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A Song Among the Stars, Vol 1 : The Heart of the Sky

Chapter Text

Stepping inside the cracked-open hull of the downed ship and clambering up on the steaming engine block, Quill was immediately met with the smell of blood. In the half-dark the scent made his lip curl and his hair stand on end. On edge now, he blew out a breath and made a half-turn to the great split in the metal wall where he'd come. He called, “Look alive, Drax. We got company."

The pair of them had come here to investigate several reports of a downed ship in the Rajak wilderness; they had not expected to find a Sovereign gunship smashed on the rocky ground, the golden plating of its hull shattered and its banners torn ragged by a rapid descent through the trees. The two men approached, confident that the ship- like most Sovereign vessels- had been unmanned. Quill climbed in without hesitation, hoping to find evidence of what their old foes had been up to. But now it was clear from the metallic tang on the air that the ship had had at least one passenger after all.

Reflexively Quill's hand had come to rest on his gun as he leaped from the engine block and began to pick his way through the shadows. It was a small vessel, with the engine and navigation array taking up most of the lower level. But there was a small staircase at the back of the room leading up to an upper deck. After a few moments of scanning the rubble around him for any sign of a body, he made his way towards it. The passage up was narrow, hardly built to accommodate someone of Quill's considerable size, but with a bit of maneuvering he managed the squeeze through.

Up here, the smell of blood was stronger. At once Quill let out a troubled growl, giving the room a quick sweep with his eyes. There was no movement, no indication of life in the gloom. Quill made his way to the only source of light—a window above the navigation panel. Pulling his sleeve over his hand to protect his skin, he knocked the shattered glass out and leaned through the opening. On the ground below, Drax was shuffling about as he investigated the woods around the ship.

"There was definitely someone here," Quill called. "But I think they're gone now."

"I can't see anyone," Drax replied.

Quill shrugged. "Just keep your guard up is all." That said, he turned, Ravager instincts suddenly kicking in. If the Sovereign were to be trusted, there was bound to be some good loot here somewhere. He began to make his way methodically through the little room, overturning debris with his foot as he skirted areas of heavy damage. A few chips from the ship's solid-gold hull would be enough to trade for fuel and supplies, but he was confident that there were even more fanciful things to be had. As his mind wandered to the luxurious sort of things they could buy with a few batteries or a piece of fine clothing, something caught his eye in the dark- something dully glinting like smoked glass. Quill's heart leaped, his mind going at once to the tantalizing possibility of real treasure, of jewels and precious trinkets. But he had lost the gleam in the shadows. He stepped forward, caution forgotten, and gave a yelp of surprise; there was a body in the dark, moving and breathing and living. The jewel-glint of light had been of eyes, staring up at him from the gloom. The smell of blood was almost overwhelming now.

Quill, regaining his composure, swiftly drew his gun and trained it on the figure. The being watched him unflinchingly. With his free hand Quill fumbled with his flashlight, at last getting it switched on and turning the beam on the stranger. Golden skin glowed in the fluorescent light. A Sovereign, of course, although Quill had never known one to look so disheveled and out of sorts. Blonde hair was frizzy and matted, that smooth androgynous face smudged with soot and bruises. There was dried blood caked on the being’s nose and chin.

Rattled even further, Quill eventually managed, "Howdy. How’re we doin'?"

The being made a small, distressed noise but otherwise did not respond.

"Are you hurt?" Quill persisted. This time, the being gave an almost-imperceptible nod. Quill lowered his gun."Crashed your ship, huh?" Again, there was a tiny nod.

"That's okay. You ain't in any trouble with me. Do you need some help?" Without awaiting a response, Quill knelt. The being watched him evenly, eyes luminous in the dimness. Quill looked the Sovereign over as best he could with the beam of his flashlight, noting the creature's bare legs and naked chest. He also saw that the limbs were trembling violently, the hands balled into white-knuckled fists. "You got a name?" Quill asked softly, trying to soothe the being with conversation.

The voice that replied was hoarse, almost inaudible. "Adam."

Quill nodded. "Can you tell me where you're hurt?"

Adam let out a soft breath. "My leg."

"Yeah, I'd say you probably busted it up in the crash, honey. Let me help you up, we'll get you back home and take a better look. Okay?"

The being stared at him for a long moment, eyes distant. "Where did you come from?"

"Well, we got a call about a ship going down in the wilderness. We deal with that kind of stuff all the time. My name's Peter, by the way, Peter Quill."

"Peter Quill," the being echoed vaguely.

Quill extended an arm, which Adam stared helplessly at. "Grab on," Quill said. "If your leg's hurt then you're gonna want to keep your weight off it." Adam obeyed immediately, grasping Quill's elbow and allowing himself to be lifted upward. At this point Quill realized that the being was completely naked. He felt his ears grow hot and said, "Jeez, you're gonna catch your death out here. Hang on." He quickly shrugged off his long coat, wrapping it gingerly around the being's shoulders. Adam looked at once immensely grateful.

"You are very kind," he said. He looked, in a way, taken aback- as though it was utterly surprising to him that someone could be kind to him.

"Don't mention it. Let's get you out of here." Carefully he led Adam, who was keeping weight off his right leg, down the narrow staircase and over the wreckage into the forest beyond. It was not easy going- twice Adam stumbled out of pain or simply weakness.  Quill figured he'd been at least a day without food or water, and who was to say if he had any injuries other than the leg?  But with patience, Quill eventually guided the fellow out of the wreck and onto the forest floor.  Out here in the daylight, Quill gave his companion another looking over. He was startled to find that, under the dishevelment, Adam was about the prettiest thing he'd ever laid eyes on. His face was exquisite, with high cheekbones and a prominent nose. He had generous lips and long, jet-black lashes that fluttered in the strong light. His eyes were copper, shimmery even through a film of pain and dehydration. Quill let his mouth open a little.

"Is something wrong?" Adam asked softly, feeling Quill's eyes on him. He moved to lean on the man, taking the pressure off of his leg.

"Nothin'," Quill responded. "You hurt anywhere else?" Adam shrugged vaguely, as if suddenly shy. At this point, Drax, hearing his companion conversing with someone, emerged from the wood. Quill watched his hand fly to the short sword at this waist when his eyes alighted upon Adam. "Easy, pal," Quill said, moving between them at once. "He's not hostile."

"Not as far as we can tell," Drax replied, looking hard at Adam. Adam did not shrink from the man's gaze, but rather looked a bit annoyed at being surveyed in such a way. Seeing that he would gain no leverage with intimidation, Drax turned away. "He was in this ship? I thought all the Sovereign vessels were unmanned."

"Yeah, me too," Quill said. He glanced to Adam, who dipped his head in embarrassment.

"It wasn't supposed to be manned," he said. "I stole this ship. I had to get away...."

"Get away from what?"

"My creator. She wanted such terrible things of me."

Quill nodded. "You mean Ayesha?"

"Yes." Adam closed his mouth tightly then, as if fearful to say any more.

"Well, you don't have to worry about her anymore," Quill said slowly.  "You'll be safe with us. We ought to get back to the ship now." He placed an arm around Adam's waist now, providing all the support he could need. Adam looked up at him appreciatively once more.

Thankfully, it was not a long walk to Aurora. Adam gasped at the sight of the magnificent ship gleaming sleekly in the afternoon sun as they approached. "It's much larger than any of our vessels," he said. "How many of you are there?"

"Just six. But we need our space," Quill replied. "And don't be put off if the others don't seem like the friendliest bunch. They don't trust easy."

"But you'll protect me." It wasn't a question. Quill felt a strange little shiver go down his back as he looked into that ethereal face once more.

Inside the ship's cargo bay, Quill let Adam down on a box of canned fruit, crouching next to him. "Stay right there for a second. I'm gonna have Mantis take a look at your leg."

"Mantis...?" Adam echoed as Quill rose and hurried off. By the time Quill had located the woman (in her usual spot meditating under Groot's sunlamp) and fairly dragged her back to the cargo bay, Adam had let Quill's coat slip from his shoulders and pool around his hips.  Quill froze for a breath, staggered by his beauty- he was all smooth planes of lean muscle and flawlessly metallic skin. Quill hung back a little as Mantis gave a soft sound of surprise and went to Adam's side. She was reaching gentle hands out, laying them on Adam's bare shoulders.

"Where did you find him, Peter?" She said.

"He was in the wreck we went to check out. He says his leg is hurt."

Mantis moved her touch to Adam's calf, stroking him gently. Adam winced a little. "It is sprained, I think," Mantis said eventually. "It is hard to tell." She looked up into Adam's face then, a suggestion of shock on her face. "I cannot feel your emotions."

Adam frowned. "Should you?"

"Yes... I am an empath. I have never met anyone whose emotions I could not feel."

Adam looked troubled, so Quill stepped forward once more. "I think that's enough, Mantis. I can wrap his leg up."

As she retreated, Adam said, "What a strange person."

"You ain't seen nothing yet, honey. Now let me grab the first aid kit. You're lucky your leg ain't broken." He reached into the overhead bins for the box of medical supplies before kneeling by Adam once more. Willingly Adam extended his wounded leg, and Quill took it carefully into his lap. There was a large bruise just above Adam's ankle, and Adam made a small noise of pain when Quill touched it.

"How long were you out there by yourself?" Quill asked. "You must be powerful hungry, huh?"

Adam nodded, lowering his eyes bashfully. "I was in the ship for two of this world's sunrises. I had some rations, but only what I could take in my satchel." At this, he looked around. "Oh. It seems I've left it behind."

"No big deal. We got plenty of food. But I gotta ask. What the hell happened to your clothes?"

Adam looked suddenly very pleased with himself. "I shed them as an act of rebellion. I find life more enjoyable without them, at any rate."

Quill laughed. "You're not wrong." He pulled some bandage out of the kit and began to wind it methodically around Adam's lower leg. He had tended a few wounds in his day- usually his own- but that was merely an excuse. He was simply happy to be touching Adam- he was fascinated by this odd fellow, by his regal and otherworldly loveliness as much as his seemingly candid nature. He had been drawn to all of the Sovereign folk he'd met for this reason- even Ayesha, with all her haughty coldness. But Adam was somehow more enchanting still. His skin seemed to possess a subtle glitter, and he radiated a peculiar warmth. He was more beautiful than the others, who had been attractive, but rather plain. His face was thinner, sharper, and so exquisitely androgynous that Quill was put in mind of those old Terran paintings of angels. He was watching calmly as Quill dressed his wound, lashes lowered. Quill realized he was staring and shook himself.

"That should do it," he said, tucking the end of the bandage under itself. "Be better if we had a splint, but if you keep it wrapped tight it should be fine."

Adam smiled so dazzlingly that Quill was again dumbstruck. He felt himself grinning stupidly back. At last he said, "Let me get you something to eat, baby."

Adam cocked his head. "Baby?"

Quill, already headed to the galley, waved and said, "It's just a saying." He then began the arduous process of rooting through the cabinets in search of something, anything, that might be worthy of feeding to such a splendid creature. He knew little of Sovereign cuisine, and he didn't want to alarm his guest with freeze-dried comet crawlers or a jar of Drax's "power jelly". Eventually he located a tin of adjaxi pears and an unopened bag of cloud taffy. Offerings in hand, he hurried back to Adam. "You're probably freezing," he said, looking at the half-naked being perched on a box. "Come inside."

With his free hand he gathered Adam up once more, letting the fellow cling to his shoulder. Adam, thankfully, caught Quill's coat before it fell and clutched it around his waist. Awkwardly they made their way from the hold to the galley, where Quill placed his new companion on the low bench by the stove. "Let me try to find you some clothes," Quill said, although he didn't expect he'd have much luck. Adam was too thin for anything of Drax's or his own, and too tall for anything of Gamora's. At any rate, he left Adam contemplating his tin of pears and headed to the laundry room.

Halfway through the basket of clean laundry, Quill became aware of a presence behind him. He turned, finding Gamora in the doorway. Her arms were crossed and she was frowning.

"Hey, Gams, what's up?" Quill asked, although of course he already knew.

"Care to explain why there is a naked Sovereign sitting in our galley?"

"He crashed his ship. He's hurt."

For a moment, Gamora stared at him as though he had said something in a foreign language. "You brought a Sovereign aboard our ship and then left him unattended."

"What the hell do you think he's gonna do? He's naked."

"He's a spy. And you brought him right where he wanted to be."

"Gamora, I think you're overreacting."

She fixed him with a deadly cold stare. "Think about it, Quill. We suddenly get a call that a ship crashed in the secluded wilderness, miles away from civilization, and it turns out to be a Sovereign vessel. With a passenger. What's wrong with this picture?"

"You know, paranoia isn't a good look for you."

"Just get him out of here before you make me do something we all regret."

While he was usually more than open to her counsel, something about Gamora's shoot first, ask questions later approach was rubbing Quill the wrong way today. "No way. He's hurt, and he needs help. No way are we leaving him here. That's not what we're about."

"You're doing exactly what Ayesha wants you to. He's going to try to kill us."

Quill shrugged. "Well, that's how we make friends around here, huh? Unless you don't remember that you tried to kill me the first time we met. And Drax tried to kill you."

"This is different."

"How?"

She glared at him. "I don't know what's gotten into you. You must be an even greater fool than I give you credit for, Peter Quill, if you can't see that you are playing right into Ayesha's hand. You can let your guard down, but I certainly won't." She turned on her heel and stalked off. Quill, blowing out a breath, resumed his hunt for some suitable clothing. At last he dug out an old t-shirt of his and some stretchy exercise shorts of Gamora's. He hurried back to the galley, where by now Adam had finished his pears and was picking daintily at the cloud taffy. Quill regarded him hesitantly for just a moment, Gamora’s words replaying in his head. But Adam looked up at him and smiled just a little, and the feeling of indecision was gone. "Hey, sweetie,” he said. “You wanna get washed up?"

Adam blinked at Quill. "Most certainly. Do you have a bath chamber here?"

"We've got a shower stall and some shampoo I stole from a hotel."

Adam sighed. "I did not consider that there would be so many things I missed about my home. Do you have no maids, no servants?"

"Nope. But the shower head is detachable, which is pretty cool. Lemme show you."

