaking echoed.

 

She stopped the recording and strained her ears. Both Lai-Rah and Vers jumped as the comm opened.

 

"Jump access denied. Invalid manifest."

 

Vers opened the link.

 

"We are a medical cruiser. We have a patient bound for Hala."

 

"Lifescans show four on board. Please resubmit your manifest." The channel closed and Vers felt cold panic seize her.

 

Behind them a grate began to creak.

 

They turned to see a panel in the floor slide. The small cargo bay beneath the ship was revealed as a heavy blue figure pulled themselves from the floor.

 

"Ronan" Vers breathed. She couldn't believe her eyes. Lai-Rah looked gutted, her blue face pale and her hands clenched into fists. "Why are you hiding in the cargo bay?"

 

"You call it 'hiding' I call it patience. You have commandeered a Starforce vessel and kidnapped a high ranking officer. I am interceding until an Accuser transport can meet us." His voice was calm. Deep as an ocean and as incredibly persuasive as a riptide.

 

Vers set her shoulders.

 

"We have done no such thing. I am taking the Commander to Hala for medical care."

 

"If that was your intention you would have stayed on Feroimum. You have stolen this ship."

 

"I have not. I am a member of Starforce-"

 

"Then what is your serial number?"

 

Vers' mouth moved like a fish. She didn't have one but she was a member of Starforce, wasn't she?

 

"I saw you let the murderer go. I watched you abandon your post. And you," Ronan turned to Lai-Rah. " You let the son of a noble house die. You are clearly aligned with the Skrulls."

 

Vers felt anger ripple through her. They needed to get to Hala.

 

"You know that is a lie," Vers grit through her teeth.

 

"It is the truth if I say it is. The Accusers will be here soon."

 

Vers' mind raced. They just had to subdue him and then they could re-enter the jump and out run the Accusers.

 

"Fine. I kidnapped Lai-Rah and the Commander. She is innocent. Let her travel with the Commander to Hala and seek help."

 

He laughed at her. A dry humourless sound. He advanced slowly on her. Her neck craned back to keep him in view.

 

"You expect me to believe she is innocent when I threw her lover from a cargo hold for betraying us to the Skrulls."

 

"You. You killed Zai-Al" Lai-Rah hissed at him.

 

"He spoke of you before he died," Ronan cocked his head at her as he looked at her. As if he couldn't fathom her value beyond the bearer of blue blooded children. As if Zai-Al had died a fool. "You and the Skrulls he pitied. He was weak until the end."

 

Vers lit her fists. Ready to fight him but a yell tore from Lai-Rah's throat and she charged at him. Blind senseless rage gripping her. She felt nothing but the desire to destroy him. He knocked her aside as if she weighed nothing. Her body hit the wall with a crack.

 

"You bastard," Vers brought her fists up, her feet falling into the stance Yon-Rogg had shown her.

 

"And you. What Skrull deception is this?" He asked looking at her.

 

"The Supremor gave me this power," she growled at him. She wished she could do more with the heat under her skin. She wished she could burn him away.

 

"Another lie. Did Rogg tell you that?" He stalked closer to her as if the fire below her skin drew him in. As if he feared nothing. "Every Accuser would be fit with it if that were true. Tell me, girl, who are you really?"

 

She didn't know. She couldn't answer him even if she wanted to but with the Accusers closing in and Yon barely clinging to life in the chamber she only wanted to burn him to ash. She hurled herself at him. Bolts of light pulsed from her hands but with shocking speed for his size he dodged them and his fist met her sternum.

 

The impact lifted her off her feet and hurled her into the console. Electricity sparked around her. She felt it enter her. Her body absorbed it as if it was nothing. Above her the screen crackled. Small fractures threatening its integrity. She rolled off the console her body hitting the ground hard. She pulled herself up on all fours choking and coughing against the pain. She made to charge again, pushed herself up to her feet.

 

But a blue body blocked her. Slim and with one arm wrapped around her side. The other one held Yon's pistol.

 

"Move Lai-Rah," Vers commanded. Her body aching to strike again.

 

"No. We can't make the jump now. Our shield is damaged."

 

Ronan laughed looking at them. They were like two cornered mice.

 

"Be good until my ship comes." His eyes burned into Lai-Rah. She kept the pistol even with his chest. She leaned her head back to speak to Vers.

 

"The chamber is also an escape pod. It will send you to your programmed destination and send out a signal after one hour. The jump has to let you through if you are fleeing. Protocol"

 

"What?" Vers asked. Her mind spinning. Lai-Rah wanted to run?

 

"What?" Ronan barked his voice shocked as Lai-Rah didn't waver.

 

"On three," she said. Vers opened her mouth to argue. Lai-Rah put steel in her voice "one... Two... Three"

 

On three she fired the pistol into Ronan's chest and he staggered backwards. Vers ran for the chamber. It would be unbearable with three inside but they had to escape.

 

Ronan groaned and began to struggle to his feet. Vers slid as carefully as she could on top of Yon-Rogg who groaned at her weight. She looked through the narrow door as Lai-Rah ran to them.

 

"Hurry up," she said as Lai-Rah reached the chamber.

 

"Take good care of the Commander," she said as she sealed the door behind them. Vers pounded on it. She wouldn't leave her. Except buttons were already singing on the outside of the chamber. She felt the pressure change and then the feeling of falling.

Chapter Text

Yon-Rogg woke from a fog with Vers nestled beside him. His side stung but his body was languid and calm with her pressed so close. He felt her more clearly than he ever had before. He thought he could feel her blood moving through her veins and the tiny valves in her heart open and close. It was new, this clarity. If it was demanded of him he thought he could catalogue every nerve and synapse. That he could create her from the clay of Hala like the old gods had done at the beginning of creation.

