Yon-Rogg lost track of the planets.
He was certain he would have lost track of the years were it not for Carol dutifully marking her way through stacks and stacks of Terran calendars. Even then, though neither of them said it, he was sure that one or two of her conversions and calculations were off. The sad fact of the matter was that this many light years from Earth it made little to no difference.
Even if Monica, Maria, or Fury were able to see this far with their naked eyes, they'd be staring years into the past before Carol had even reached this place.
There was a sense of timelessness out here beyond the grasp of society. Everything slowed, without ports, without cities, without villages it felt as if these planets had remained as they were forever and would always be the same. All of them, even Carol herself, were just specks of dust drifting into their orbit.
He started to wonder if he'd be spending the rest of his life on this boat. It hadn't been long for a Kree or even a Skrull, but he could somehow picture wandering out here forever. Then, when he had passed onto the Collective, the next generation would wander in turn.
And then they found it.
It wasn't a beautiful planet. It was not Hala as it had been before industrialization nor was it Earth. It barely classified as a garden world but there was both plant and wildlife in the expansive desert and mountainous terrain that covered the planet.
It was far beyond the Kree border, far beyond where they even bothered to look, and as it was expansive it was also empty. It would take several galactic months to reach any hint of civilization, but that was what the Skrulls had been looking for. They could make do with this, for the first time in generations, they could finally make do.
"Yeah, this is it," Talos concluded after weeks of scouting, testing, and analysis, "She's not a beauty, but she'll keep us alive and hidden."
Carol threw out her arms in joy, lunged towards the Skrull, and twirled him about as if he were a child's plaything.
"Watch it, I'm breakable!" Talos said as his wife and daughter snickered.
Yon-Rogg couldn't hide his grin or his laughter. He shouldn't, he knew he shouldn't laugh, but he just couldn't help himself. It was over, after all this time, it was finally over. He was so overjoyed that he could almost reach out and hug Talos too.
Setting up a village after that seemed like nothing. It took time, but the time flew by with each building that was erected and each defense perimeter established. And, just as Talos had said, it wasn't beautiful by any means, but it would do.
This meager life, scratched out of nothing and inches from death at the Kree's hands, would blossom in time like a desert flower. They just needed enough space to grow.
On the last night they held a celebration in the center of the village. Carol, as always, was a guest of honor and an honorary Skrull. They wove a crown of desert flowers into her hair and she danced in front of a great bonfire with all the children.
Yon-Rogg watched from a distance, just outside the village and its humming defenses. He shared Carol's smile, though made sure never to catch her eye, she'd only invite him to the party he had no true business attending.
He'd have her back in the morning, when they would take the shuttle off planet, improved enough to get them to port where they could trade in for a more space worthy vessel. For now, she should have her goodbyes untainted.
Yon-Rogg's goodbyes, however, took a turn he wasn't expecting.
"So, this is where you snuck off to," Talos said as he approached Yon-Rogg. He held a jug of Xandarian wine in hand, but for all that he smiled he was far from drunk.
Perhaps, when Yon-Rogg left this place, he'd finally allow himself to relax. Yon-Rogg doubted it though, this man had been at war for his very existence far too long to ever let it go.
Yon-Rogg tilted his head both in question and greeting, but this just caused the man's smile to grow larger. Finally, he stopped just in front of Yon-Rogg, "I suppose this is where I thank you."
"There's no need to thank me," Yon-Rogg said, "I contributed little to this endeavor."
Talos shrugged, turning back to watch the party with Yon-Rogg, "Well, we didn't exactly let you do anything. It's almost a pity, you were always good at exactly what we needed. You could have been very useful."
"Could have been?" Yon-Rogg asked, but Talos just gave him a knowing look.
"You were never here for us," Talos explained, only to look back at the laughing Carol, now stumbling over her feet, "I don't hold that against you. Love is a very honorable, very noble, motive to do anything."
At first, Yon-Rogg smiled in understanding, then that drifted away. That was not the story she'd told him. Yes, he'd come for her, left for her, but he had also seen the Skrull's plight for what it was.
Yon-Rogg turned away from Carol to look at Talos, "I thought I—"
"Whatever Carol told you she's—" Talos trailed off, cursed and sighed, "Let's just say that she tried to make you… simpler than I think you ever were. You hurt her, badly, and you being around like this doesn't help her make sense of it."
"I'm not the one you should say sorry to," Talos said with a huff of laughter, "Then again, I don't think you should say sorry to anyone. It doesn't mean anything without the memories behind it, does it?"