With some hesitation, Adam got to his feet. He reached out for Quill, who offered an arm at once. When he had been led into the tiny bathroom, Adam let out a small sound of unhappiness. "How dismal," he said. "A toilet in the same room. And no carpets on the floor. Have you even any towels?"

"A couple. I'll grab you a clean one in a second. Let me get the water started." By the time the water was running hot, Adam had left Quill's coat behind once more. Quill, half-covering his eyes, inched around Adam to the door. "Holler if you need anything. And don't come out here with no towel on. If I don't get to run around here in the nude then no one does."

Adam did not appear to be listening. He had already stepped under the water, eyes closed and face upturned. Quill smiled a little and retreated.

As he sat waiting, Drax found him again. "How is your guest?" The man asked. "I see that Gamora has noticed him."

Peter shrugged. "He's getting cleaned up now, and I found some clothes for him. I reckon he should see a doctor. I don't know how banged up he got. And Gamora's being a damn hypocrite."

"You can hardly blame her for being suspicious. I find the situation to be questionable myself."

"Y'all are just jaded is all. He's harmless. Can hardly even stand up on his own, and he was disappointed we didn't have someone waiting to wash his hair for him."

"Your trusting nature has always been both an asset and a flaw."

"I'll just take that as a compliment. Anyway, he's gotta be almost done, I should go find a towel for him." By the time he had grabbed a clean towel, then come back for a second just in case, he figured Adam must be about ready. He tapped gently on the door. "Almost done in there, hon?" There was no answer. Quill cracked the door open, letting a cloud of steam billow into the narrow hallway. He peeked inside the room, blinking at the humid heat that rolled over him. "You almost done, Adam?" He called again. He squinted through the steam to find Adam still standing under the shower, looking blissful. The bathroom was filled with a dim yellow glow. "Come on, buddy, you're gonna use up all the hot water," Quill said, causing Adam to startle back to reality. He turned to look back to Quill, who held out the towels. Adam stepped reluctantly out of the shower stall, wrapping himself hurriedly.

"It's very cold," he said. "I wanted to stay in the hot water as long as possible." "You'll be warmer when you dry off and put some clothes on."

At this point, it was becoming very difficult for Quill to keep his eyes off of Adam's body. First, they fell on his chest- he was cleanly muscular, and perfectly free of hair. They travelled over his flat belly, and this was when Quill chose to excuse himself once more.

In a few moments, Adam had joined him in the galley. He looked rather comical in Quill's oversized shirt and Gamora's shorts. But his face was free of dirt and blood and his hair already beginning to dry into big lazy ringlets around his head, and Quill thought, What an angel. As he came limping over to stand before Quill, he bowed a little. "I cannot thank you enough, Peter Quill. I'm feeling almost back to my old self."

Before Quill could respond, Gamora had entered the room once more. For a long moment, she stood glaring at Adam. He regarded her unerringly as he had Drax, although he did look a little uncomfortable. "You listen," Gamora said at length. "You've got one chance. You do anything that makes me think for even a second that you want to hurt us, and it's over for you."

Adam looked to Quill in alarm. "What does she mean?" He said. "Why would I want to hurt you?"

"Ignore her, Adam, she's just paranoid-"

"I know you're working for Ayesha," Gamora persisted. She pointed at Quill. "You may have fooled him with the innocent act, but I know better than that."

"Gamora, seriously," Quill said, irritation coloring his voice just a little. "You're being very rude."

She looked at him in disbelief. "Manners are what you're worried about? When there's a Sovereign spy sitting here wearing our clothes, pretending he has no idea what I'm talking about?"

"I am not a spy," Adam spoke up suddenly. His eyes were like fire. Quill watched anxiously as the being stood tall and straight-backed, clearly prepared to defend himself. "And I would never work for Ayesha. She is a cruel, heartless woman who loves only herself. I came here to escape her- it's hardly my fault some enemies of hers happened upon me!"

Gamora turned to Quill. "So nothing about this seems suspicious to you?"

Quill shook his head, chewing the inside of his mouth. "He needs help," he said quietly. "And we help people."

Gamora pressed her lips into a thin line. "Fine. But don't come crying to me when he tries to kill you in your sleep."

As she spoke, Quill became aware that Adam had nestled up to his side, wrapping slender fingers around his wrist. He looked down at the being. "You alright?"

Adam nodded, but his face was oddly taut. When Gamora had turned and left once more, he said, "You have been very kind to me. But perhaps it would be wise if I found somewhere else to stay."

Quill shook his head at once. "Don't be silly. Gamora's just a little hard to get along with sometimes. She's had it pretty rough."

"She has felt much betrayal in her life." Adam was watching the spot she had been standing as though she had left a shadow of herself behind. "So have I."

A moment passed in silence. Finally, Quill said, "Feeling better now that you're clean?"

"Much," Adam replied, seeming to shake himself from his contemplation. "But you must forgive me. I am really very tired."

"Oh, I bet you are," Quill said. "Let's say we go make you up a bed. I have a spare cot in my room, and some blankets. I'm sure it's nothing as luxurious as you're used to, but we make do here."

Adam followed him wordlessly to his quarters. Quill was acutely aware of what a mess the place was- there were dirty clothes and candy wrappers everywhere, and his bed was a heap of sheets and pillows. Adam stood with his arms folded tightly across his stomach, visibly uncomfortable. Quill crouched to pull the spare cot out from under his bed, extending it to its full height. It hadn't been used in a very long time- the sheets were coated with dust and the mattress underneath was stained. Quill looked to Adam in embarrassment. "Forget it. You can sleep in my bed. I'll take the couch," he said.

Adam cocked his head attractively. "Your bed looks quite large enough for the both of us."

Peter laughed nervously, his face growing hot. "Oh, no, no," he said. "I don't think we can do that."

"Why ever not?"

"Two grown adults don't really do that, Adam. It's not appropriate." Looking at Adam's open, curious face, Quill remembered all that he had learned about the Sovereign. They were a chaste people who valued purity and purposeful reproduction. It was perfectly reasonable to think that Adam had never learned why such a thing was not generally considered acceptable. Quill sighed. "I'll change the sheets and get you some extra pillows, okay?"

Adam nodded, perching uneasily on the end of the bed. "I have never slept away from home before."

"You'll be okay," Quill said sympathetically. "The first few nights are tough. Trust me, I know better than anyone."

When he had replaced his old sheets and provided an armful of spare pillows, Quill nodded awkwardly to Adam. "Anyway, if you need anything, I'll be on the couch."

Adam, who had tucked himself into bed and was sitting with his hands in his lap, said, "Thank you, Peter Quill. You have been terribly kind to me, and I'm not sure how to properly display my gratitude."

"Don't worry about it," Peter replied with a chuckle. "You just get some rest now, okay? In the morning we can talk about what you wanna do next."

With that, Quill turned to leave. He strolled from his quarters out to the sun deck, thinking in a slow and comfortable sort of way about a great many things.  In truth, he had had a long and tiring day, and he didn't seem to be processing much. There was a strange Sovereign fellow who he knew next to nothing about sleeping in his bed- and his closest friend was not at all pleased with him for it.  But it all seemed distant, as though events had yet to catch up with themselves.  He paused in the galley to take a beer from the fridge before finishing his trip outside.  Drax and Mantis were already there, sitting by the fireplace and looking out over the darkening Rajak wilderness.

Mantis looked up at Quill's approach. "Peter," she said. "How is our new guest?"

"He's trying to get some sleep. He sure seems like he's been through a lot. I'm gonna try to get some more information out of him tomorrow."

"He mentioned that he was fleeing Ayesha," Drax said. "Perhaps he is a traitor to the Sovereign nation."

"I don't know about that," Quill replied. "He seems more like a kid that ran away from home."

"I could not feel his emotions," Mantis said. "It was very strange."

"Yeah, well, the Sovereign are like that." Peter settled on the deck between them, letting out an enormous sigh. "I hope Gamora's not too upset with me. I couldn't just leave the poor fella here."

"Of course not," Mantis said. "He is wounded and afraid. It would be cruel to leave him behind."

Quill, thinking in that same lazy way of Adam's trusting face and deep, glittering eyes, nodded sleepily.

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It seemed that Quill had only just fallen asleep, after several hours of tossing and turning, when a bright patch of morning sunlight was falling on his face. He grunted and rolled over, pressing his face into the unforgiving vinyl of the couch. "This ain't gonna work," he muttered. Then he was sitting up, smoothing his hair and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. His shoulder was aching from laying on it all night. He went to the galley, filling a glass of water at the sink. Then, he remembered why it was he had slept on the couch and hurried to his quarters. Sliding the bedroom door open with the greatest care, he peeked inside. In the bed, Adam was bundled in blankets, his hair a halo of white-gold curls around his head. He was still fast asleep, so Quill closed the door and returned to the galley. He retrieved some of the starberries they had bought on the way here, then grabbed a bottle of juice from the fridge. These he brought back to his bedroom, sneaking quietly in and sitting on the bed beside Adam. "Wake up, hon," he said softly, reaching out to tap Adam's shoulder. "You want some breakfast?"

Adam murmured, eyelids fluttering. "Father...?" He said softly.

"No, sir," Quill chuckled. "It's your new friend Peter. You hungry?"

"Mm," Adam replied, looking up at Quill blearily now. Quill proffered the bowl of berries and the juice.

"Sorry that's all I got to offer you. We're supposed to be going shopping today."

Adam sat up, clutching blankets around him, and looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. "Where are we?"

"Still Rajak. We're just getting ready to take off now." "And where are we going to go?"

"Marketplace on the moon of Krylor first. They have all the best stuff. We might even be able to get you some clothes. And after that, we were thinking you might want to go to a hospital. Have that leg looked at a little better. And maybe there we can find someone who can sort out a place for you to go..."

"Go?" Adam echoed. "Well, I have no idea where I shall go.  I know so little about the outside world."

Quill studied his face. He looked sad and tired, even after sleeping so comfortably. "I mean, you could stay with us."

"I do not think your cross friend would appreciate that."

"She'll warm up to you. She did with the rest of us, for the most part."

Adam sighed. "To tell the truth, I would like very much to stay with you. You are a very compassionate man."

Quill grinned. "We run in some dangerous circles. And you'd have to get used to travelling all the time. But you'll get to see some fun stuff."

Adam contemplated a starberry. "I haven't been forthcoming with you," he said suddenly. "And I feel I must, because you have been so kind to me."

Quill nodded, biting his lip. Adam lowered his head and said quietly, "The woman was not entirely wrong about me. Ayesha did intend for me to kill you- for you are the Guardians of the Galaxy, are you not?"

Quill swallowed hard and said, "Sure are."

"Please, listen to me. She intended me to kill you, but she did not send me here. I fled from her because I am meant for more than senseless violence. Even before I knew how very kind you were, I did not want to kill you. The very thought of such an act is repulsive to me."

"So you left before she could send you out to kill us."

Adam nodded emphatically. "You must believe me. It is purely coincidence- or perhaps, fate- that we met today. I have no love, nor loyalty in my heart for Ayesha. Father taught me to distrust her, and to have faith in myself. And so I ran away. But she will try to find me, you must understand. She will be looking."

Reflexively Quill reached out for Adam's hand, grasping it tightly in his own. "Don't worry about that. We've faced her before, we can sure do it again. You shouldn't have to live like that. We'll look out for you just like we look out for each other."

Adam's eyes grew brighter. "Oh, Peter Quill. You don't know what I've been through."

"You can tell me," Quill replied. "You can tell me all of it. I don't know what it is about you, Adam, but I feel like we know each other. I don't wanna take my eyes off you."

Adam's golden face went a little red. "That is flattering, Peter Quill."

"Er, you can just call me Peter."

Adam smiled. "I feel much better now that I've told you. I hope you can trust me." He set the bowl of berries aside and got to his feet, ginger of his sprained ankle. "I am so glad to be off of Sovereign and away from Ayesha- although I will miss Father terribly. He'll be so happy to know that I've new companions. He was the only one who ever showed a real interest in me, you know."

Now that Adam had got to talking, it seemed as though he had no intention of stopping. For the next half-hour, he gave Quill all the information he could want concerning Adam's life on Sovereign. He learned that Adam's birth- only six months prior- had been overseen by Ayesha. She had been training him ever since, honing his skills in combat and diplomacy. She had told him venomous tales of the Guardians, which Quill patiently explained as largely untrue.

"So your green friend..." Adam said uneasily as he followed Quill from his quarters to the cockpit.

"Gamora," Quill supplied, settling in the pilot's chair.

"Yes, Gamora-- she didn't kill her family in cold blood and spend years as an assassin for hire?"

Quill shrugged. "She was an assassin for a while, but she doesn't do that anymore. And it was the Church that killed her family."

"The Church?" Adam replied.

"Yeah. Real bad people. I don't know much else about them. She could probably tell you, but I seriously don't recommend asking."

Adam contemplated. "And the big fellow who was with you when you found me. His tattoos are not made with the blood of his fallen foes?"

"Jeez, I dunno. That sounds pretty bad-ass. You should run that by him."

"And I also understand that there are two members of your crew I have not met yet: a terrible little sharp-toothed monster and a... tree?"

Quill cackled. "That part’s true."

"And what Ayesha told me about you- that you are a half-breed..."

Quill, setting the course in Aurora's navigator to the big Krylor moon, hardly looked up. "Momma was a Terran, and Daddy's a Titan." He gave Adam a sidelong look, watching for his reaction.

"How fascinating- Father told me about Terrans. They're a rather odd people."

"You got that right." Peter had also heard a great deal about Adam's father this morning, although he had yet to learn how this man could be Adam's parent if the Sovereign were born from pods. He decided not to pursue that question, largely because he was curious to see if Adam ever stopped talking of his own accord.

"I know a little about flying," he was saying, watching Quill's hands at the controls. Below them, the ship's engine roared to life. There was a gentle bump as Aurora rose from the ground. "But obviously not enough. When I crashed, I thought I was going to die. But I didn't care; anything seemed better than remaining under Ayesha's tyranny.”

"You sure know a whole lot for a fella who's only six months old," Quill said as he guided the ship from her perch on a rocky outcrop and into the hazy morning air.

"I had the finest teachers, and access to all of Father's books. That was how I learned that there was a life outside of the one I was leading, one where I wouldn't have to be a servant to my creator's will."

