Actions

Work Header

Limited-Edition Space Invader Barbie(TM) from Mattel

Work Text:

A visitor comes around with the evening rations. A familiar face. Minn-Erva stirs her instant mashed potatoes with a plastic spork, and imagines punching him until his one good eye swells shut. The anger’s getting worse again. She needs to get a grip. Remember her training.

‘I made a new friend today,’ says Fury, pulling a chair up as close to her cage as he can get, like it hasn’t even crossed his mind that the photon barrier could fail while he’s in punching range. He’s right, is the most annoying part. Minn-Erva has been down here long enough to analyse every last detail of the mechanism: it’s primitive, a none-too-precocious child’s rendition of the tech she trained with on Hala. She could pull the thing apart and use the components to build a multiphasic shield generator, or a deadly weapon, or a chamber fit to contain and transport the most volatile of explosives. She could blow these tiny human minds with science she learned in grade school. The only thing she can’t do is get through the barrier from this side.

She waits out the long pause it takes Fury to realise she’s not going to ask. ‘She calls herself a Krylorian,’ he goes on at last while Minn-Erva shovels food in her mouth. The potatoes are gritty at the best of times, and whoever mixed them up today used too much water. They have the texture of wet sand in her mouth, like long-gone days in coastal Kree-Lar city when she swam out too deep until the punishing waves dumped her back to shore. Not the taste, though. Too underseasoned for that. ‘Says she’s from someplace called the Nova Empire. Guess they don’t have sunscreen out there, wherever it is. Her skin’s as pink as Barbie’s prom gown.’

‘Who’s Barbie?’

‘Straight to the heart of it, as always. I admire your big picture thinking, Minn-Erva. You never let yourself get distracted by the small stuff.’

‘My whole life’s nothing but small stuff now. You’ve made sure of that.’

Small cell. Small window. Small, flimsy spork that drips potato slop between its prongs. A small bed under a small stretch of wall where she scratches a small mark each night that she pretends one day she’ll tally up. It’s not a small number.

Fury gives her a look she thinks is meant to be cajoling and says, ‘It doesn’t have to be like that. We’ve given you options.’ Another long pause. ‘My new Krylorian friend, she’s chattier than you. Told us her people are at war with the Kree and that’s why they need to commandeer our planet as a military base. I tried to explain that our planet’s already occupied, but … well, she’s more a talker than a listener.’

‘If that’s why you came to me, you’ll be disappointed. I don’t talk or listen.’

Not to her captors, at least. Not to these SHIELD barbarians with their weird red blood and their primitive tech and their godawful lumpy mashed potatoes.

‘Come on,’ Fury prods. ‘Aren’t you even a little curious?’

‘Nope.’

‘Here on C-53, we have a proverb: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The Krylorian got away before I was done talking to her, and without your help, she’s well on her way to causing as much trouble for your people as mine. You can think of it as a Starforce mission. Stop her from getting what she wants. Strike a blow for the good of all Kree.’

How long did he spend rereading every slim file his people have on the Kree to try and sound like he knows what he’s talking about? Minn-Erva dips the end of a sausage in congealed gravy. She uses her fingers. Experience has taught her that plastic utensils can’t penetrate the overcooked membrane.

‘It’ll get you out of this cell,’ says Fury.

That’s worth looking up for. Briefly, at least. Skeptically. ‘You’ll set me free?’

‘For the duration of the mission, yes. The World Security Council has authorised your conditional release, provided I bring you back safely afterwards. You’ll have to promise not to, oh, say, steal the Krylorian’s spacecraft and escape back home while my agents are busy securing the prisoner.’

Minn-Erva’s eyebrows climb.

‘Because I’d really miss our conversations,’ Fury adds. Then, at her disbelieving look: ‘You know how it is. We don’t have the technology or resources to send you home ourselves, and you’ve been very uncooperative in helping us contact anyone who does. Having a bad-tempered blue alien in the basement is something SHIELD considers a liability, not an asset. Some of us – not naming any names – can’t help but feel you’ve outstayed your welcome.’

‘And yet here you are, begging for my help.’

Fury gets to his feet. ‘Think about it over dinner,’ he says.

‘There’s nothing to think about,’ Minn-Erva calls after his retreating back. ‘I’d rather die in this cell than agree to help you.’