 

He shook his head trying to clear away the overwhelming thoughts. Something flickered on the chamber wall. Typical Vers she was fiddling with something.

 

"Do you have to do that here?" He murmured. She started.

 

"There is only here. Long story but don't try and open the door." She smiled at him as her hands continued shocking the broken crystal in her hand.

 

"What are you doing?"

 

"Trying to repair it. I think I am close," she said turning back to look at the pieces in her hand. Her eyes were focused on it. She did not see the momentary flash of Mar-Vell's face on the curving wall of the chamber. Yon-Rogg's blood went cold.

 

"Vers, stop. It's hot enough in here already," he reached for the crystal and slipped it from her fingers and into his pocket as she turned to look at him. "Are you okay?"

 

He smoothed his hand over her tangled hair. She had a cut on her forehead. He couldn't remember how they got here.

 

"I am fine, thanks for asking."

 

She kissed him in the dim blue light of the chamber and above them a rescue beacon flashed.

 


 

There had been no delay once they reached Hala. Yon-Rogg had been barely scanned by the medics who unsealed their escape pod before being hauled away to see the Supremor.

 

Vers had been taken to a suite and given clothes. She had showered and changed. She had longed to see Hala but she was so numb with apprehension the glittering cityscape barely registered.

 

She had showered and changed. Now she stood in front of the mirror and the Stranger's words came back to her. The first step was to find a surface.

 

She took his crystal and held it as he showed her. She slowly negotiated with it to spill its secrets. To tell her what he had wanted her to know. Her mission.

 


 

Yon-Rogg stood in the white room. Endless expanses of light surrounded him. His mother was in front of him. Blue powder set into her skin. Hair white. Her eyes green. Some might be ashamed that the Supremor came to them as their mother, but Yon-Rogg felt it only made sense the Supremor would be a woman. That only inside a woman was the ocean to contain their Supreme Being.

 

"Commander, I am without words."

 

He bowed his head, "I handled this poorly. All I ask is you don't punish her for my sins. She could do so much for our Empire."

 

He heard the desperation in his voice. The pleading. His mother glided closer. Green eyes searched his face as he looked up.

 

"Except you have sullied her. You failed to bring back Mar-Vell or the core. You lied and said it was on Pal-Mar."

 

"Vers- the Girl. She contains its power. She destroyed it and it - it changed her."

 

"I didn't want a girl. I wanted the traitor and the light speed engine," the Supremor's voice was firm, scolding. The way only a mother's voice could be. He bowed his head.

 

"I know. If you give me time I will show you that I have brought you something one thousand times more powerful. A soldier who could end every war."

 

"And I suppose you are the only one who can train her?" The Supremor's voice was like ice over him, mocking his ambitions. He sunk to his knees, his body free from pain in the simulation.

 

"I am begging forgiveness. Let me complete my plan."

 

The Supremor contemplated him for a moment, before cradling his face between loving hands.

 

"I will forgive you, child. I will help you contain her power but I will punish you." Yon-Rogg nodded relief and defeat warring for his heart. "I can see your feelings for her. I can see all your secrets. I want you to keep them. I will take everything from her. She will begin again unburdened by memory or regret but you, Commander. You will remember everything and you must never tell. Never touch her. Live your penance and repent your sins against the Empire."

 


 

Vers waited outside the temple. Guilt and confusion consumed her. The crystal had shown her images she couldn't explain. Children dirty and hungry. Planet's soil ripped open and stripped of its resources. Fire raining from the sky. All beneath the Kree banner. She couldn't make peace with it. She paced. She needed Yon.

 

When he emerged pale from the sandstone sanctum she had all but ran to him.

 

He caught her shoulders. Held her at arms length from him.

 

"Vers, what's wrong?" He asked her even though he looked like he could barely stand. She swallowed.

 

"I have so many questions-"

 

He stopped her by pulling her close to his chest. He held her tight, breathing in the smell of her hair, his lips pressed to her temple. She should be embarrassed. She should push him away but she longed for this comfort.

 

"The Supremor will answer everything," his voice was hushed. Reverent in the temple of their ruler. His body rocked them slightly. She wondered if he was memorizing her.

 

"Am I going to speak to them?" She asked pushing away from his chest so she could see his eyes.

 

"Yes," he smiled reassuringly at her. "Then we will continue your training. I am going to call the others here."

 

"What about Pal-Mar?" She asked crinkling her brow. Yon-Rogg seemed different as if he was holding something back.

 

"Forget about Pal-Mar." He let go of her at last and stepped away. "Trust the Supremor, Vers. They are not to be questioned."

 

He started to walk away. She called after him a wicked quirk to her mouth "but I love asking questions."

 

"I know."

 

She turned and set her shoulders. Breathing out slowly and flexing her hands. She stepped into the sanctum.

Chapter Text

Five years later...

 

Vers woke with a start. She rolled on her narrow cot trying to shake the feeling of sand and ash from her skin. Sometimes when she dreamed she was in a desert, other times she was by a lake. There was always the smell of death in the air and some faceless shape stalked her through the smoke or stood above her as the sand poured down.

 

She got up and stood by her window. Hala was already moving. It never slept. It was never quiet. She ran her hand over her implant. It had stopped bothering her years ago. She remembered feeling it under her skin as if it was fresh but now it hummed like an old friend. The power of the Supremor inside her.

 

There was another ache though. One she couldn't name or give shape to. A loss she couldn't explain. Yon-Rogg wanted her to release it. To stop letting it slow her down. She couldn't. Not when her body woke her in the night crying for that missing piece.

 

She didn't check the time as she slipped out of her room. It didn't matter. At any hour He would open the door.

 

"Dreams again?" He looked tired. She wondered how he slept.

 

"Wanna fight?" She smiled at him.