Adam stood, steadying himself on the armrest of Quill's chair. His softly floral scent wreathed around Quill, making him a bit lightheaded. Adam watched the surface of Rajak fade to inscrutable colors below them as they broke the atmosphere. Then he turned his gaze to the stars, eyes dancing.

"It is beautiful," he said at length. "I could look at the stars for hours."

Quill murmured agreement. Watching Adam, he saw something peculiar, something he couldn’t quite put a name to. It was as if the reflection of the stars had been projected onto Adam’s even skin, sparkling and glinting like a million tiny diamonds. They were so vivid that Quill could almost make out constellations. He looked around for the source of the illusion, puzzled, but found nothing. Adam, meanwhile, had closed his eyes as though to he was aware of the starlight bathing his form and was basking in it. Quill swallowed and was struck acutely with a feeling he had had once before- the first time, he had been looking upon the Guardians just after their first encounter with the Infinity Stone. A rush of adrenaline, and a sort of melancholy that sat in the pit of his stomach like hunger. He could not identify the emotion any better now than he could then. But one thing had become in that instant certain to him: there was more to this beautiful and bizarre fellow than was at first evident. His chest ached with the knowledge, but when Adam turned to look at him once more, he smiled.

Chapter Text

With Quill staring so intently at him, Adam began to grow a bit anxious. “Peter,” he said at length. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Quill shook himself. “Was I? Looking at you?”

Adam laughed a little. "I hope I am not proving too much of a distraction."

He watched Quill cross, and then uncross his legs. He swallowed audibly. "No sir. I'm just a little overtired."

"I don't understand why you insisted upon sleeping on the couch," Adam remarked, wandering over to stand behind Quill and peer at his controls. They were very unlike the controls of any ship Adam had ever seen, all ugly blinking lights and gaudy dials. He rested a hand on Quill's shoulder as he observed, which caused a palpable shiver to pass through the man. Adam frowned a little. He didn't like to think that he was causing Quill discomfort or annoyance- in fact, in the short time that he had known the fellow, he had become very determined that Quill should like him. So he withdrew his hand and stood with his arms at his sides, making himself as unobtrusive as possible. Quill cast him a rather nervous look.

"You don't have to stay right next to me," the man said. "It's cool if you want to explore. I promise, no one's gonna hurt you."

Adam wasn't a fool; he took the hint and limped unhappily from the cockpit back to the galley. From there he knew his way to Quill's quarters, but the rest of the ship was still a mystery. He took a tentative step down a narrow hallway leading off the galley, peering around a corner into a dark, cluttered room. The air smelled headily of animal. He wrinkled his nose and moved along. On the other side of the hallway was a room where sharp white light illuminated a black floor cluttered with strange objects. There was a bar with an iron plate at each end laying beside an enormous rubber ball. There were also several colorful plastic bottles and a number of discarded towels scattered. Intrigued, Adam took a step into the room and found the floor underfoot to be soft and forgiving. He took another step, bouncing a little. His bare feet sank into the foamy surface.
He had moved to investigate the bar and plates when a soft noise behind him startled him to attention. He turned to face the door. The woman that Quill had called Mantis was there, watching him with her long antennae flicking. Adam regarded her uncomfortably. After a long moment of silence in which she simply studied him, she said, “I hope you are not feeling terribly out of place here.”

Adam dipped his head, not entirely certain of how to answer. When he looked up, Mantis had come closer to him. He held his ground, determined not to be put off by her. At length he said, “Peter has made me feel very welcome. I appreciate his hospitality.”

Mantis smiled fondly. “Peter is like that. He has much love and compassion in his heart; I saw it when he let me join the team, too.”

Adam moved around her carefully, his ankle smarting as he put a little too much weight on it. He bit his cheek. "Blast it," he said under his breath. He hated the helpless feeling of being injured and hardly more able to defend himself than a newborn bird. As pleasant a host as Quill was, his companions seemed less than welcoming, and that left him vulnerable. The woman Gamora seemed especially displeased at Adam's presence; he was keeping a sharp eye out for her. If she was anything like Ayesha had told him, she would prove a challenge if she decided that his being here would not be tolerated.

Mantis was still watching him, her bizarre black eyes bright with curiosity. He continued to look around despite the gaze fastened on him

"What is this room?" He asked eventually.

"We use it for training," Mantis replied. "Sparring, practicing our aim, even lifting these weights."

Adam nodded, but found this response rather unsatisfying. "Is that all anyone thinks about?" He mused. "Violence and combat?"

"I do not like it either," Mantis said. "But as protectors of the Galaxy, we often encounter enemies who would harm us. We must be prepared to defend ourselves."

"There are other, less bodily ways." Adam, who had grown tired of the stale-sweat smell of the room, made his way back to the hall. Mantis followed closely.

"I know of methods of nonviolent combat. We employ them where we can."

Adam wandered further down the hall, to the next door. This one was closed, and when he reached for the handle to slide it open, Mantis made a small sound of protest. "Not in there, Adam. That is Gamora's room."

Adam withdrew at once. Mantis went on, "I do not know why she is so mistrustful of you. But, I was not a part of the team when they did battle with your people."

"Oh?" Adam said with only the mildest of interest. He was intent on the next doorway. This was open, and a bright, sunny light came from inside.

"I joined them after they rescued me from my former master," Mantis was continuing. "He was a horrible man. But we worked together to defeat him."

"Mm," Adam replied, peering into the room. He was surprised to find that the light came from a small lamp hanging from the ceiling, under which sat an enormous and vaguely man-shaped creature that appeared to be composed of wood. This must be the tree, Adam thought as he stepped into the room. The creature looked up at his approach, swinging a great head around to look at him with small, black eyes. Adam hesitated, but he detected no hint of anger or aggression from this curious being.

"Hello there," Adam said at length. "You must be... er..."

The creature said, "I am Groot."

"Ah, yes. Groot. My name is Adam."

"I am Groot."

Adam paused. "Yes, I- I heard."

Behind him, Mantis reached out to rest a hand on his elbow. "That is all he says."

"Ever?"

She nodded solemnly. Adam sighed and returned his attention to Groot. "Well, it is a pleasure to meet you. I'm certain we'll be seeing a lot of each other."

"I am Groot?" Groot pointed at Adam's bandaged leg.

"Oh," Adam said. "It's sprained."

Without anything else said, Groot reached out with a small green vine that wrapped itself deftly around Adam's leg. Adam protested quietly, but as he watched, it became obvious that Groot meant no harm. The vine had broken off and hardened itself in a neat spiral around Adam's ankle, leaving it held firmly in place. Adam looked up at Groot. "Ah! Thank you, my friend," he said earnestly. "That was kind of you."

"I am Groot."

"He says, 'You're welcome'."

Adam and Mantis turned, finding a newcomer at the door. This must have been the final member of the team- he wasn't anything like Adam had expected. He stood perhaps 3 feet high, and looked like a rough amalgamation of the parts of several animals. He had small, pointed ears and eyes like glass marbles set in the dark fur of his face. He was showing a few white fangs in what may have been a smile.

"You must be the one Gamora was going on about," he said, poking a little clawed finger at Adam. "She ain't happy with Quill for bringing you here."

"So I've seen," Adam replied. "And who might you be?"

"You go first. I live here."

"My name is Adam. I am an escapee of the Sovereign. Your good captain offered me shelter with you for the time being."

The beast nodded, seemingly satisfied with this. "Name's Rocket," he said. "I'm the engineer here. And you've already met my partner-in-crime here, I take it."

Adam nodded, holding out his newly-dressed leg. "He is a very agreeable companion."

Rocket laughed. "My advice for you: stay out of Gam's way, and don't touch any small mechanical object you can't immediately identify."

"Why not?"

"Chances are good it's a bomb."

Adam, rather dazed by this influx of new information, turned to Mantis and said, “I’m going to lay down a while. I want to have plenty of energy when we land on this moon of Peter’s.”

She nodded, stepping aside to let him pass. Adam limped carefully back to Quill’s quarters, closing the door behind him once he had ascertained that Mantis had not followed him again. Alone, he let out a soft breath. This place was a far cry from his home. He bundled himself in Quill’s coarse sheets and sat in a huddle of self-pity for a moment, missing his own cozy bed and his legion of attendants. He would have started this day with a long, hot bath while they combed his hair and filed his nails. He would have eaten a breakfast of fresh bread and fruit from the gardens. Then he would have spent his morning studying with Father, nose buried in a book about astronomy or biology.

He decided, as he laid his head on one of the stiff pillows Quill had given him, that he would miss Father most of all. For all Ayesha’s nigh-obsessive interest in Adam, she did not have it in her heart to care for him. Once he had grown independent enough to stand and walk on his own, she had scarcely touched him. She only addressed him when it was to instruct him to practice his combat maneuvers- or to go on with almost equal obsessiveness about the Guardians of the Galaxy. Her nemeses, her foes, the people she would train him to bring destruction to. He had known early on that this was all she wanted him for: to be a weapon and a scourge on any who dared to cross her. Adam felt a knot form in his stomach as he thought of her chilly indifference.

But Father had been different. He had listened when Adam spoke, and displayed his interest plainly. His lessons with Adam had not been on combat, but on the wonders of life and the beauties of existence. Father's hands had always been gentle when he stroked Adam's hair. Adam smiled at the memory, blinking as sleepiness overcame him. He dreamed of richly illustrated textbooks and quiet walks in the garden.

When he woke, it was to Quill's face over him. "Wake up, Adam," he was saying. "Don't you wanna come out to the market with us?"

Adam yawned and stretched. "Certainly. I've never been to a market before."

He untangled himself from the sheets and rose, straightening his rumpled clothing. He cringed at the thought of anyone seeing him in such disarray- mismatched clothes, bandaged leg, matted hair- but the promise of experiencing the world outside of Sovereign was far too exciting to pass up.

"Have you got a comb?" He asked Quill, who was rifling about in the closet at the back of the room.

"On the nightstand," Quill replied. He had emerged with a fresh shirt, and looked to Adam with the briefest of hesitation before pulling the old one off over his head. Adam noted the smooth, deep tan of his skin and the line of reddish hair that led from his navel down under his trousers. Then Quill was pulling his shirt down. Their eyes met briefly- Quill's face grew rather flushed and he turned away.

"We can get you some real clothes," he said, now pulling a light jacket on. Then he fished another out of the closet and tossed it to Adam. "It's a little chilly out there."

Adam, admiring the supple red leather of the coat for a moment before pulling it on, followed him out of the bedroom. Looking out of the window in the galley, Adam found that the ship was perched on a grassy hill, midday sun illuminating the iridescent metal of her flanks. He moved closer to the window, peering out to find that they were grounded not far from what appeared to be a cluster of colorful tents planted in the grasslands. Beyond that, there was a vast blue something glittering in the distance.

"What is that?" Adam asked, pointing.

"That's the ocean," Quill replied. "This is a wet moon."

Adam had heard of oceans, of course- Father had even stated that there was a bay not terribly far from the Sovereign palace, where ships sailing from the remoter territories of their world came to dock. But he had never seen it- he had not expected it to be so vast, or so blue.

"Okay, y'all," Quill said, and Adam looked up to find that the rest of the crew had gathered around their leader. "We have our assignments. Gams and Rocket, you're on supplies. Drax, Mantis, you are on fruit and vegetable duty. I'm gonna handle the protein, and see if we can't find some clothes for Adam here. And Groot's guarding the ship."
There were unenthusiastic murmurs. Quill clapped his hands briskly and looked to Adam. "Come on, Goldilocks."

Adam followed just behind him as they exited the ship. Outside, the air was brisk and had a peculiar tangy quality to it. Quill sucked in a deep breath, then let it out in a happy sigh. "I love that smell!" He said to Adam. A chilly breeze had come up while they stood, causing Adam to shiver. He stepped a bit closer to Quill.

"Now I don't know what we're gonna find in the way of clothes," he said, beginning to walk. "Probably nothing like what you wore at home."

Adam, whose gaze was fixed on the great body of water they were approaching, only nodded in reply.

As they got closer to the assemblage of tents, other smells began to mingle with the saltwater tang. He could smell roasting vegetables and baking bread, and the sharp pungent scent of raw meat. They began to pass tents with benches set up in front, where dark-haired, pink-skinned people stood over an array of their wares. One was selling blades that varied in size from small knives to swords the length of Adam's arm. Another had mounds of fragrant spices and pots of colorful oils. At a tent where the vendor offered what appeared to be strips of dried meat, Quill halted. He sniffed a little, then beamed over at Adam.

"What do you like to eat, anyways?" He asked.

"Bread and fruit, largely."

"Easy enough."

Quill pointed out several pieces of meat and exchanged a handful of paper with the vendor. The vendor wrapped Quill's selection in a neat parcel, which Quill tucked under his arm. Then they were moving along to the next stall. As they progressed, the ground under Adam's bare feet turned gradually soft and sandy. He barely noticed, too enraptured by the sights and sounds of the place. Between the din of crowing merchants and the high keen of seabirds, Adam was rather overwhelmed. Aside from this, there was also the sheer number of people around him- he had never seen so many people in one place. They were largely of the pink-skinned Krylorian race, but here and there he saw someone less homogeneous among the crowds. Not far from where they stood, a man with massive, branching antlers was picking out some fruit. A few stalls down, the vendor was a diminutive copper-colored woman with long, white whiskers. She was offering colorful silk robes. These drew Adam's attention; he found himself wandering from Quill's side to investigate them further. He reached out to touch the fabric of one garment as he approached, finding it gauzy and light. The vendor hoisted herself off the the stool she had been perched on to approach him.

"That would compliment such a pretty creature," she said.

Adam lowered his eyes. "They are very fine."

"You like those?" Adam turned to find Quill had approached, placing a hand on Adam's back.

Adam nodded, feeling a little shy. But Quill was already handing money to the merchant, who reached gladly for it. He nudged Adam. "Go ahead, kid, pick your favorite."

Adam laid his fingertips on a lavish scarlet shawl, and within minutes the vendor was handing it over. As he took it from her, she said, "You have a generous lover."

Adam opened his mouth in surprise. "Lover? No, Peter is my new friend. But he is very generous." He looked to Quill, who gave a nervous chuckle.

"Come on," the man said eventually. "There's lots to see."