 


 

She agrees to help him.

Intelligence forgive her. Just, fuck, she’s so sick of those disgusting rations.

 


 

‘Thought I blew you up,’ says the annoyingly good-looking woman who meets Minn-Erva on the tarmac. Vers’ friend. Maria Rambeau. Her lips are pulled tight in unhappy surprise, and Minn-Erva can only guess Fury left a few details out of whatever recruitment speech he gave her. ‘You work for SHIELD now? Man, do they just let anyone join?’

‘Clearly, since they’re letting you fly. Your aim sucks.’ If Maria has only just learned about Minn-Erva’s survival, then she doesn’t need to know about the agonising hours between Minn-Erva’s ship going down and SHIELD pulling her half-dead body from the wreckage. Doesn’t need to know that her aim doesn’t, in fact, suck at all. ‘Let’s find the pink bitch and get this done.’

Unlike Fury’s disorganised shitshow, Hala’s forces have rules to obey: they don’t cooperate with their enemies, ever. They don’t spill secrets. They don’t breathe a word about their orders or their chain of command or anything that could compromise the Intelligence’s goals. Of course, Starforce opsec must be shot to pieces already given everything Vers knew when she defected. But the Intelligence won’t accept she did it first as an excuse for treason. If it learns what she did to win her freedom … well, at least Kree prison cells are better than the ones on C-53. Probably. Minn-Erva has never actually been in one.

They left her here. Never stopped to check if she survived the crash. Never came to rescue her the way they all rushed to rescue their precious Vers when she fell into Skrull hands.

That won’t work as an excuse, either.

There’s a new SHIELD chip embedded in Minn-Erva’s neck to stop her going rogue. It’s far enough from any major arteries that digging it out shouldn’t be hard, but she plans to leave it where it is until she has eyes on the Krylorian ship. Tamper too early and she risks being caught and reimprisoned before she can escape. Damn thing itches.

‘Here’s the deal,’ says Maria, once they’re strapped inside the cockpit of a shitty little fighter jet with toy weapons systems and no orbit-capable thrusters. ‘The Krylo-whosit was last seen heading for Death Valley, where we assume she has either an escape craft or the comms gear to call one. As far as we can tell, she’s alone – some kind of forward scout for this Nova invasion force. She’s stolen intel on our air defences–’

‘What air defences?’ None of this is news to Minn-Erva. The Nova Empire has always been full of the kind of timid also-rans who need forward scouts and subterfuge to move in on a shithole like C-53. She can hardly believe Fury’s story about them needing this planet as a military base. Last Minn-Erva heard, the war was scarcely more than a technicality, with the Nova Corps protective force too hamstrung to put up any real resistance to Kree expansion. ‘All their invaders have to do is stay above atmo, and they’re out of range of every missile you humans have.’

‘–And we need to stop her before she can deliver it,’ Maria goes on. Minn-Erva is both annoyed and impressed by how unruffled she looks. Her hands are steady on the yoke, bringing the plane up with a firm grip and close-clipped nails. Minn-Erva has clearly been in isolation way too long. Those elegant fingers keep drawing her eye. ‘She’s carrying some kind of blaster weapon we’ve never seen before, and she has superstrength, which is where you–’

‘You mean she’s stronger than a human. That’s a low bar to clear.’

‘Do you want to hear this briefing, or do you plan to spend the whole flight giving me attitude?’

‘I don’t need your briefing. I know how to deal with Krylorians. You fly me to her, I’ll take her down, we collect our asspats from the boss and go home feeling like we did the right thing. Whoopdee-doo.’

Maria gives her a long once-over. To her credit as a pilot, the plane doesn’t tilt from lack of attention. Minimal credit. ‘You know,’ she says at last, ‘I can see why Carol was so desperate to get her memories back. You’re a deeply unpleasant person to work with. I wouldn’t want to be on your team, either.’

‘My team wouldn’t have you. Our standards are a little higher than Fury’s.’

‘Tell that to the huge-ass scar on your face,’ says Maria. ‘You were way hotter before you last met me and my Quadjet. What air defences? You tell me, girl. You tell me.’