No, he supposed it didn't. Carol had said much the same, had demanded he stop apologizing for the actions he couldn't remember taking against her. Eventually, he had, but only because it'd seemed pointless to continue down that path.
Talos whacked him on the back, an unprecedented gesture of camaraderie, "You've done good, kid. You're a far more honorable man than I ever thought you were, even if you are Kree. You've been good for her, and I think you'll be good for her."
Yon-Rogg wondered if that was supposed to be a compliment.
However, it appeared Talos wasn't done, "She's going to need you out there, you know."
Now it was Yon-Rogg's turn to laugh, "Carol hardly needs—"
"Life isn't just about punching holes through armadas," Talos dismissed, "Sometimes, no matter how strong you are, you can't keep running forward. Sometimes you have to stop and think for a little while, no matter how much it hurts."
Yon-Rogg didn't ask what he meant by that, instead waited as Talos sighed, staring at Carol much the way he stared at his daughter.
"We've given her purpose, not much, but some these last few years. She hasn't had to stop and look around, take a real good look at herself without the Kree in the way, thanks to us. That's all over now. The greater galaxy is beckoning, and she'll have to find herself inside it. It's going to hurt, she's not going to want to do it, she'll run as far and fast as she can… It's going to be your job to bring her back home."
Talos spared him a dark-eyed glance, "You can do that, Kree?"
He didn't give Yon-Rogg a chance to answer, didn't seem to need an answer, instead he patted Yon-Rogg on the back again, shoved the jug of wine in his hands, and ushered him unwillingly over to the party. Carol grinned when he reached the bonfire, her whole face lighting up, and when she grabbed his hand she asked where he had been and why he thought he could be such a wallflower.
The words though stayed with him even as Carol finished her last goodbyes, tearfully promised to write and visit whenever she could, and they boarded the empty shuttle that would carry the pair of them back to civilization.
Carol grinned as the ship roared to life, hitting switches and turning all the levers needed for lift off and breaking through the atmosphere. When she saw him staring at her from the copilot's chair she nodded towards the console in front of him, "Are you just going to sit there?"
It was the first time he'd ever been allowed to pilot a ship. Carol had retaught him what he knew, but he'd never been able to put it into practice. He'd probably kill them both if he tried, still, he was unable to help his hands moving forward. He tried not to think as he instinctively went through the motions that his hands remembered but his body did not.
The ship stabilized and they had a steady clean lift off.
Carol laughed in delight and shouted above the roar of the engines as the planet behind them slipped further and further away, "It's just like a bicycle: you never forget!"
"What's a bicycle?" he shouted back, but he was laughing with her. The bicycle, after all, was hardly the important bit.
Finally, when they were outside the planet's gravitational hold, Carol let go of the controls and allowed them to slowly drift forward in place. She looked at him, eyes full of fire and light, "Well, Commander, where should we head next?"
She leaned back in her seat, placed her hands behind her head, stretching her back and allowing it to crack as she considered the wide universe before them, "Do we head to the Kree border planets, see if any of the natives in the colonies are as unhappy as I think they are? Do we go exploring? Do we—"
Yon-Rogg cut her off, "Aren't we headed back to Earth?"
It'd been well over five years now and given the Terran life span her friends, Monica especially, would have aged. Contact hadn't been prudent, and as far as he knew she had never reached back to them, had left Fury with a pager to contact her only in emergencies. Surely, though, now that her obligation to the Skrulls was fulfilled she'd want to return home.
"Oh, right, we could do that," Carol said, but she sounded oddly deflated by the prospect. For a moment she said nothing, just stared with a forced smile out into the void of space, then said, "Earth is a long way from here though, we'll have to make pit stops along the way, a lot of pit stops, and—"
Yon-Rogg stopped listening.
This was what Talos had meant; Carol was running from her past just as much as he was from his own.
She disguised it well. She bore her Terran name, Carol Danvers, with pride and would always bristle at Vers. She cherished every Terran good they came across, filled a ship that had no room with collected knick-knacks and paraphernalia from every port she could find and always explained their strange origins to Yon-Rogg with a grin. She adored Terran food, Terran culture, every aspect of the planet she left behind. She looked back with fondness at the friends and family she left behind.
But she was still running.
She held Earth in her heart, but it was only ever at a distance. She was far enough away that she could look fondly but it could never cause her pain. Out here, she didn't have to think about how far she'd wandered from Terran culture and how much she'd truly been tainted by the Kree. By him.
"Hello," Carol waved a hand in front of his face, "Are you even listening?"