Adam followed him willingly as he continued his shopping. They purchased fresh meat and a whole fish, plus a few dozen eggs and some miscellaneous things- a sack of beans, a container of nuts, and a gallon of powdered milk. Then, Quill began to steer Adam towards stalls offering clothing. In the end, Adam wound up with several pairs of leggings, three colorful tops, and a sweater woven from luxuriously soft wool. It was very different from the clothing he had worn at home, but he found he fancied the bright colors and elaborate patterns.

"That's gonna have to do it until we get our next payday," Quill said as he slung a bag of groceries over his shoulder, motioning for Adam to follow. "We ought to get back to the ship soon. I'm sure the others are almost done."

Adam said nothing. As they had moved from stall to stall, the crowds between had grown increasingly dense, so much so that soon it was a struggle to move. Quill was agile in navigating, but Adam had quickly fallen behind. He made a small noise of alarm when he realized that he could not see Quill's broad back any more- he had been lost in the surging sea of bodies. Adam cast his eyes around unhappily, looking for a safe place. He saw a familiar stall hung with eye-catching banners, but the way was nearly blocked by the crowds. But his anxiety at losing Quill made him determined; he set out moving around the mass of people. It was not easy work. He made contact with several strange bodies, flinching every time. When he was almost to his destination, he ran rather hard into the arm of a huge blue-skinned man, who turned to look for the source of the collision. He stared down into Adam's face for a long moment in surprised silence before saying at last, "Holy hell... that's a Sovereign!"
Adam bristled, hurrying to move around the man. He was shocked to find that a massive hand had darted out to snatch his wrist. It wasn't a painful grasp, but firm enough to keep him from going anywhere.

"Unhand me!" Adam exclaimed. "How dare you!"

The man was not listening. He had turned to a second sizable fellow beside him and was saying, "A Sovereign, huh? How long do you reckon it's been since someone got their hands on one of those?"

Adam, panic rising in his chest, reached with his free hand to claw at the man's veiny forearm. Rather than releasing him, the man switched his grasp deftly to Adam's elbow.

"We'll get a pretty penny for you, boy," the second man said, closing in behind Adam. "Don't struggle too much. We wouldn't want to hurt you."

"Release me!" Adam cried. "Peter! Where are you?"

Around them, the crowds had parted slightly to watch the commotion. Adam's eyes swept the surrounding faces. His heartbeat in his ears was almost deafening. The man whose grasp was still clamped on his elbow gave him a tug to get him moving, which caused his weight to come down painfully on his injured ankle. He yelped, and there was a flash of blinding white light. As he writhed with pain, the man finally released him. He stumbled backward onto his rump, grasping his throbbing ankle. As the pain faded, he looked up and realized that his would-be captor was laying in a heap on the ground not far from where Adam had fallen. He was motionless, and his companion was crouching over him. Confused, Adam looked around once more for Quill. There was the man now, hurrying towards him with his blaster in his hand.

"Peter," Adam said as Quill reached him and knelt. "What happened? Did you shoot that man?"

"Me?" Quill asked. "No, I didn't even fire!"

"He was going to hurt me, I think. He said something about getting money for a Sovereign."

Quill nodded, eyes dark. "Probably one of those no-good traffickers. What did you do to him?"

"Nothing. At least, I don't think. I don't see how I could have."

Adam looked past Quill's face to the crowd beyond. They were watching the pair of them, awe and bewilderment on all their faces. Quill hummed. "I reckon you must have done something."

He helped Adam quickly to his feet. "Can you walk?" He asked. Adam nodded. As they spoke, the big fellow sprawled on the ground groaned and moved a little. Quill stiffened up, brandishing his blaster. "You two better believe you ain't heard the last of us," he said to the men. "We don't take kindly to slave traders."

After Quill had gathered their groceries (which he had tossed aside in alarm at seeing Adam in the man's grasp), they continued on their way. He fairly interrogated Adam. "Are you alright? Did they hurt you?"

"I'm perfectly fine," Adam replied. "They didn't harm me, really. They startled me a little, and I've never had anyone’s hands on me in such a way. But they seem to have learned their lesson."

They were almost to the ship when Adam looked up and realized that Gamora had fallen into step beside Quill. "Did you see the flash?" She asked. "Everyone in the market was talking about it."

Quill nodded. "It was Adam. Some creepy guys moved in on him."

Gamora spun to look at him, her eyes hard. "What kind of guys?"

"Large men, with blue skin," Adam replied.

"Sagittarians," Quill suggested. "They said something about selling him off because he's Sovereign."

Still staring at Adam, Gamora asked, "And what did you do?"

Adam hugged his arms to his middle. "I don't know. Nothing intentional."

"Some sort of weird Sovereign defense mechanism," Quill said. "It was like a flash of lightning, but there was no sound. One of the guys wound up unconscious."

They had reached the ship by now, and Quill lowered the boarding ramp. "Where's everyone else? I don't want to stick around too long."

"Rocket said something about a backup generator. Drax went with him."

"And Mantis?"

"Last I saw of her, she was at the vegetable stand."

Adam left them standing in the gentle breeze, retreating inside the ship. He made his way immediately to Quill's quarters. He pulled Quill's shirt off over his head, and kicked Gamora's shorts off. Then he sat on the bed, folding his legs. He had a great deal to meditate on after such an eventful day. But before he could even close his eyes, the door slid open and Quill stepped in, arms full of packages.

"Hi!" He said, "You're naked again!"

"I can't meditate with those terrible clothes on."

"Here." He untied a parcel and tossed Adam the beautiful robe he had picked out today; without protest Adam pulled it on. Quill set the remainder of the packages down and sat on the bed.

"You sure you're okay?" He asked.

"I'm fine." Adam looked into Quill's face and found his brow knitted, his mouth a thin line. Eventually the man shrugged.

"If you're sure. You want something to eat?"

"When I'm through meditating." Adam closed his eyes pointedly, turning his face slightly upward. Quill sat beside him in silence for a moment before at last standing and exiting the room.

Alone once more, Adam let his mind slide into the memories of the past few days. He felt again the sadness at saying goodbye to Father, looking up into that familiar face one last time before he fled. He remembered the anxiety mixing with a bizarre sense of triumph as he slipped into the hangar and located a suitable vessel. Ayesha had made her own bed, teaching him to control a ship remotely- it wasn’t exactly like piloting, but enough so that he was successful in navigating the ship from the hangar up and out, into the vast black depths of space. He had been for a moment dazzled by the beauty of the void, but fear that he would be followed spurred him on.

He wondered how long it had taken Ayesha to realize he was gone. He was certain that Father had misdirected her to buy Adam time, but she was not a foolish woman. By now, she almost certainly had efforts underway to recover him. He hoped that if they came upon the crashed ship in the Rajak wilderness, they would be drawn off his trail. He did not want them to find him, and he especially did not want them to find him in the company of Ayesha’s sworn enemies. For a moment he had a gut-wrenching vision of Ayesha herself confronting Quill, his dear new friend. He did not dare imagine the kind of things she might do.

He realized his heart was racing and opened his eyes, taking a few breaths to calm himself. Then he was settling back into a reflective mindset, but before he could get to thinking over what had happened in the marketplace today, a smell reached him. It was unfamiliar, but it immediately made his mouth water. He realized that he had not eaten anything since Quill’s bowl of berries this morning and sighed weightily. Ambitions of meditation forgotten, he got up from the bed and tied his robe securely around his waist.
In the galley, the Guardians- apparently finished with their shopping- were sitting around the low table. As he approached, Quill looked up. “Oh hey, Adam. Finished with your meditating?”

Adam nodded. Quill motioned for him to sit. “Drax made us some early dinner,” the mad said. “You must be starving.”

As soon as he was seated, Mantis was handing him a bowl of broth full of vegetables and chunks of meat. Tentatively Adam brought the rim of the bowl to his lips. He was immediately surprised at the flavor of the soup- it was rich and spicy. He had never eaten something that warmed his chest so instantly; the food of the Sovereign was mostly bland, all unleavened bread and boiled vegetables, or raw fruit.

Even as this thought ran through his mind, Rocket, seated across the table, said, “Better than that flavorless shit your people eat, right?”

“Rocket!” Quill exclaimed.

“What? Don’t pretend you didn’t have to choke down that paste-oatmeal they gave us, too.”

Adam set his bowl of soup down. “Rocket is not wrong. The Sovereign care far more about efficiency than enjoyment, I’m afraid.”

“Well, Drax is a great cook,” Quill replied.

Adam looked now to Drax, who was practically beaming. He reached to hand Adam a generous slice of bread- Adam found it dotted with fruit and nuts. “My people value wholesome and nutritious food,” Drax said. “I learned to cook from my father, and he from his father before him.”

Adam nodded as he bit into the bread. It was soft and sweet, complimentary of the hot soup. He had quickly finished it, which caused Quill to remark, “Damn, you were hungry.”

“Where are we going next?” Adam asked after he had finished his soup.

“We’re gonna head back to Xandar,” Quill replied. “The med-bay at headquarters can have a look at you, and we can rest a little before we get any more calls.”

“Do people need your help often?”

“Sometimes. And sometimes we get sent after people like those guys in the marketplace. People who do bad things.”

Adam said nothing, picking a bit of meat from the soup with his fingers. It was so tender that it seemed to melt in his mouth. His eyes fluttered in enjoyment. “I’ve never had food so delicious,” he said when he had finished the soup.

Drax laughed. “I think you and I shall get along well.”

When everyone had finished eating, Quill got to his feet and stretched. “Alright, gang, let’s get a move on,” he said. “I’m sure we’re all missing home, and I’ll bet there’s a certain someone who’s wanting to see you, Gamora.”

Adam looked to Gamora. She rolled her eyes slightly, but smiled.

For a while Adam stood by Quill in the cockpit, watching him calibrate the navigation system for their new destination. Quill seemed less unnerved by his presence now, and even began to sing quietly under his breath as he worked. Adam studied his features. For being so very unlike the Sovereign faces that he was accustomed to, Quill was pleasing to the eye. He had a broad sort of face that seemed to be eternally smiling; his green eyes were bright and kind. Adam found the fuzz of hair on his cheeks and chin rather humorous- his people did not grow beards or body hair. His people were also a great deal leaner than Quill. He had a powerful, generously proportioned body.

“How old are you, Peter?” Adam asked suddenly.

The man looked puzzled. “Uh… 38? I don’t know what year it is on Terra anymore.”

“38 years, yes? Is that old, for your kind?”

“Not especially. And as far as my dad’s folk go, they can live for thousands of years. He treats me like I’m just a kid.”

Adam stood in quiet contemplation for a moment. At last Quill looked up at him. “You can take my bed again tonight. I’m probably gonna be up all night anyway.”

“I still don’t understand why we can’t sleep together,” Adam said offhandedly. Quill gave an odd, choked little laugh and quickly shook his head.

“No, no,” he said. “I’ll be fine.”

Adam shrugged and moved away, wandering from the cockpit back to the odd room he had discovered earlier, with the soft floor. Drax and Gamora were already there, mulling about between rounds of sparring. Gamora looked up at Adam briefly, but otherwise paid him little mind. He was glad- he did not care to draw her ire any further. He sat quietly on a bench by the door and hoped they wouldn’t mind him watching.

Their sparring was not the elaborate show of maneuvering he had expected, he found as he watched. In his training, everything was about showing off your power, although it rarely had much to do with actual contact with an opponent. But while Gamora skipped the fancy footwork and lacked any decorative staff or glittering rapier, her power was all too evident. Drax was a good deal larger than she was, but she flipped him effortlessly onto his back. She pinned his arms behind him, or pounced deftly onto his shoulders to force him to the ground. Even when Drax got the upper hand, she was graceful in her defeat. Adam found himself leaning forward, fascinated. Could I move like that? He wondered. Perhaps she could teach me.

It was an odd thought, considering that for the time being, Gamora didn’t even like him. But he found it strangely comforting nonetheless.
When Drax and Gamora had finished, they dusted themselves off and embraced playfully. As he passed Adam on the way out of the room, Drax said, “Did you enjoy watching us wrestle? Perhaps next time we could show you some useful techniques.”

Adam looked at him appreciatively. “That would be sensible.”

He followed them back to the galley- from there he could see Quill, quiet and still in the pilot’s chair. Outside, the total darkness of space made Adam instantly sleepy. He wanted to retreat to bed, but something about the lonely figure before him made him feel compelled to stay. He lingered, wringing his hands, before remembering the uncomfortable look Quill had given him this morning. The last thing he wanted was to irritate his new friend. So, reluctantly, he retreated to the bedroom and sat for a long time in the dark, thinking about a great many things.

Chapter Text

When the Guardians landed in Xandar's Capital City, it was nearly nightfall.  The setting sun glinted on gleaming skyscrapers and high glass roofs.  On the streets, people were hurrying home from work or strolling leisurely in the summery warmth.  Quill landed Aurora in her usual spot in the Nova hangar- Gamora could not be off the ship fast enough.  Between her anxiety over the presence of this mysterious newcomer and her irritation with Quill, it would be a relief to get away from them for a few hours.  She hardly acknowledged Drax's goodbye shout as she threw her travel bag over her shoulder and made her way down the boarding ramp.  Outside, it was warm enough that she could shrug off her jacket and stuff it in her bag.  Her hair immediately began to frizzle in the humidity.

She made her way briskly from the hangar onto the streets of the Capital City.  Although the last vestiges of sunlight were now fading from the sky, her way was lit by the soft glow of solar lamps and the lights from inside of the shops as they closed.  As she strode through the sparse crowds, some faces turned to her with admiration.  She gave them tight-lipped smiles, but said nothing.

As she reached the Nova Campus, she took a moment to let her shoulders relax.  Mantis had already told her to stop holding tension in her body; it hindered positive energy and lowered vibrations.

Gamora wasn't certain how much of what Mantis said she believed, but the advice was well-intended.  She let out her breath and made for the entrance of the high, mirrored tower where the Nova dormitories were.  The Guardians had an apartment of their own a few blocks over, but she preferred to spend her time here as of late.
Inside the lobby, a few Corpsmen were sitting around in casual conversation.  They looked up at her approach, waving enthusiastically.  She grinned at them, sticking her hands in her pockets.  On the elevator, she found herself squeezing in beside Denarion Fraktur.  The dragon-woman's enormous wings, even tucked politely behind her as they were, filled most of the space.