A good Kree soldier doesn’t let anger get the best of her. Minn-Erva’s scar is nothing. She survived the desert crash, so what more is there to say? It doesn’t matter what Maria or anyone else thinks of the tangled purple burn scars running from hairline to ribs down her front. Back on Hala, they have tech that can put her back the way she used to be. All she has to do is get home.

 


 

They find Fury’s Barbie parked on a huge salt pan – obscured on the ground by light refracting off the crust, but clear as a beacon from the air. The colours are the first thing Minn-Erva notices about the spacepod. Wrong colours. The pilot’s pink as promised, alright, but what she’s flying is no Nova Corps vessel.

This will be easier than Minn-Erva thought. Her heartbeat speeds up, stomach squirming with excitement that only long practice lets her keep off her face.

‘How do you want to do this?’ Maria asks. ‘Think you can handle her on the ground? Worst case scenario I can shoot out the ship from the air, but the less mess we make here, the better.’

‘Just fly up over the drop zone and I’ll jump.’

‘By less mess, I mean we want her alive. Just in case that wasn’t clear to you.’

Alive so they can put her in a tiny cell and leave her to rot. Minn-Erva couldn’t care less what happens to Pinkie, but she’s getting a kick out of the bizarre human shortsightedness. Do these people not have colour vision? Can they not see the Starforce markings on the hull of that spacepod? ‘You got it. Put me on the ground and I promise not to hurt her too badly.’

They’ve come back for her. Minn-Erva isn’t committing treason – she’s playing right into the rescue plan. Sending a Krylorian instead of a Kree was smart. Doesn’t take much to fool the humans. They must have seeded the idea to Fury somehow that sending Minn-Erva out here was a good idea, and once she’s on board that ship, they’ll fly her home without any need for a tiresome prison break. She’s as good as free already.

The rush of air is exhilarating as Minn-Erva jumps from the back of the Quadjet. She’s braced for a rough landing, but the human parachute exceeds her expectations by holding strong, and she hits the ground light, running straight for the spacepod. It doesn’t phase her too much when the Krylorian pulls her gun. Minn-Erva will have to prove she’s not a Skrull or some other cowardly trick. Her codes will all be out of date by now, but surely her rescuers will have thought of–

The Krylorian fires. Minn-Erva ducks, long muscle memory flaking away the rust from months in captivity. The blast bolt soars overhead. The Krylorian fires again. Minn-Erva rolls, spitting salt-dust.

It tastes better than those SHIELD potatoes, says a small, shrill voice in her mind over the top of her loud inner chorus of swearing.

‘Yon-Rogg warned me I might run into you.’ The Krylorian advances, gun cocked for another shot. There’s no cover here. Barely a dip in the smooth, flat surface of the salt pan. The spacepod is still metres away, and even if she could make it, Minn-Erva can’t risk drawing fire near the only space-capable ship on this planet. Her only way home.

‘I’m Minn-Erva,’ she gasps. ‘Starforce. Not a Skrull. Ask me–’

‘I know who you are.’ The Krylorian’s cherry-pink lips curl into a sneer. ‘You’re the one who messed up Yon-Rogg’s mission and let Vers escape. He told me you’d taken refuge with the humans, and to expect you to try and sabotage our work here.’

‘What?’ It’s all gibberish, less coherent than if the Krylorian had spoken in her own native language. None of that’s true. It doesn’t even make sense. Yon-Rogg was the one who…

Oh.

Yon-Rogg was the one who let Vers escape. He was also the one who made it back to Hala first. Someone had to take the fall for that clusterfuck of a mission, and Minn-Erva was conveniently not there to speak for herself.

Well, she’s here now. Bad news for Barbie. Minn-Erva doesn’t have time to reel from the betrayal and the upending of all her hopes for rescue – she’s under fire. When the next shot goes off, she’s ready for it. Uses the spray of salt-dust for cover and fights back. It’s not even that hard. Her opponent goes down like a sack of pink bricks.

Except Minn-Erva’s rusty after all, because she doesn’t double-tap and she doesn’t think to check Barbie for comms gear before sprinting past her for the spacepod. She’s at the boarding ramp when she hears the SOS beacon go off, and she’s in the cockpit when she hears the supersonic snap of three fightercraft breaking through the atmosphere from overhead. Not such a lone scout after all. Fuck.

Fuck. There’s still a SHIELD chip in Minn-Erva’s neck.