"Sorry," he apologized, only to earn a friendly punch in the shoulder.
"Seriously," Carol said with a snort, "That's one thing I do miss, you used to be a much better listener. Getting hit in the head went and turned you into a space cadet."
"I believe I was a space commander," Yon-Rogg corrected.
Carol laughed as if, despite himself, he had said something unbearably witty. Well, so long as someone was laughing.
"Hey," Carol said when she calmed down, "Wherever we go… I'm glad that you're…"
She trailed off, her eyes seemed caught on his face. She was looking at him so strangely. He'd say he didn't recognize the expression, except it was familiar. He rarely saw it, but that was simply because it was the expression he always wore whenever he looked at her. Had she ever looked at him that way before?
She trailed off, leaned forward almost as if caught in a spell. No, it wasn't just for, he was leaning forward as well, unable to look anywhere else. His heart pounded in his chest, he could feel his blood thrumming again, and just when he thought it might kill him his lips touched hers.
It was little more than a brush, a silent, soft, touch and a breath. However, it was enough to open the floodgates. She flung herself out of her chair and into his, hands locking his head in a steel vice as she devoured his lips. He devoured hers in turn, hands snaking up her back and pulling her closer, wondering if Carol tasted like light or if light itself somehow tasted of Carol.
There were no questions, no pausing, it felt as if they were either racing against time or making up for years lost. It moved so quickly, progressing from a mere kiss to something far more, leaving them no time to even relocate to a bedroom.
They only made it to the floor of the cockpit, awkwardly trapped between seats while the cold metal digged into his naked back. Carol collapsed on top of it, hummed in contentment, and said in a dreamy voice, "I could get used to this."
"Maybe not in this location," Yon-Rogg said, trying and failing to find a comfortable position trapped between Carol, the floor, and the chairs.
"I'm comfortable," Carol said, her eyes closed, content as a purring Flerkin just after having devoured an army.
And she was, almost immediately after her eyes closed she fell silent, her breathing grew calm and steady. And there Yon-Rogg was, trapped beneath her.
"Carol," he said softly but she only gave a small, discontented, moan. She clearly had no intention of helping him.
With herculean effort he pushed her upwards, rolled to his feet, and lifted both her and himself to a standing position. Then, attempting to keep a hold on her, shifting to carry her bridal style he fumbled with the console and set on auto pilot. He wasn't sure where they were headed but he supposed they could find out later.
He sighed as he glanced at the clothes strewn about the floor. Unfortunately, those he'd have to come back for later.
Tottering out of the cockpit, he forced his straining muscles to carry her into her room and let out a relieved gasp of air when he deposited her on the mattress. Carefully, he tucked her under the blankets until only her face and golden hair were visible.
She looked at ease, he didn't see her sleep, but he imagined it was always fitful and never truly restful. He doubted he looked so peaceful in sleep either. Here, for this single instant, she was neither running nor fighting…
"What am I going to do with you?" Yon-Rogg asked himself with a sigh.
He'd hardly force her to return to Earth, nor would he trick her into it. The time where he would manipulate her, especially for her own 'benefit' that suited his needs, had passed. He could advise her, not that she ever listened to his advice…
He sighed, rubbed a hand through his hair, and then his eyes caught sight of his wrist.
He drew his hand back, looked down at it, thought of the blue blood hidden just beneath its surface.
He'd put that swamp, the illusion of his other self, out of his mind. Or, rather, he'd forcibly squashed it. He had no desire to return to that Yon-Rogg, or rather, he didn't want the confirmation that Carol truly did prefer that version of him. Then again, perhaps that was merely his excuse.
"I'm running too," Yon-Rogg said to himself grimly.
Yon-Rogg was running from Hala, running from the shadow he'd left behind there, and while he thought he was forging his own path ahead in truth he was simply running. For refusing to restore his memories, he was nothing but a coward.
Slowly he stood, he walked out of the room and towards the small kitchen area. He reached into a drawer and drew out one of the sharper knives intended for cutting meat. He held it against his finger, sucked in a breath as he applied pressure, and watched as a single blue droplet formed.
For a moment, he simply stared down at it, and knew that if he were to take a cloth he could simply wipe it away and pretend it never happened. Carol would never need to know; he would never have to know either. They could move past Earth, past Hala, to anywhere they wanted and nothing would change.
Except, running away from something was far different than running towards the future.
Neither he nor Carol should be ruled by fear.
With one final breath, he brought his finger and the blood to his lips.