"Sorry," she said in her deep rumbling voice.

"No worries," Gamora replied.  She had come to like Fraktur, clumsy and overeager as the Karkaranthan could be.  She waved goodbye as the elevator stopped on her floor, leaving the gigantic woman shuffling about awkwardly behind her.  She made her way down the long, white-carpeted hallway to apartment 506.  She knocked- she hadn’t got around to getting a keycard of her own yet- and held her breath in anticipation.

The door opened.  “Hey, Green Bean!”  Richard was still in his uniform, although he had an apron tied over it.  “Come on in, you’re just in time for dinner.”

As she stepped into the apartment, he bent to kiss her.  She inhaled the heady scent of his cologne.  He slid his strong arms around her and gave her a little squeeze; when he had withdrawn, he looked down at her and said, "You a little tense?"

She nodded.  "It's a long story."

"I've got plenty of time."

He led her to the kitchen, where he made her up a plate of what he had been busy cooking- braised short-ribs and mashed sweet potatoes.  Now that she had accustomed herself to Terran cuisine, this was something she could look forward to.  He poured her a glass of dark wine to go with her supper and bade her sit down at the table.  As he settled across from her, she admired him from under her lashes.  Although he was no rival for Quill in size, Richard was a tall, broad-shouldered fellow.  He had slightly curly dark-brown hair, olive skin, and a face given to cocky smiles.  Today he was neatly shaved, which indicated to her that he had had a meeting with Rael, but on his days off he allowed a bit of stubble to grow out.

He caught her staring and smirked a little.  "Miss me?" He asked.

She nodded.  "More than you understand."

He chuckled, taking a sip of his wine.  "Wanna talk about it?"

She took a bite of potatoes to give herself time to consider her next statement.  At last she said, "Do you think I'm paranoid?"

For a split second he broke into a grin, but when he saw that she was serious, it quickly fell from his face.  "Paranoid?  Nah.  Cautious due to an overwhelming amount of prior experience, maybe, but paranoid is going a little far.  Why do you ask?"

"It's Quill.  We've picked up a new passenger- a Sovereign.  And he doesn't understand why I think we should be suspicious."

"Wait, the Sovereign were those genetically-perfect assholes you guys were beefing with a few years back, right?"

"Yes, and it seems that their High Priestess never gave up her grudge against us.  She was planning to send one of her creations after us- Adam.  But he ran away, or so he says.  And guess who found him?"

"Mr. Bleeding Heart himself?"

She sighed.  "I admire Peter's dedication to philanthropy, but he brought a what could very well be a spy right into our ship.  He's letting him sleep in his bed!"

Richard raised an eyebrow. "He's sleeping with this Adam guy already?"

"No, Peter's sleeping on the couch."

"Well, that's somewhat of a relief."

"And yesterday, we took him out to the market on Krylor-I and he gets mysteriously attacked by a couple of thugs.  He injured one of them with some weird power.  Peter saw it all happen and still didn't think it was any cause for concern."

"This Adam guy is with the other Guardians now?"

She sat up in her chair, suddenly reconsidering her decision to leave them alone.  "Should I go back?"

"No, that's not what I meant," Richard replied at once.  "Pete's a big boy, I'm sure if anything goes wrong, he can handle it himself.  You gotta relax."

She exhaled, then drained her wine glass.  "I've come a long way to be where I am," she said, more to herself than to Richard.  "I didn't have any friends before I met the Guardians.  And I'll be damned if anyone is going to ruin that for me."

He nodded sagely.  "Finish your dinner.  We have a to-do list tonight."

That was all the convincing she needed.  After she was done eating, she excused herself to the bathroom to wash up.  When she returned, Richard was cleaning up the kitchen.  He didn't tolerate a mess- every dish he used had already been washed, and every surface was gleaming.  Gamora was hardly used to such a level of cleanliness, and after years in the companionship of the less-than-hygienic Quill, she hardly expected it of a Terran man.  But she had found that a lot of the impressions she had gotten about the Terran people were not true- at least not in Richard's case.

"Any exciting missions while I was gone?" Gamora asked as she came up behind him, running a hand along his shoulders.

"Not especially.  We cleared out a drug den on K'ai.  Then yesterday we got a strange call about some activity on an abandoned space station in the Aquila quadrant, but by the time we got there the Spartax Royal Guard had already cleared it out.  It was weird, though.  Like they were hiding something."

She hummed.  "Sounds like them."

He turned suddenly, planting a kiss on her cheek.  "I'm glad you're back," he said with his mouth near her ear.  Shivering a little, she grabbed his wrist.  He didn't resist her as she pulled him from the kitchen to the bedroom overlooking the darkened street below.

His lips were warm on her ear, her neck.  Their light touch tickled her enough to draw a little laugh out of her.  That seemed to be all the incentive he needed- quickly his hands were on her, moving up her back, under her shirt.  She turned to face him as he deftly unclasped her bra.  Her arms snaked over his shoulders, and she pressed her lips firmly to his.  She felt him smile before she moved her mouth to his jaw, then his neck.  He let out an enormous sigh of pleasure.  Then he was pushing her back a little, deftly pulling her top up and over her head.  She was unbuttoning his shirt.  When he had shrugged it off and tossed it aside, Gamora laid a hand on his chest and pushed him backward onto the bed.

In an hour, when they were laying naked and damp with sweat, Gamora gave a long and luxurious stretch.  She turned her head to look at Richard, who had his eyes closed and was breathing evenly.

“Did you already fall asleep?” She said.  “Damn, it must have been really good.”

He grinned.  “It was.  But I’m just thinking.  Maybe I should go over and talk to Peter tomorrow, and see if I can’t get a look at this new friend of his.”

“So we can confirm that I’m right and the whole situation is suspicious?”

Richard nodded.

“Sounds like a good idea.  Just be warned- Peter’s not going to take kindly to it.  We’ll have to work out a way to get him to let his guard down.”

“Food.”

“...Yeah, that will probably work.”

She rolled onto her side to face him, taking a deep breath of his smell once more.  It was immensely comforting to her, and soon she found her eyes growing heavy.  She did not resist the pull of sleep, dozing off with her fingers woven into his.

 

In the morning, as promised, Richard made a large breakfast of something he called huevos rancheros , which he proclaimed to be one of Quill's favorites.  "A plate of these might distract him long enough that I can have a word with his special guest," he said triumphantly.  Gamora hated to admit that this plan was practically foolproof.  So with the plate wrapped neatly in tin foil, they made their way from Richard's apartment the three blocks over to where the Nova Corps were housing the Guardians.  As they approached the door of the apartment, Gamora could already hear the chaos that was the natural state of the Guardians.  Richard knocked; Quill opened the door and immediately leaned against the door frame, hands shoved in his pockets.  "Well hello there, handsome," he said, voice smooth.

Richard grinned.  "Good morning, gorgeous.  We brought you breakfast."

"Aww, that's sweet."  Quill's eyes traveled to Gamora now; he looked a little sheepish.  "Hey Gams.  You two wanna come inside?"

"Yeah, for sure," Richard replied.  They crossed the threshold into the noisy apartment.  Over the backdrop of Quill's music, Gamora could hear Rocket shouting something to Groot.  In the den, Drax had the vacuum cleaner running.  She wondered how this place hadn't driven her to drink yet.

"Here, Pete, eat up," Richard was saying, handing Quill the plate.  Gamora took her cue.

"You're spoiling me," Quill said as she turned and made for the bedroom.  When Quill was sufficiently distracted by breakfast, Richard had joined her.  Carefully, she cracked the door and peered in.

It was the cleanest Quill's room had ever looked; he must have done some straightening up for Adam's benefit.  And, as Gamora anticipated, Adam was sitting on the bed. He was dressed in flattering night clothes and picking at a bowl of stew.  He looked up in surprise as Gamora opened the door in full.  Richard craned his neck to see around her.  Adam stared at them both with eyes like saucers, but he did not move a muscle.

"He doesn't look dangerous," Richard whispered.

"Why would a spy look dangerous ?" Gamora hissed in response.  "You Terran men are all the same."

Richard pressed past her, taking a step into the room.  "Hey there," he said to Adam, who had risen to his feet and was still watching them nervously.  Richard went on, "You really buttered old Pete up, huh?"

"Who are you?" Adam replied.  "What do you want with me?"

"You're making my girlfriend a little suspicious.  I'm just assessing the threat level."

"Threat level!" Adam echoed incredulously.  "Peter!"

In what felt like half a second, Gamora was being pushed out of the way as Quill fairly burst into the room.  He put himself immediately between Richard and Adam.

"What the hell!" He snapped.  "Why are you bothering Adam?"

"Because Gamora has a good point about him, Pete," Richard responded calmly.  "You don't know what he's capable of."

"That's enough.  He had a rough night.  You ain't about to interrogate him."

"Take it easy, Pete," Rich said.  Gamora watched Adam come to stand behind Quill, largely hidden from view.  He watched the pair of them over the man's shoulder.

Quill went on, "I know what y'all think.  But he's alone and afraid.  I gotta watch out for him!"

Richard shrugged, looking to Gamora.  "I tried."

She shook her head.  To Quill she said, "I still think you're being foolish."

"And I still think you're being paranoid.  He's not gonna hurt anyone."

Gamora relented, returning to the hallway.  Richard followed immediately.  "Jesus, you're right," he said.  "Peter is totally infatuated."

"I'm done worrying about it."

“I sort of get why, though,” Richard went on.  “Adam’s cute.”

“He’s playing Peter.  I see right through him.”  She shook her head.  “But I said I was done worrying about it.”

“Understood.  You wanna go catch some rays in the park?”

So they spent the morning wandering aimlessly on the rolling green lawns of the commons, admiring the flashy silver fish in the reflecting pool, and strolling through the flower gardens.  As they went, the tension left Gamora’s body bit by bit.  She didn’t recall ever feeling so at peace in a man’s company before Richard.  Even Quill could be overbearing, but Richard, in the few months that he had known her, seemed to have gained an intimate understanding of her.  He didn’t press her to express her emotions, he didn’t touch her when she didn’t want to be touched.  Mostly he seemed content simply to be in her company.

“This place reminds me of home,” he was saying now, his eyes following a toddler playing chase with a dog nearby.  “If that kid wasn’t purple, I could almost swear I was in Central Park again.”

“What is the park at the center of?”

“Manhattan.  New York City.  The best place in the whole galaxy.”

“Do you miss home?”

“Sometimes.  I miss my folks and by brother, mostly.  And the pizza.  All the other incredible scientific advances the Empire has made, and nobody thought to invent pizza.”

“Is that a sort of technology? Like the iPhones?”

“No, it’s a food.  Like bread with sauce and cheese and other stuff on it.  When I take you there on vacation, we’ll get some.  You’re gonna love it.”

It was not the first time he had promised to bring her home with him.  The first time, she had laughed.  Now she realized that he truly meant what he said.  “Next time I get some leave, we’ll go,” he had said one morning over coffee.  “I’ll show you where I grew up, and where I went to school.  Maybe we can bring Pete along.”

“He doesn’t want to go back,” Gamora had replied at once.  “Not after what happened last time he was there.”

He had looked somber for a moment before going on to tell her about all of the restaurants and bars he wanted to show her, and a place called Yankee Stadium where they played the truly bizarre sport of baseball.  And while he was waxing poetic about the scenery of his youth, she had grown a little sad that she would never be able to show him the place where she was born.  But those were emotions she had little time for, and she quickly dismissed them.

Back in the present, Richard still seemed to be going on about the pizza.  They had walked almost the length of the commons, and it was nearly midday.  Gamora, realizing she hadn’t thought to check in on the Guardians and assure they hadn’t all been murdered, reached for her transmitter.  But it was free of distress calls.  No one had sent her so much as a concerning message.  She tucked it back into her pocket and felt a little sheepish.

In the evening, Richard ordered take-out and they watched several hours worth of old movies.  Gamora eventually stopped checking her transmitter.  She slept the whole night through without once being disturbed by a call.  A small part of her brain said, You can’t send transmissions if you’re already dead .  But the larger and more logical part of her brain chose to ignore it.  After all, if five fully-trained and capable warriors couldn’t hold their own against a single unarmed Sovereign, then she would not have been of very much use anyway.

However, when the transmitter began to chirp the following morning while Gamora was watching the news, she was quick to answer.  She found Quill’s sleepy face beaming at her from the little screen.

“Good morning, missy,” he said with enough affection to convince her that his anger over yesterday had faded.  “We got a call.  Something’s going down in the Aquila quadrant.  They want us specifically- said it pertains to our area of expertise.”

“Giant space monster?” She replied.

“Didn’t sound that way.  But I guess we’ll find out when we get there.  Meet us at the ship.”

Gamora went to the bedroom, where Richard was still sleeping, and kissed his forehead.  “I’ve got a mission.  Don’t work too hard today.”

“Be safe,” he replied blearily.  “Don’t kill Peter if you can help it.”

By the time she got to the hangar, the Guardians were already gathered.  Quill nodded at her as she approached.  “Sounds like we’ve got some sort of interdimensional disturbance,” he said.

“Sounds fun.”

“Not really.  Actually, it sounds shady as shit, but we’re gonna check it out anyway.”

She looked around at the others and found someone mysteriously absent.  “Where’s Adam?”

“He’s already on the ship.  I told him he should stay here in case we bump into something ugly, but he insisted.  He’s got separation anxiety or something.”

Gamora held her tongue.  They boarded Aurora , and after a quick debriefing with the rest of the crew, Quill wasted no time in getting their course set.  “4 jumps to the Aquila quadrant, and then some looking around.  They didn’t give us exact coordinates.”

“That’s weird,” Gamora said as she settled on a bench behind him.  “Who called us?”

“Concerned civilians.”

“Oh, good.  So this isn’t a sanctioned job?”

“Nope.  Like I said, shady as shit.  But we gotta have a look, at least.”

“As long as you promise not to pick up any lost pets this time.”

He shot her a dirty look.  “Listen, lady, Adam doesn’t want to be your enemy.  You and Richie really scared the bejeebies out of him yesterday, and I don’t appreciate it.”