She’s doing three things at once: firing the spacepod’s engines up, priming its shields for the oncoming barrage, and scrambling for a blade to pry the damn itchy thing from under her skin. Fury didn’t mention what it does – it could just be a tracking chip, or it could fire off some kind of poison or electric charge to disable her. She can’t risk that mid-flight. It needs to come out now. But the fightercraft are opening fire, and her shields aren’t up yet, and fuck fuck fuck –

The world goes red-black like it did that time in the desert. 

 


 

Everything hurts.

 


 

She's flying. 

 


 

Guns are firing. 'Hang in there,' says a familiar woman's voice, as Minn-Erva flies aloft on turbulent winds and leaves gravity far below. 'We're about to get a little bumpy.'

More guns.

Her neck won’t stop itching. She scratches. It hurts. She scratches more. The scratching feels important but she can't remember why.

 


 

When Minn-Erva wakes, she’s lying on something soft. A bed – no, a couch. She sits up, and the pain … she’s had worse. She runs a quick self-assessment like she’s been trained to do. Her head is pounding, the pain spreading out from a tender lump on the crown. Her neck itches, and when she touches the spot, her fingers meet a pad of thick gauze. Blurred vision on one side suggests a black eye, and two fingers of her weapon hand are splinted together. Whoever treated her did a clean job, trimming all bandages and tucking the edges neatly under.

‘Easy there.’ Maria enters the room, holding a red and white box full of little bottles and packets that rattle when she sets them on the couch-side table. ‘You hit your head pretty hard. Could have a concussion.’

‘What’s a concussion?’

‘Do your people not get those? Figures. Thick skulls.’ Her gentle voice sets Minn-Erva’s teeth on edge. Who’s she to talk to Minn-Erva with pity? With that strange, seductive warmth in her voice, at a time when Minn-Erva has a million better things to do than be seduced? ‘Listen, I’m no xeno-pharmacist. You’re welcome to try some painkillers, but if you poison yourself, I’m gonna have to give up and take you back to SHIELD.’

This isn’t SHIELD. She’s not back in her cell. Minn-Erva’s brain catches up to her eyes, and she studies a bright red packet that says tylenol across the front. ‘Why didn’t you take me back already?’

‘Because you cried like a baby and begged me not to,’ says Maria. An obvious, petty lie. Minn-Erva hasn’t cried since she was a baby.

‘The chip–’

‘Leave it alone,’ says Maria, catching Minn-Erva’s wrist before she can peel the gauze off her neck. Minn-Erva is too groggy to fight back. Her hand is warm. ‘You’ll tear your skin to shreds if you keep scratching.’

‘Fury put a chip in my–’

‘Yeah, I know. It’s a GPS tracker, and he doesn’t need it to find you. He knows where I live. Hell, he’s the one who agreed to mind my daughter when I took this job. So quit trying to scratch yourself open.’

Inside the tylenol packet, a dozen white capsules are sealed in foil bubbles. Minn-Erva is tempted to try one, but she doesn’t want this woman to know the pain bothers her. It’s nothing she can’t handle. ‘What happened?’

‘I was hoping you’d tell me. One minute you were fighting the pink chick like we planned, the next minute there were spaceships everywhere and it was all I could do to get you out alive. Fury told me those Nova guys were planning an invasion. He never said they’d already started one.’

Nova. Fury. Right. Capsulised memories bubble up, mimicking the shape of the tylenol foils, and the betrayal Minn-Erva didn’t have time to feel earlier hits her all at once. ‘The Krylorian doesn’t work for Nova Corps,’ she explains. ‘She works for Starforce. Why she told Fury otherwise, I don’t know. My guess is they’re playing some kind of political game, to make it look like the Nova Empire is expanding again so they can justify a new push.’ Now that she’s out of the heat of battle, Minn-Erva feels stupid for not suspecting it in the first place. She’s run covert ops with Starforce before. Strategic sleight of hand is one of the Supreme Intelligence’s specialties. ‘Don’t worry. No one actually wants to invade your shithole planet.’

Maria frowns. She tugs the foil out of Minn-Erva’s hands, and Minn-Erva realises she’s been bending it, pushing the capsules until the pills fall out. ‘Why would you tell me that?’ she asks, the sharpness a welcome relief from the pity. ‘If the Kree want to frame these Krylo-whatevers for invading Earth, aren’t you gonna toe their party line and keep up the lie?’