When Carol woke up it wasn't on the floor of the cockpit, sleeping on Yon-Rogg like a contented cat, nor was it curled into one of the chairs. Instead, she found herself back in her own bedroom, tucked under piles of neatly folded blankets and desperately looking around for signs of company.
Yon-Rogg was gone, the only sign of his presence, her clothes neatly folded on a chair across from her and the fact that her bed had been made.
She didn't know if that was better or worse.
"Kill me," she whispered to herself, falling back onto the mattress with a loud whump.
She'd just slept with Yon-Rogg.
She'd just made desperate, passionate, love to Yon-Rogg in the captain's chair of a ship.
She'd just rode that bastard like a stallion and somehow had absolutely no regrets about it.
As Yon-Rogg himself might say, there was no curse in any language vile enough to express the true nature of the situation. So, Carol just settled for muffled screaming into her pillow.
She'd be lying if she said she'd never thought about it. Vers, certainly, had entertained more than one daydream for a long time. Yon-Rogg was such a critical part of her life that of course she'd feel a sexual pull towards him. Vers didn't just stop at sex, she sometimes thought about the never-to-be world in which they married.
Carol didn't think she'd ever have those thoughts again. She didn't think she had, but damn him, he still managed to worm his way under her skin! Somewhere in the past few years everything Vers felt for him was still there. Even the betrayal, the betrayal he couldn't remember, didn't diminish it.
And so as soon as the Skrulls were all safely out of the way, look what she did.
"They should call me Cowboy Carol," she joked to herself, idly waving her hand as if lassoing the metaphorical Yon-Rogg, "Yee-haw."
Well, this was just great, wasn't it?
What were they supposed to do now? Were they supposed to date or something? Did Kree even date? Even being there six years, Vers had been so… sheltered in a way that she wasn't sure how Kree even went about that. More, whatever Kree did, she had a feeling that Yon-Rogg didn't exactly abide by tradition. Especially now that he couldn't remember what tradition was.
Regardless, they couldn't go back to Earth now. It would be awkward enough bringing Yon-Rogg back after all this time, confessing to a judgmental Maria that she really had kept him around this whole time and that they were best friends forever again. Adding, "oh, and by the way, I slept with him and it was awesome" on top of that would probably have Maria trying to dismantle Yon-Rogg's equipment so it could never happen again.
Carol generally liked her amnesiac commander kept intact.
So, until she figured out this whole Yon-Rogg thing, no Earth. She let out a sigh, that was probably for the best, she had no idea what to say to Maria anyway. She'd let too much time go by, but somehow, it always felt like the wrong time to call.
That was a future-Carol problem though, the current Carol had another different, Kree problem to deal with.
Carol quickly dressed, stepped out the doorway, and tried to practice one-liners in her head. The trouble was that they all sounded awful, Yon-Rogg wouldn't even understand the jokes anyway, and there was no getting around the sex bit.
She found him in the cockpit as always, just like she knew she would, and despite everything a smile turned into a grin on her lips. Yeah, she could get used to this. Once they got past the inevitable awkward and feelings, she really could get used to this.
She slid into the seat next to him, opened her mouth to find the words to say, but then closed it.
He didn't look up at her, instead he kept staring blankly into space.
He didn't answer, didn't even look at her, just kept staring out. Just as she was about to shake him he said, "I would have run further than this. If I had the power, I'd be nothing more than a speck of light. I would be one star among billions. However, unlike you, Vers, I don't know how to fly."
He finally turned to look at her.
He didn't have to say her name, he didn't have to say a word, somehow his eyes alone told her. That bright gold burned in a way they hadn't in years, the center of Yon-Rogg returned to him and with it all the power he'd left behind.
"I could have at the beginning," he said dismissively, not telling her how he'd gotten his memories back or how it could have possibly been that easy, "It appears I simply chose not to. Perhaps some part of me knew that it would come to this and sought to delay the inevitable."
Carol's fists began to burn, her hair stood on end, floating in a non-existent wind, "You have no right—"
"Have I accused you of anything, Vers?" he asked, giving her a pointed look.
No, he hadn't, not yet. He hadn't spat at her for it and she in turn had not spat back at him. Her fists were still on fire. And it was like she just stepped backwards in time. All the ease, all the familiarity, it wasn't gone but the rage and betrayal was back and she could almost imagine the pair of them standing in that desert again.
Through clenched teeth she said, "Well, now you know how it feels, don't you?"
He said nothing to that, he looked particularly unimpressed, like Carol was cute trying to be clever about her revenge.