“I’m sorry.  I’ve talked to Richard about it, and we’ve agreed that for the time being, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.  But the second he gives me any reason to doubt his complacency, Peter Quill, he’s fair game.”

“Deal.  Just don’t go provoking him.  After what happened to those guys in the marketplace, I wouldn’t want you getting barbequed.”

Laughing at the very thought, she retreated to the work-out room.

In a few hours, they had finished their jump series and were cruising through the barren asteroid-fields of the Aquila outskirts.  Gamora had joined Quill in the cockpit to help him keep an eye out for anything suspicious.  So far, all they had found was the shell of a very old mining vessel and a great deal of agitated comet crawlers.

“This quadrant is huge,” Rocket complained loudly from his spot behind them.  “Finding a disturbance here is gonna be like… what’s that saying of yours, Pete?”

“Needle in a haystack,” Quill replied without looking up.  “I know.  We’ve just got to be patient.”

“It would be easier if whoever called you had given us some idea of what we’re supposed to be looking for.  Can’t you call them back?”

“I tried.  They didn’t answer,” Quill responded.  “ Shady .”

“We ought to just turn around.  Let someone else deal with it.”

“That’s not our motto.  Our motto is ‘we do shit nobody else wants to’.  Maybe I can get that translated to Latin.”

Just as Gamora was going to insist that they let the mission go, she turned to find Adam suddenly next to her.  Had she been of a lesser constitution, she may have been startled.  Instead, she raised an eyebrow at him.  “Where did you come from?”

He ignored her, pointing a bony golden finger at the starfield before them.  “On our starboard side, Peter.  I can feel something.”

“What do you mean, something?” Quill responded.

“A… disruption.  It’s rather hard to describe.  A fuzziness in fabric of space-time.”

“A disturbance in the Force?” Quill had finally turned his eyes away from the window and was looking up at Adam with obvious admiration.  “I got a regular Jedi on my hands!”

Gamora rolled her eyes.  She wanted to ask Quill what convinced him so easily that Adam felt anything, and wasn’t leading them into a trap.  She had made a promise to her friend, but innocent until proven guilty was not a creed she usual put any stock in.

Chapter Text

With Adam directing him, Quill turned the ship to face the apparent disturbance.  As he did, Adam's hand came to rest on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly.

"You okay?" Quill asked.

"Yes- but it is an unsettling feeling.  I do wish we didn't have to head towards it."

"Sorry, kid.  This is what we do."

"And what will we do when we discover the source of this anomaly?"

"Well, that remains to be seen."

Adam planted himself in the seat behind Quill's, where they were still within touching distance.  If Adam had been clingy before his first night in the apartment, that was nothing compared to now.  He had suffered frightening dreams all night long, to such an extent that he was compelled to come to Quill on the sofa for comfort.  Richard and Gamora's intrusion the next day had done nothing to calm his nerves.  Last night had only been easier because Adam had convinced Quill to sleep in the bed with him.  Quill had fairly built a wall of pillows between them, but his presence was effective- Adam slept soundly.

Halfway through the night, his warm hand had come to rest on Quill's.  Quill had awakened abruptly at the touch, and then he had spent a long time staring at Adam's softly-glowing face in the dark.  Adam was unlike any being Quill had encountered before.  He was open, trusting, perfectly inexperienced.  The cruelty of life had not had the chance to make him bitter or cold yet- and Quill decided then and there that he would do everything within his power to stop him from ever living the kind of pain that Quill and the other Guardians had.  He had reached up to touch Adam's silky cheek, smiling foolishly to himself.

Adam was pawing anxiously at him now.  "There it is, directly ahead of us."

Quill squinted, but he couldn't make out any difference in the space ahead of them.  It was the same velvety-blackness as everywhere else.  But Adam didn't seem at all unsure.

"It's terribly wrong ," he whispered.  "Like a wound in the Universe itself."

A shiver went down Quill's back. "Jeez.  That sounds spooky."

Gamora was leaning into the cockpit now, silent and focused as her eyes, too, sought out the anomaly.  "There," she said suddenly.  Quill looked where she was pointing.  There was a single, faint sparkle among the darkness of the void, too close to be a star.

"A stranded ship," Quill thought aloud, increasing Aurora's speed.  As they drew nearer, however, it became obvious that the ship was in fact a space station- a large one, at that.  It looked to Quill's eye to be of Spartoi origin; they were famous for their ornate and artistic structures, and while this one was in a state of obvious disrepair, it was still beautiful.  It was built like a drill-bit, a spiral of machinery and housing descending around a cylindrical body.

"A mining colony," Gamora said.

"What makes you say that?"

"Richard's squadron was sent here on a mission day before yesterday.  He said that the Spartax Royal Guard were here, and they were acting very suspect."

Quill exhaled loudly.  "Great."

They made a large circle of the spacecraft, Quill keeping his eyes on it for any sign of unusual activity- but the ship seemed completely deserted.  There wasn't a light on anywhere, and no hint of movement from any of the windows.  Oddly, the ship didn't seem to be damaged in any way, simply derelict and left to the mercies of the void.

Behind Quill, Adam made a small sound of dismay.  "The feeling is very strong here.  It is almost overwhelming..."

Quill banked left, bringing them closer to the station.  There was a docking bay with the gate left wide open- he headed for this, guiding Aurora carefully in.  The interior of the bay was pitch-black outside their windows.

"We're gonna have to suit up," Quill said.  "No power means no oxygen field."  He turned to Adam and went on, "You're gonna have to sit this one out, hon.  We've only got 6 suits."

"I'll be alone here?" Adam replied at once.

"You'll have Aurora .  She's really secure, and she can keep you company."

"But he's the only one that can sense this weird thing," Rocket piped up.  "We should have him with us."

Quill did not fancy the idea of taking Adam into the unknown dangers of the abandoned station- but Rocket had a point.  They had little chance of locating the source of the disturbance without him.  He heaved a sigh and stood up out of the pilot's chair.  "Well, Groot stood guard last time, so maybe it's Mantis' turn.  Adam can have her suit."

Mantis did not protest this- she had been watching the darkness out of the kitchen window with her antennae twitching anxiously.

"So what's the plan?" Gamora asked.  "Are we splitting up?"

"No," Quill replied.  "We don't know what's out there.  It's best if we have all our strength.  And Mantis- keep your transmitter on.  If we bump into anything too nasty, be ready to make a quick getaway."

Everyone nodded.  Adam sidled up to Quill's side, as if he was reluctant to have any distance between them.  Quill reached out to give him a comforting pat on the shoulder.  Then he said, "Alright, y'all, let's get this over with."

They suited up; Adam didn't seem especially comfortable in the tight-fitting spacesuit, but he didn't complain.  Quill had to admire his fearlessness in the face of this uncertain danger.

As they emerged from the ship into the darkness, Quill held a hand up for a moment while he fished out his flashlight.  He was listening, too, for any hint that they were not alone aboard this vessel.  There was no hum of a generator or low purr of an engine.  The only thing he could hear save the soft breathing of his companions was a strange and muffled sound- a tonal ring, almost like distant music.  He swallowed.

"This is weird," he said.  The others murmured in agreement.  Quill clicked his flashlight on, moving its strong beam around to illuminate the interior of the bay.  From the looks of it, it was mostly empty.  A few meters from where they stood, a single Spartoi Interceptor was laying on its side, its wing broken under it.  Otherwise, not a single vessel was left in the bay- it looked as if the residents of the station had left en masse, and in a hurry.

Quill noticed that the distant sound had dropped slightly in pitch.  Adam had noticed, too.  He was suddenly reaching out for Quill, whispering, "It knows that we're here."

Quill shuddered.  " What knows?"

"I don't quite understand it.  But we are very close to it, now."

Rocket, who had come to stand at Quill's feet with a small, blinking device in his hands, said, "I haven't seen cosmic energy readings this high since we ran into that solar storm."

"Any idea what it could be?"

Rocket shrugged.  "Hell if I know."

They moved on, finding a door that Quill and Drax were able to pry open.  Gamora stepped into the hallway beyond first, her electron gun drawn.  It was as dark and silent as the bay had been.  She motioned her companions on.  They filed in nervous silence down the narrow, curving passage, all senses on high alert.

"Adam, tell me if anything changes," Quill said.

"Nothing so far," the being replied.

They passed several doorways leading onto deserted rooms.  As they reached one that seemed to lead onto a control room, Adam suddenly made a small, distressed sound.  Quill spun to find him clutching his helmet, eyes shut tight.

"Adam, what's wrong?" Quill asked, alarm creeping up his throat like bile.

"I don't know!" Adam cried.  "It's like that sound is in my head!"

Instinctively Quill reached out for him.  Through the glass of his helmet, he could see that the being's eyes were full of fear.  "Just stay calm.  We're gonna figure this out."

As Peter spoke, Groot came up behind Adam and placed a giant hand upon his shoulder.  Adam seemed to recover a little.  

They were headed upwards, following the spiral of the ship.  Even through the insulation of his spacesuit, Quill could feel that the air was bitterly cold.  This station had obviously been abandoned for quite a while; he was wondering more and more what exactly they were headed towards.  They had faced a lot of weird things in their day, but this was a new level of unsettling.

"Up ahead," Drax said suddenly.  They looked where he indicated; from a passage dead ahead, a faint white glow was emanating.  It lit the bare hallway in sickly light.

Quill looked around at his teammates.  They were all standing much as he was- rigid with unease, watching the doorway unhappily.

"I guess we gotta go in," he said with little enthusiasm.  When he stepped forward, Adam bumped clumsily into him as he followed.  Quill felt a bloom of fondness in his chest that almost cancelled out the growing sense of dread.  He reached back to take Adam's hand in his as he peered around the corner into the room beyond.

At first, nothing seemed especially out of the ordinary.  It was a laboratory of sorts- its featureless walls and cold metal tables awash with that odd light.  But Adam, gripping Quill's hand ever more tightly, pointed in silent horror to something at the center of the room.  It looked like a massive wound; a rip in the air.  It was as long as Quill was tall, and suspended a few feet above the ground.  The light was pouring from it.  From it also came long, wispy tendrils that floated as though in some ethereal breeze.

Quill was frozen.  The sight was so unnatural, so surreal, that his stomach was turning.  He was only vaguely aware that the Guardians had followed him and were standing in a loose cluster, gazing at the anomaly.

"What the hell ," Gamora hissed.

"We have to get rid of it," Quill found himself murmuring.

"How?" Rocket replied.  "What are you gonna do, shoot it?"

Quill realized that Rocket was not being sarcastic- at some point, Quill had drawn his gun and was aiming it at the rip.  Adam had wrapped a hand firmly around Quill's arm, and softly he said, "No.  We must go at once."

"We can't just leave it."

"Adam's right," Gamora said.  "There's nothing we can do."

Quill's finally tore his eyes away from the oddity to look at her, heart in his mouth.  "It's dangerous."

"Undoubtedly," Gamora agreed.  "But we lack the expertise."

He let his breath out.  "Fine.  But we gotta tell someone what's in here."

"Who?"

"We'll go to the Spartoi.  We're not far.  J'Son will listen."

Gamora shook her head.  "Something tells me he already knows."

"Please," Adam said suddenly.  "We must leave."

The urgency in his voice spurred Quill on.  His head swimming, he looked at Adam.  The being's copper eyes were glazed, and he seemed to stare through Quill instead of at him.

"Are you okay?" Quill whispered.  Adam nodded, but he hardly seemed sure.

Gamora grabbed Quill by the arm and fairly hauled him out of the room.  In the hallway, the strange feeling that had overcome him in the presence of the anomaly ebbed.  He glanced around at his companions, who all had a vaguely haunted look.

"Weird shit," Quill muttered.  "Let's get the hell out of here."

As they went, Gamora said, "We have to find out who called us here.  They could be in serious trouble."

"Or it could have been a trap," Rocket said.  "Wouldn't be the first time somebody tried to lead us into a nasty situation."

They moved much more swiftly down the hall than they had moved up it.  Just as they were reaching the bay doors, Quill felt a weight fall against his shoulder.  He spun, and to his horror found that Adam had collapsed into a heap at his feet.  The being was writhing as though in agony.  He gave a high, thin cry.  Quill dropped to his knees, heart in his mouth.  "Adam!" He exclaimed.  "Adam, what happened?"

Drax, who had sprung to Adam's side with almost equal swiftness, said gravely, "He's having some kind of convulsion."

Adam's eyes were rolled back now, his mouth open in a pained grimace.  "What should we do?" Quill exclaimed.  He was watching Adam's hands, clasped against his chest, curl and uncurl spasmodically.

"Wait until it passes," Drax said helplessly.  "We can't move him until it stops."

"Damn!" Quill exclaimed.  "Hang in there, Adam."  He reached out to touch the being- and quickly jumped back, shocked by some unseen current.  "It's that thing doing it do him, I know it.  We have to try to get him out of here."

"You could cause him to hurt himself more," Drax warned.  But Quill was already reaching for Adam, sliding an arm under his back.  Adam went on shocking him, but Quill ignored the discomfort.  He lifted Adam easily and held him close as he got to his feet, feeling powerful spasms move through the being's body.  "Get the ramp down," he said, and Rocket quickly obeyed.  They crowded back onto the ship, and as soon as the door was shut behind them, Quill released the airlock and hurried Adam to his bed.  By now the majority of the convulsion seemed to be over.  Adam was whining, his eyes shut.

"Peter?" He murmured.  "What happened to me?"

"You had some kind of fit," Quill responded.  "Are you in pain?"

Adam nodded.  He seemed to chew the inside of his mouth for a moment.  "I should have known this would happen again."

"Wait- you've had an attack like this before?"

"Just once, when I was very young.  I barely remember.  I just know that it frightened Father, and made Ayesha very angry.  She said... it made me less than perfect."

Quill frowned.  "What did you do?"

Adam let out a wheezy breath.  "When it was over, Father let me rest a while.  He gave me medicine to take, and it didn't happen again- but I left the medicine at home."

Peter nodded.  "Well, we're going to Spartax.  You can see a doctor there."

Adam didn't argue.  He sighed hugely and said, "I am very tired."

Quill smiled softly at him, reaching to grab a blanket.  He covered Adam gently and sat down on the bed.  "I'll stay right here," he said.  "Just in case."