She’s right. Damn. Minn-Erva shouldn’t have opened her mouth. But if Barbie wasn’t lying, then it looks like Minn-Erva’s not invited to the Kree party line anymore. She hasn’t had time to figure out what that means. Her head hurts so bad.

She swallows a couple of tylenol. Might as well. They’re already out of the foil.

‘Oh my god, girl,’ she tunes in to Maria saying a short while later, in the breath between two verses of a song Minn-Erva’s singing, one she recalls vaguely from school. She’s been filling in the forgotten parts with sounds that feel vaguely right. ‘You sure that wasn’t cocaine you took? I’ve seen some weird shit these past few months, but I’ve never seen anyone get high from tylenol.’

‘Pain’s gone,’ Minn-Erva tells her.

‘Yeah, I’m getting that.’

 


 

Maria takes the red and white box away. Minn-Erva couldn’t look for it if she wanted to – which she doesn’t once she sobers up and remembers the singing – because it turns out that on top of the broken fingers and the inflamed GPS chip in her neck, both her ankles are badly sprained. She lies on the couch with her legs raised up on pillows, and Maria brings her food from a pot on the stove, a rich, warm soup full of soft meat and some kind of chunky root veg. Minn-Erva scalds her tongue wolfing it down. It tastes good.

‘Why are you helping me?’ she asks.

Maria just shrugs and says, ‘You’re in no fit state to help yourself.’

It’s true. Food and sleep make the pain in Minn-Erva’s head subside, but with one good hand and no good feet she wouldn’t be much of a flight risk even if she were GPS-free and had a spacepod waiting right outside. Maria gives her something called an office chair with wheels on its legs that lets her get between the living room and the bathroom unaided. She can take care of urgent essentials herself, with a bit of extra patience. Any more complex tasks feel too exhausting even to think about.

‘If our roles were reversed,’ she points out, ‘I wouldn’t bother helping you.’

‘I know.’ Maria rolls her eyes. ‘You’re not exactly my role model, though.’

After god knows how long festering in bloodstained sweat, Minn-Erva decides it’s time to wash herself or die trying. She fills up the bath, but the hot water makes her ankles throb, and keeping them elevated out of it makes it impossible to reach the shelf that holds all the soap and shampoo. There’s some splashing. Some swearing. Some dampness around the eyes, though that’s probably just condensation from the steam.

‘You’re stuck in the tub, aren’t you?’ Maria calls through the door, and doesn’t yield to any of Minn-Erva’s strident instructions to fuck off and mind her own business. ‘I’m coming in. Count of three.’

With gritted teeth and no other choice, Minn-Erva submits to the indignity of letting this human near-stranger bathe her. Pilot-strong hands lather shampoo through her matted hair. A warm, damp cloth keeps soap out of her eyes. The water soothes her irritated neck. Goosebumps prickle on her skin as Maria works with the pragmatic efficiency of a mother used to washing grubby kids. She mentioned a daughter, right? Minn-Erva doesn’t want this woman looking at her in a daughter-ish way. The thought rankles.

‘Do they still hurt?’ Maria asks, voice soft through the water trickling over Minn-Erva’s ears.

‘My ankles? Look at the swelling. I’m pretty sure the left one’s fractured. Of course they still hurt.’

A pause. ‘I meant your scars. From the crash. When I shot you down.’

There are no mirrors in Minn-Erva’s SHIELD cell. She’s gotten used to not seeing herself. Most of the time, she forgets that half her face is now a mess of badly reconstructed skin. She hates Maria for mentioning it, but if she lashes out, she’ll have no one to finish washing the suds from her hair. She’s a soldier of the Kree. Kree don’t let their emotions get the better of them. ‘No,’ she says flatly. ‘They don’t hurt.’

‘Okay.’ Another pause. ‘Good. That’s good.’

‘Why do you care?’

Maria sighs. ‘I don’t know.’ She stands up, grabs a towel from the nearby rail, and for a strange, stupid moment Minn-Erva wants to tell her not to stop. Her scalp tingles where Maria touched her. The bathwater offers no modesty for her naked body, and for reasons she can’t explain, she wants Maria to look at her. ‘Why does anyone care? Here. If you can get yourself up on the edge, that’s probably safer than me trying to lift you.’