Instead, he cut straight to the chase, "Are you going to ask the Skrulls to take my memories?"
The fire in her hands went out. If she wasn't sitting she would have stumbled back from him in dull horror, "What?"
"We can't stay as we are," he said it so calmly, so rationally. There was no rage in his words, not even anger, she couldn't name the emotion in his eyes only that it cut through to her. "Either you, Vers, become an unwilling servant of Kree or I become the unwilling traitor. As you often say, I'm afraid there isn't room for the pair of us."
He wouldn't dare. No, she would never give him that kind of power over her ever again, "You try that, Yon-Rogg, and you will die trying."
"Yes," he agreed calmly. He turned his head to look past her towards the stars, "You were more efficient than I was. I didn't bar your path back to C-53, you, on the other hand, have insured I can never return to the empire again. Even if I subdued you, returned with each and every Skrull in tow, it would change nothing. The Supremor does not forgive incompetence, foolishness, or love."
He looked at her, offered her a bitter smile, "You've done well. I couldn't be prouder."
He didn't get up, didn't fight her, didn't say anything. He seemed content to sit there in that damned chair, drifting through space and time, as if they still had anywhere in the world to go.
Then again, he didn't have to, his words were blow enough.
"It wasn't like that," she said, "It—You would have died if I sent you back to Hala empty handed."
"That didn't stop you before," he noted with a frown, still staring out past her, like he couldn't even stand to look at her.
"It was an accident, you were dying, and when you woke up and didn't remember. What was I supposed to do?"
He smiled back at her, looked as if he wanted to laugh, "And what was I to do, Vers? When I saw you bleeding, broken, glowing with the power we had spent so long searching for? Do not expect any sympathizing from me, it seems we've both managed to get our own back from one another."
Yes, they both managed to get their own back.
They'd both used each other, with what they believed were the best of intentions, and tried to reshape the other to be the best version of themselves. For Yon-Rogg, that meant making her a Kree warrior, for her, that meant turning him into a Skrull allied rebel.
They'd both been used by each other, lost bits and pieces of themselves along the way only to wake up changed.
She guessed that made them even.
Finally, he said, "You can take the memories, my memories."
"What?" she asked looking across at him. He wasn't looking at her again, staring out with a pained expression, as if by just looking at her he'd lose his nerve.
"If one of us has to leave… I'd prefer it was me."
It… It felt like her heart was tearing in half. Why did he accept this so easily? Why wasn't he angry? Why wasn't he fighting? She'd wanted his remorse, but not like this, not whatever this was—
"Why would you ever want that?"
He looked at her as if the answer should be obvious, "We're not good for each other, Vers."
"You could just leave!" she shouted, and it felt true even though it wasn't. If he left with his memory intact she'd follow him to the ends of every world and past that. She would ensure he never returned to the Kree empire, never betrayed the Skrulls, and never betrayed her again, "You don't have to—"
"No, Vers," he said with a smile that was far too soft, "We're not good for each other, but I don't think we can truly live without each other either."
"What are you talking about?!" Carol demanded, "That doesn't even make any sense!"
"We're incomplete people now, trapped between two worlds and lives. You're Vers, desperately wishing you were Carol Danvers and somehow managing to convince everyone along the way that you truly are her. As for me, I am a man who never existed." He looked down at his hands, contemplating them, and noted, "All we have is each other, Vers, even if it seems we do nothing but destroy each other."
Finally, he looked at her and said the words she wished he had said a lifetime ago, "Vers, I never should have taken you to Hala."
She laughed, she couldn't help it, but the laughter was mixed with tears as she crumpled in front of him, "I should never have taken you with me."
The words weren't empty, not really, but neither of them had to speak the second part of their statements. They never should have done it, but they both did it anyway with far fewer regrets than they deserved.
And despite everything, she was glad he was still here, and she was glad he hadn't run.
Space stretched out before them, the same as ever, and yet…
"Hey," she forced herself to smile at him, held out her hand in a peace offering, "What do you say you and I go back to Earth? I've missed more than my fair share of Monica's birthdays."
They probably had things to talk about, they probably had their fair share of anger to work through. Somehow though, for the first true time, it was real. They stood on even footing, perfectly aware of the other, and as the lies between them crumbled away you could see the light of a new dawn peeking through.
Author's Notes: And it's over. I hope you enjoyed those mass updates because I have no patience.
Thanks for reading, reviews are much appreciated. And thanks to Vinelle for betaing the story.
Disclaimer: I don't own Captain Marvel or the greater MCU