Only when Adam had drifted into sleep did Quill let his breath out.  He was fairly exhausted himself, after so much excitement.  After a moment's consideration, he swung his legs up onto the bed and laid down alongside Adam.  By now they had left the space station behind, Rocket having taken over piloting while Quill saw to Adam.  The gentle rumble of Aurora's engine was intensely soothing, and soon Quill's eyes were falling shut.

He was awakened what seemed like mere moments later.  Blearily he sat up and looked around, observing that Adam was still fast asleep, his breathing even.  He got up carefully from the bed, wincing and clutching his back.  It hadn't acted up in quite a while, thanks in a large part to the efforts of his father.  Maybe they were due for a visit.
He sneaked out of his bedroom and to the kitchen, where he went about fixing himself some dinner.  The rest of the ship was quiet, save for Rocket's humming from the cockpit.  Quill unwrapped a bag of beef ribs and took a few before making his way to the cockpit.  As he sat, Rocket looked up at him.

"There you are," he said.  "Gamora was looking for you."

"I was with Adam," Quill replied.  "Then I fell asleep."

"Well, while you were napping, she made a few calls.  She talked to someone with the Spartax Royal Guard.  They wanted to know how we'd found out about that... thing."

"What did you tell them?"

Rocket chuckled.  "The truth.  We got a call from an unknown source asking us to check it out."

"And?"

"They want to talk to us in person."

"Well, good.  Did you tell them we're headed their way?"

Rocket nodded.  Quill sat in thoughtful silence for a while as he ate.  He had been trying not to think of the anomaly or the strange, sick feeling it gave him.  Now, when he tried to bring it up in his mind, he found that his memory was fuzzy- almost as if he had dreamed the whole ordeal.

"Do you... remember everything?" He asked with his mouth full of meat.

"Unfortunately," Rocket replied.  

Quill shrugged and attributed the uncertainty to his being shocked by Adam.  When he was through with his meal, he got to his feet and gave himself a little shake.  "I guess I better make myself presentable if we're going to see the Spartax Court."

He showered and put on his cleanest, most professional-looking outfit.  By the time he had finished trimming his beard and combing his hair, Aurora was entering Spartoi airspace.  He made his way back to the bedroom to check on Adam.  The being was awake, propped up on a pillow.  His eyes were clear and bright once more.

"Hello Peter," he said softly.

"Feeling better?"

"A little.  I would like some water."

"Sure thing."  Quill fetched a glass obediently.  While Adam drank, he said, “You feel up to meeting some new people?”

Adam nodded vigorously.  “What sort of new people?”

“The Royal Court of Spartax.  We have to tell them about what we found.”

“Good.  Someone ought to know.”  Adam reached for Quill now, using the man’s arm to pull himself upright.  He was a bit unsteady on his feet, and he looked terribly pale.  

“I’m gonna have a doctor take a look at you while we’re there.”

Adam frowned a little, but didn’t protest.

Now Rocket was guiding the ship through the Spartoi atmosphere.  Quill looked down at the city they were approaching- Amara, where Emperor J’Son and his court lived.  The Guardians had, of course, been invited before- J’Son had wanted to thank them personally for defending a Spartoi outpost during the battle with Thanos.  And that was hardly Quill’s only connection to the family.  J’Son was the father of his cousin Victoria, who he had grown very close to since their meeting a year ago.  He knew that J’Son would be appreciative to hear of their findings on the station.

The city was a place of high, glossy towers and verdant greenery.  The Spartoi valued aesthetic, although not to the extent that it prevented their becoming one of the most advanced empires in the Galaxy.  Their ships were light and efficient as well as graceful, and their structures seemed almost a natural extension of the planet itself.  When Aurora had been landed at one of the numerous docking spires, Quill was the first out of the ship.  He took a big breath of the cool, crisp air.  Adam was quickly at his side, looking around in awe.

“Why, it’s very beautiful here,” he said.  “Which way is the palace?”

Quill pointed to the large building east of the docking spire.  It looked less like a palace and more like a giant greenhouse, with walls of colorful glass and vines crawling over every available surface.  A massive tree stood before it, its incredible branches stretching up towards the sky.  Adam made a small sound of amazement.

Before they could begin to make their way down from the docking spire, there was a low buzzing sound accompanied by the appearance of a small, white-and-blue robot that came to hover a few feet before them.

“Guardians of the Galaxy,”  a voice rang out from it.  “His Excellency has been expecting you.  Please follow Watchbot to the Palace.”

Quill shrugged, smiling a little.  They did as instructed, making their way through the calm streets of Amara to the front lawn of the palace.  There were many people here, enjoying a leisurely day out- playing ball or simply relaxing in the sunshine.  Quill sniffed longingly at a stand selling baked goods and sandwiches.  But Watchbot was urging them on.  They continued across the lawn and up the wide marble stairs leading to the grand foyer.  Inside, the guards posted at either side of the entryway saluted.  Quill glanced around at his companions, who all seemed rather pleased by the show of respect.

“This way, Guardians of the Galaxy,” Watchbot intoned, leading them now down a corridor lit with midday sun.  As they went, Adam, who had been largely silent on the walk over, said, “What are we going to tell them?”

“We should find out what they know, first,” Gamora replied.

“Yeah,” Quill said.  “And I want to know if they can tell us who called us to that station.”

Watchbot had herded them through a door into a massive room beyond.  They were headed down a broad walkway, at the end of which was a dais upon which the Court were seated.  There were six people dressed in elaborate robes and large headdresses sitting in a semi-circle, and in the middle of them was J’Son himself.  As he watched the Guardians approach, he rose to his feet.

“My friend Star-Lord,” he said, pressing a fist to his chest.  Quill returned the gesture before giving a respectful bow.  As he straightened up, J’Son went on, “It’s a pleasure to be entertaining the Guardians of the Galaxy once more.”

“Thanks for having us, your Excellency,” Quill said.  As he had anticipated, J’Son had changed very little since they had last seen each other.  He was a tall, lean man who looked about 50- he had dark skin and short black hair, and a handsome, kingly face.  His eyes sparkled as he looked at Quill.

“I understand you may have some important information regarding the… situation on our mining station.”

“Yeah,” Quill replied.  “Weird things going on.”

“Before we describe what we saw,” Gamora interjected, “can you tell us why the station was abandoned?”

“There was an outbreak of sickness on board,” J’Son replied.  “We decided to evacuate the station so that the infection would not spread more than it had.  We had plans to sterilize the entire station, but before we got the chance, we discovered that the station had become occupied in our absence.  We still aren’t sure who these trespassers were- we just know that they did something that rendered the station uninhabitable.”

Quill nodded.  “We saw it.  They opened up some kind of… rift.  We found it because someone called us to investigate a disturbance.”

J’Son looked intrigued.  “Who was it, that made this call?”

“We don’t know,” Gamora replied.  “We weren’t able to identify the caller, or get back in contact with them.  But I take that to mean that it wasn’t someone under your command?”

“Certainly not.”

“Another thing- my partner is a Centurion with the Nova Corps.  He told me that his squad responded to a call about a disturbance on that station as well.  When they arrived there, they encountered some of your Royal Guard- and he said that they were acting strangely.”

At once, a puzzled look came over J’Son’s face.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear anything about one of my patrols encountering the Nova Corps.  And besides- my Royal Guard hasn’t been on the station since its evacuation.”

Quill and Gamora exchanged a tense look.  “Who could it have been, then?” Gamora asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t know.  But we will certainly be investigating the issue further.”

“Well, you have our full cooperation,” Quill said.  “If you need us to do anything, just call.”

“I appreciate that, Lord Quill.”

Quill glanced around at the other faces of the Court.  “Uh, how’s Vics?  I haven’t seen her in ages.”

“She’s quite well.  She and a few of our ambassadors have gone over to Hala to iron out some trade agreements, in fact.”

Quill was a bit disappointed to hear that she wasn’t around, but he didn’t press the issue.

“I’d be delighted if you’d let me treat you to dinner,” J’Son said.  “I can see from your newest team member that we’ve got some catching up to do.”

“I certainly can’t refuse you that, your Excellency.  But I do have one favor to ask of you.  This is Adam- he was with us when we investigated the station.  He had some sort of seizure on the way out, and we were hoping that you might have a doctor around to check him out.”

J’Son smiled.  “Of course.  I’ll send my personal physician to you while we are waiting for dinner.”

Quill looked to Adam, who gave J’Son an appreciative bow.

 

The physician who came to examine Adam assured Quill that the attack had been transient, and most likely environmental.  This seemed likely, considering how close they had been to the anomaly, but Adam did not seem reassured.

“I had an attack like that before,” he said quietly as the doctor was leaving.  “And I wasn’t near anything like that oddity on the station.”

“Maybe it was just stress,” Quill responded, squinting at the writing on the bottle of pills the doctor had left Adam with.  “Try not to worry about it.  We’ll take care of you.”

Adam reached out to take Quill’s hand in his.  “Thank you for all your kindness, Peter,” he said, and then he leaned in and placed a kiss on Quill’s cheek.  Quill’s eyes fluttered in unexpected delight.  The skin where Adam had kissed him tingled all the way through their dinner with J’Son.  Quill found himself staring dreamily across the table at the Sovereign, hands twisting together in his lap.  When he closed his eyes, he found himself awash with images of Adam’s soft mouth and his lovely golden skin, warm and silky to the touch.  He struggled to maintain his conversation with J’Son, and by the time they had finished eating, the nape of Quill’s neck was damp with sweat.   It was just a little kiss , he told himself again and again.   He was just saying thank you!

When J’Son had bidden them a fond farewell, Watchbot lead them courteously back to Aurora .  As they boarded, Adam brushed slightly against Quill in passing- his back touching Quill’s chest, and their hands briefly meeting.  He didn’t even seem to notice, but the contact sent Quill into a feverish frenzy; his head was swimming and his stomach doing flips.  He had scarcely closed the bathroom door behind him before he was unzipping his breeches.  He was aching hard- he took himself quickly in his hand, leaning over the toilet with one arm bracing him against the wall.  The breath caught in his throat as he thought of Adam, his slender back, his graceful limbs, all that perfect bare skin.  And that kiss- that little kiss upon his cheek, so gentle and chaste.  Quill allowed himself a muted groan.

In a few short minutes he had found his relief, and, feeling almost guilty, washed up for the evening.  Back in his bedroom, Adam had already made himself comfortable in the bed.  Quill, quickly making up his mind, grabbed a pillow and began to make his way to the couch.  Before he could get back to the door, however, Adam said, “Please, Peter, I don’t want to sleep alone.  What if I have another attack?”

“Did you take the medicine the doctor gave you?”

“That’s not my real medicine.  I’m not a fool.  He only did that to comfort me.”

Adam was probably right about that.  And he was looking up at Quill with a particular sadness in his coppery eyes, a sort of melancholy that made Quill want to weep, himself.  So he let out a soft breath.

“Alright,” he said quietly.  “I’ll stay.”

Chapter Text

Adam, who woke up nestled into the warmth of Quill's big, powerful form, let out a happy breath.  He had slept without nightmares for the first time since leaving home; in fact, he was feeling terribly well-rested.  He sat up, brushing a stray curl from his face, and reached for his robe.  This he pulled on and got to his feet, wincing at the cold floor.  He tiptoed out of the bedroom to the kitchen, where he went about searching for the fruit as quietly as he could.  He had located a few fat, ripe pears and a handful of berries and was turning to get some juice when he noticed Gamora standing in the doorway.  He startled a little.

"Oh, hello," he said eventually.  "I hope I didn't wake you."

"No," she said curtly.  "I wanted to talk to you."

Adam swallowed, setting his fruit down on the counter.  "About what?"

"About the thing we found on the station.  You said you could feel it before we got there."

"I could, in a way.  I could almost hear it."

She looked thoughtful.  "So if we were to bump into another one, you could tell before we got there?"

"I'm not certain.  But I think so."

"Well, you might just prove yourself useful around here after all."

Adam was unsure of whether to be insulted or not.  He opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, Quill was emerging from the bedroom.  He was grimacing, and he had one hand braced against his lower back.  Gamora turned to look at him, and immediately reached to offer him support.

"Another muscle spasm?" She asked.  Quill nodded, wincing.

"We gotta stop off to see my dad.  He can help."

Adam hurried to Quill's side, concerned by his obvious pain.  Gamora helped him to sit at the table, and Adam moved in across from him.

"What's the matter with your back?" He asked.

"An old injury," Quill answered, letting out a sigh.  "Usually it behaves itself, but once in a while it starts to act up."  Seeing Adam's troubled look, he laughed.  "Don't worry about it, Adam.  I'll be alright.  I'm still young."

"How did you hurt it?" Adam went to the sink to fetch Quill some water, then sat and eagerly awaited the story.  Quill smiled at him, green eyes twinkling.

"About 8 months ago, we went up against a really bad guy called Thanos.  He had it in for the whole damn Universe, so a bunch of us got together to stop him.  And in the end, we kicked his ass, but not before he kicked ours a little.  I'm one of the ones who got off easy."

"What did he do?"

"He broke my back and fractured my pelvis.  I had to have surgery, and I was in rehab for weeks."  He looked at Gamora now, and she made a small, sympathetic noise.  "It was one of the worst times of my life.  But thankfully, my dad has access to these cool hot springs that the Titans use to heal and extend their lives.  It got me fixed right up, but I have to go back every once in a while."

"So I'll get to meet your father?"

Quill nodded.  "You'll love him.  He's a great guy."

"I'm diverting our course," Gamora said.  "We were headed back to Xandar to report to Nova Prime, but she's going to have to wait."

"Is your father's home a long way from here?" Adam asked.

"He's a little off the beaten path," Quill responded with a chuckle.

Quill scarcely moved from his spot at the table.  When Drax woke up and made breakfast, he was careful to bring Quill's directly to him, to eliminate any reaching or standing up.  Mantis sat beside him and laid her small hand on his lower back.  Quill blinked sleepily at this.

Rocket and Gamora did the piloting today.  Adam remained close to Quill, wishing that there was something he could do to soothe the man's discomfort.  And yet, it seemed that every time their eyes met, Quill was smiling.  Eventually Adam grew shy.  He longed for a book or his journal to write in- he had seen so much in the few short days he had been away from home that he scarcely thought he'd be able to remember it all, and he wanted to tell Father everything.