‘I don’t need you to lift me,’ Minn-Erva snaps. Getting out of the tub unaided jars her ankles so bad that they start throbbing all over again, but she keeps her face blank and snatches the towel from Maria’s hands.

‘You’re welcome,’ says Maria.

 


 

They talk options over dinner. Can’t avoid it forever.

‘I’m a pilot, not a nursemaid,’ Maria tells her bluntly. ‘Even if the World Security Council weren’t riding Fury’s ass every day asking where you are, there’s no way you can stay here forever. Why are you so scared of going back to SHIELD?’

‘I’m not scared of–’ Minn-Erva bites back the rest of her defensive outburst and shoves dinner in her mouth to compensate. It’s good. Fresh bread and something called casserole that tastes like a dish she used to eat at home. Does Fury even have a place for her anymore? She was supposed to have escaped by now. That plan's gone out the window. ‘I’m bored stiff in that shitty cell. Your place is bigger. Food’s better.’

‘I’m not a caterer, either,’ says Maria. ‘Listen. We’re trying to keep our planet safe from being used as a pawn in an alien war, and you’ve refused every peace offer Fury ever made you. He asked you to share what you know about the Kree and you said you’d rather die than talk. He wanted to give you back to your people, but you refused to help him make contact. He can’t ask Carol to take you because she’s busy saving the Skrulls from your genocide. He can’t let you wander the streets yourself because you’re fucking blue, and SHIELD isn’t running some cushy hotel for alien freeloaders. What do you expect?’

Nothing. Minn-Erva expects nothing from these people. But they keep defying her lack of expectations, and she doesn’t understand. ‘Kree don’t collaborate with our enemies.’

‘Apparently they collaborate with Krylo-thingies. Didn’t you say it was the Kree who told that pink girl to try and kill you? Why do they want to kill one of their own?’

‘It’s complicated. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.’

‘Try me.’

‘Even I don’t understand. I don’t, okay? I have no idea what’s going on. I’m guessing about the Krylorian conspiracy. It’s pure guesswork. All I know is that before the crash I was one of them and after the crash they want me dead.’ A laugh bubbles out, involuntary and faintly hysterical. ‘Hell, maybe they saw my new face and panicked.’

Maria’s softening expression is infuriating. Stay calm. A Kree soldier masters her anger. ‘It’s not so bad, you know. The scarring. It kinda suits you.’

‘You’re lying. Also, I don’t care.’

‘I’m not lying. And I think you do.’ Maria dips a bread crust in her bowl, and smiles a little half-smile that makes Minn-Erva’s insides squirm – not with anger. ‘I think you care a lot more than you let on.’

‘Whatever. Think what you want.’ Minn-Erva can’t explain this feeling. She must be going crazy.

'Some mission this turned out to be,' says Maria. She's still smiling. It's not a happy smile, and for some reason, Minn-Erva really wishes it was.

 


 

The pain and swelling have gone down, but Minn-Erva can’t sleep. Thoughts chase themselves around her head as she lies on the couch, scratching her neck underneath the gauze and staring up at the shadowy ceiling.

‘Maria,’ she yells in what she hopes is the direction of the bedroom.

Nothing.

‘Maria!’

She hears swearing, and a light flicks on upstairs. Maria comes down with tousled hair and a cross expression. ‘We talked about the nursemaid issue, right? About how I’m not one?’

‘If you’re not lying, prove it.’

‘Prove what? Have you been doing tylenol again?’

Minn-Erva's heart is going fast. She doesn't give a fuck right now. About anything. ‘If you think the scars aren’t so bad, prove it. Kiss me.’

'Kiss you?' Maria rubs her bleary eyes, shaking her head as if to clear it. ‘This may be a cultural thing, but here on Earth, that’s not normally how proof works. Minn-Erva, it’s past midnight. Whatever new game you’re playing with me, I don’t … Jesus, woman, sit back down. You know you can’t stand on those ankles.’

Stabbing pain forces Minn-Erva to abandon the effort. She slumps back on the couch, angry with Maria, disgusted with herself, and sick of pretending not to notice her emotions. Everything’s such a fucking mess. 

Maria sits down beside her. An arm comes around Minn-Erva’s shoulders, and she’s most of the way towards shrugging it off when another emotion she’s done pretending not to feel overrides her irritable twitch reflex. It feels … nice. To have someone touch her like this. To not be alone in a cell stewing over the people who never came back for her.

Maria came back for her, before, on the salt pan. Could've booked it and told Fury there was nothing she could do. Instead, she pulled Minn-Erva out and brought her back to her own home. That's more than anyone else has done.

‘I’ll prove it if you want me to,’ says Maria into Minn-Erva’s hair, all soft and fluffy from her earlier bath. ‘It’s just hard to know what you want, is all.’

‘Tell me about it.’ What Minn-Erva wants is to go home. She wants to chase down Yon-Rogg and demand to know how he could throw her under the bus after all her years of loyal service. She wants to never see the inside of that SHIELD cell again. She wants to run away and leave Hala behind. She wants to kiss Maria, and then maybe she’ll taste the answer to why this infuriating human keeps helping her. She wants –

Their lips meet, and she wants. She just wants.

 


 

She wants.

 


 

Maria gives.

 


 

Come morning, Minn-Erva has made a new decision. It’s an impulsive one. Irrational. She’s deliberately not putting too much thought into it at this stage. Thought can come later.

It feels harder than usual to pry herself off the couch – ducking under Maria’s arm, careful not to jostle her awake – but she does it anyway, and clambers onto the office chair so she can wheel her way out to the kitchen. The room’s full of stupid human contraptions with counterintuitive doors and knobs and flashing display screens. A chilled storage unit holds bottles labelled milk and juice. A box on a shelf has a picture of an annoyingly cheerful blue pirate crunching on a bowl of cereal. Eating utensils are in the drawer. She’s almost done wheeling it all back and forth to the table when Maria appears in the door and says, ‘What are you doing?’

‘Making breakfast,’ says Minn-Erva. ‘Figured it was my turn. Like you said, you’re not a caterer.’

‘Okay. What’s the beef broth for?’

‘Is that not coffee?’

‘No. That’s not coffee.’

Damn. It tasted good, too.

Maria puts the not-coffee back in the fridge and shows Minn-Erva something called a French press that she absolutely cannot operate one-handed. While Maria takes over that part of the job, Minn-Erva says: ‘I’ve been thinking about what you said. About my cooperation. Or, uh, lack thereof.' She swallows. 'Once we’ve eaten, you can call Fury and tell him I’m on board for real now. Krylo-Barbie was the first of many. Whether it’s Kree or Nova you’re dealing with, if you want your shitty planet to stand a chance, you’ll need help from someone who knows what the hell she’s doing.’

‘That’s quite a change of heart,’ says Maria, in a calm voice that’s less annoying today than it usually is. ‘I’m that good in bed, huh?’

‘That’s not why I’m doing this.’

‘I’m still good, though. Admit it.’

Minn-Erva doesn’t dignify that with an answer.

Something weird has happened to her overnight. She embraced all those feelings she wasn't meant to feel, and instead of eating her alive, it's like they disappeared. The rage turned to emptiness. The wanting turned to a fragile kind of calm. She looked in the mirror this morning for the first time in months, and instead of being distraught at the disfigured reality she'd been pretending so hard not to care about, she just saw herself. A bit scarred. Pitted and uneven in places. No big deal.

Which is a relief, because she'll look like this for a long time to if she can't go back to Hala for healing. Home isn't there anymore. That much, at least, she knows from what the Krylorian said about Yon-Rogg.

She doesn't know where she's going next. She does know that wherever it is, it's the only place left for her.

It can't be here, either. Like Maria said, she can’t stay. Her body’s halfway broken and Maria has a kid. But maybe … maybe she can drop by sometimes. Fury isn't putting her back in her box, that's for damn sure. That's the new price for her ongoing cooperation. They can figure something out. She’ll leave the goddamn itchy tracker in her neck if it makes him trust her not to run off on her own.

Maria's lips twitch. 'Alright, she says at last, once she realises she's not getting the answer she wants. She and Fury have that unearned conversational optimism in common. 'I'll pass it on.'

'Cool. Do that.'

She’ll take it one day at a time. It’s better than being bored.