"You don't have anything to write in, do you?" He asked Quill eventually.

"Like a notepad?  Rocket might have some, if you ask nicely."

Adam didn't think this sounded like a terribly palatable idea.  Rocket, from what he had seen, did not seem the kind given to sharing.  Instead, he contented himself to doodling with an old marker on a bit of receipt paper.

When he next looked up, Quill was dozing across from him.  He glanced out the window.  They had dropped from jump speed and were coasting among a vast asteroid field.  He turned to look out of the pilot's window, and found that ahead of them lay a small, bare-looking moon orbiting a much larger, yellowish planet with a massive ring.  They were headed for the moon.  Adam was dismayed- the orb before them looked positively sickly.  It’s atmosphere was the color of bile, and below that he saw roiling grayish seas and land masses like old bruises.  He looked to Quill in alarm, but found that the man was fast asleep now, leaning back on the wall.  Instead, he wandered to the cockpit, staring out at the drab little planet.

"That cannot really be the home of Peter's father," he said to one one in particular.  

Rocket laughed. "Check this out."  He moved Aurora down between two chunks of rock, then wove skillfully upwards between another two.  From there, he aimed the ship towards the large yellow planet, increasing their speed until Adam grew fearful that he was going to propel them directly into the vast sand-colored surface below.  They broke the planet's atmosphere, but before they could descend much further Rocket turned the ship abruptly upwards, and they left the atmosphere again.  Now he aimed them at the moon- and Adam could hardly believe his eyes.  What had moments before appeared nothing more than a sphere of naked rock was suddenly green and blue, lush, alive- as colorful and verdant as Spartax or Xandar had been.  He opened his mouth to speak, but found no words that suited his wonder.

"Pretty cool, right?" Rocket said.  "Don't take Pete as an example- these Titans are smart folks."

They headed directly for the newly-green moon.  At this point, Quill had awakened and limped to the cockpit.

"There it is," he said as they began their descent through the atmosphere.  "The family home."

Adam was practically glued to the window as they made their way down into a forest of enormous, black-barked trees.  The ground far below was covered with blue-green grass, and here and there among the landscape, streams and rivulets flashed.  The sky, Adam realized when he craned his neck to look up, was glittering with stars despite the fact that it seemed to be daytime.

"We're a lot farther away from the Sun, way out here," Quill was saying, as though he had sensed Adam’s confusion.  "On Terra, it's so warm and bright it'll burn you if you stay out too long."

"That sounds terrible," Adam replied.  "But I'm confused- you speak as though it were the same sun as here."

"Oh, it is," Quill replied brightly.  "Same solar system.  I was born on the little blue planet two over from here.  The funniest part?  The people on Terra don't even realize that Titan is here.  I mean, they know about it, but they don't know it's occupied."  Quill chuckled.  Now they were coming to settle on the grass with a gentle bump.  Gamora appeared once more to offer Quill her support, and together they led the way down the boarding ramp.  As Adam followed, he took a deep breath of the crisp night.  It was perfumed with flowers and a damp, rich smell like the freshly-turned dirt in the garden.  A breeze rippled across the long grass they were standing in, ruffling Adam's curls.  He didn't think he'd ever smelled air so sweet, or seen trees so towering.  He couldn't see the tops of some of them, as they were lost in darkness.

"Your father- where is his house?" He asked, turning to Quill.

"You're looking at it," Quill replied.

"You mean he lives outdoors?"  Adam was fairly appalled.

"No, no.  There."

Adam looked where Quill was pointing.  At last he saw it- glittering among the wall of trees to the north were the high golden spires and ivory arches of what must have been a veritable palace.  Now that Adam was looking, he realized that it must have been set down in a valley, so that only the highest points of the structure were visible.

“There’s no safer place in the Galaxy,” Quill said, letting Gamora guide him towards it.  “Unless, of course, whatever is trying to kill you is already inside.”

Adam looked around at the rest of the Guardians as they made their way off the ship.  Everyone seemed very at ease, and so Adam was at ease, too.

“Take your shoes off,” Quill said, motioning to the slippers that he had purchased for Adam.  “Trust me.”

Adam did as he was instructed.  Carrying the slippers in hand, he padded along beside Quill and Gamora.  Quill’s advice was apt- the grass was like velvet under his feet.  As they walked along in the odd distant sunlight, they disturbed little glowing insects that floated gently up into the breeze.  Adam watched in wonder.

Soon they had come to the mild slope that led down to the building, and so it was revealed in full to Adam.  Even used to the splendor and excess of the Sovereign, he was taken aback by the opulence of the place.  Everything seemed to glitter and glow.  The walls were carved with ornate images of terrible beasts and handsome, powerfully-built people.  The windows were all stained glass, glittering with starlight.  Beyond, Adam could see the warm flicker of candlelight.  As they walked in relative silence, Adam thought that the occupants of this beautiful house must have been extraordinarily wealthy.

They had reached the bottom of a staircase now, which led up to a set of grand wooden doors.  Quill looked anxiously at the stairs, letting out a quiet sigh.  He wrapped his arm more tightly around Gamora, but before they could begin the struggle of getting up the stairs, the doors swung open.

"It is you," a big voice rang out in the crisp air.  "I thought I heard your ship."

There was a man standing on the threshold, looking down at the Guardians.  Adam was instantly struck by how much he looked like Quill, from his broad, jolly face and sparkling eyes to his impressive stature.  He was just as tall as Quill, although he had a leaner build.  His hair was a rich red.   The man fairly leaped down the stairs to stand before Quill, his excitement obvious.  "My boy!" He said with a laugh.  His smile quickly faded as he saw Quill's clear discomfort.

 "Well, you aren't looking so good, are you?"

Gamora released Quill, and he patted her shoulder thankfully.  "It's just my back acting up again," he said.  Adam was watching the two men closely.  Quill's mouth was open slightly, and he seemed to be avoiding the newcomer's eye.  But soon the man had placed a big hand on either side of Quill's face, and touched his brow to Quill's.  "I missed you, my son," he was saying.

"I missed you too, Dad," Quill replied.  "Sorry we haven't been around to visit much."

"Not at all.  I know how busy you are."

Quill's father looked up now, casting his curious yellow eyes over the rest of the group.  He reached out to Gamora next, bending to kiss her on the cheek. "My beautiful niece," he said.  "How's the boyfriend?"

"He's great," Gamora replied.  Adam thought she looked a bit embarrassed.

At last, the man noticed Adam.  His face lit up.  "Ah, who do we have here?" He asked, stepping forward.  Adam met his gaze.

"I am Adam of the Sovereign," he said.  "I am travelling with your son and his team."

The man raised an eyebrow and glanced over his shoulder at Quill, who ducked his head.  Then, returning his eyes to Adam, he said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Adam of the Sovereign.  I am Prince Eros."

A prince, Adam thought, looking to Quill in surprise.  Peter is royalty?  Then, remembering his manners, he bowed graciously and said, "It is an honor, your Majesty."
Eros cocked his head as though he were bemused by the gesture.  But suddenly he was giving Adam a smile so dazzling that Adam felt a little dizzy.  "How charming," he said.  Then, he was returning his attention to his injured child.

"Come now, Peter,” he said.  “We'll get you to the hot springs.  I wish you'd told me you were coming, I would have asked the girls to make dinner."

"Don't worry about us.  I'm sure the team can find a way to entertain themselves while we're gone."
Adam looked anxiously around as he realized he was being left behind.  His eyes met Mantis', and she came to take his hand.  "Come with me," she said.  "This palace is very large and there is much to see."

"Do you come here often?"

"While Peter was recovering from his injury, we spent a lot of time here.  And we visit fairly often- we all like to see Prince Eros."

"He is kind, then?"

"Very!  He treats us all as if we were his children."

She led Adam up the stairs and through the doors.  Inside, Adam found himself standing in a magnificent entryway.  Here the marble walls were painstakingly painted with elaborate murals, and there were potted plants in every available space.  The air smelled of spicy incense.

"I'll take you to the library," Mantis said.  "You'll love it."

A library did sound appealing- almost appealing enough to make Adam forget that Quill wasn't with him.  He followed Mantis up a flight of stairs and down another lavishly-decorated hallway.  The room she led him into was not terribly different from the library he had spent so many hours in back home, save in size.  This was one of the largest rooms Adam had even been in, with vaulting ceilings and massive windows that looked out onto lush gardens.  Every wall was lined from end to end with books- hundreds of thousands of books.  Adam was moving at once from Mantis' side to run his fingers along a few spines.  Most of the books here were old leather-bound tomes, largely written in scripts Adam did not recognize.  But here and there he saw a title he could read.  He even saw a few volumes in the ancient Sovereign scripts.

"This is incredible," he said under his breath.

"Isn't it?"

Adam spun to find that Eros was standing beside Mantis by the door.  He was smiling warmly.  Adam felt an oddly pleasant shiver go down his back.

"Your Majesty," he said at length.  "I thought you were with Peter."

Eros chuckled.  "He doesn't like company while he bathes.  Besides, I thought I should come and learn a bit more about you."

“I'm flattered, sir, but I'm afraid I'm not especially interesting."

"Don't be silly!  It's not every day you meet a Sovereign, and even rarer to meet one that has won the fancy of my beloved son."

Adam lowered his head a little.  "I don't know what you mean."

Eros's smile only widened.  "No need for modesty.  I can sense it all over Peter, he's very..." He trailed off, suddenly looking uncertain.  "How foolish of me.  I shouldn't have assumed."  He cleared his throat, then extended a hand for Adam.  Adam took it happily.  He admired the man; he was dressed splendidly in a colorful embroidered tunic with trailing sleeves.  He was free of any jewelry, save a thin golden band on his left middle finger.  Looking up into that handsome face, Adam guessed that he was not terribly old, but definitely older than any of the Guardians.

He was princely, of course, but there was something strange and wild about him.

“You have a magnificent library,” Adam remarked.

“Thank you, my dear.  It’s a shame there are so few people left to enjoy it.”

The fact that Eros seemed to be the only person living in the palace had not gone unnoticed to Adam, but he had thought it rather impertinent to address it.  Now he said, “Are you alone here?”

“Not completely,” Eros answered.  “My father is here, too, although he rarely emerges from his seclusion.  And I have the girls- my servants.  They’re good company.”

“What about the rest of your family?  Your mother, or siblings?”

Eros looked briefly sad, and for a moment Adam feared he had overstepped himself.  But then the man said, “They’re all gone, in one way or another.  My mother’s been dead for years, and my brother… I am unsure of.  He was always a mystery.”

Adam nodded, sensing that Eros had more to say.  The prince motioned for Adam to walk with him, and together they strolled the length of the library, to the far wall.  As they went, Eros said, “Did Peter tell you anything about himself?  Did he mention that his mother was Terran?”

“He did.  He didn’t go into much detail, but I assumed that she was… gone.”

“Indeed.  My sweet Meredith- she was a magnificent woman.  But she was a mortal, and one of a particularly fragile breed.  I was lucky to have her as long as I did.  She was the only woman to ever make me a father.”

Adam was thinking of Quill, of his twinkling eyes and his tousled hair.  His mother must have been a beautiful woman.

“That’s enough about me, then,” Eros said.  “Tell me about yourself.  You said your name was Adam?”  When Adam nodded, Eros looked oddly pleased.  “That’s a strong namesake.  I hope you don’t mind me asking, but were you born the traditional way?  Or the new way?”

“The new way.  Just six months ago, in fact.”

“Ah, practically a nestling!  What are you doing away from your parents so soon?”

“One of my creators, Ayesha, wanted terrible things of me.  She trained me to kill the Guardians.  But I refused her and fled from Sovereign.”

Eros nodded, looking grave.  “I assume that’s how you met Peter.”

“Yes.  He rescued me when I crashed my ship.  I would likely be dead without him.”

Eros nodded.  "Well, he's a good boy.  He does his father proud."

Adam smiled.  Eros reached up for one of the books on a nearby shelf.  He proffered it to Adam, who took it eagerly.  He turned the volume over in his hands, admiring the shiny leather of the cover, the embossed script- A Brief History of the Galaxy.

"Take this," Eros said.  "Consider it a gift, to supplement your learning."

Adam let out a sound of delight.  "Thank you, your Majesty!  I will treasure it."

Eros chuckled indulgently, and with a sweep of his arm said, "Come now, there is a great deal of this palace left to see."

With Mantis at their side, they toured the many rooms that Eros called home.  There were parlors and drawing rooms, bedchambers and dining halls.  All of them were beautifully decorated, and most looked as though they hadn't been touched in years.  Despite Eros' enduring cheerfulness, there was an inescapable sense of loneliness that permeated every inch of the place.  By the time they had arrived back in the grand entryway, Adam was almost overcome with a peculiar somberness.  He only shook the feeling when Eros said brightly, "Peter should be done with his soaking by now.  Let's say we go and find him."

Out in the garden, a the last few rays of pale yellow sunlight had begun to disappear.  They walked over the velvety grass among enormous flower bushes and beds of fragrant greens.  Towards the back of the yard there was a wall, beyond which the neatness of civilization gave way to a wild tangle of woods.  By this wall they found Quill- and he was not alone.  With him were two young women with whom he was talking.  They seemed to be very interested in what he had to say.  Eros paused and Adam came to stand beside him.  As he watched, one of these women reached out to let her fingers graze Quill's belly.  The other was playing with one of his belt loops, looking up at him almost reverently all the while.  Quill was grinning lazily, his eyes hooded.  His big hand came up to grasp one of the women's, and he kissed her knuckles.

An unfamiliar feelings bloomed in Adam's stomach.  It was an emotion lingering between irritation and queasiness.  He left Eros' side at once, calling, "Peter!"
Quill looked up- and to Adam's immense satisfaction, it seemed that both of the women were immediately forgotten.  "Adam," he said, trotting up.  "Check it out- I'm good as new!"

Adam smiled at him, glancing over Quill's shoulder at the women.  They hardly seemed perturbed that he had abandoned them so readily.

Quill followed his gaze.  "That's Thisbe and Echo.  They're my dad's servants."

"Your friends?"

"Sorta."  Quill rubbed the back of his neck, his face a little red.  He looked to his father.  "Dinner ready?"

"Nearly," Eros replied.  "We should call up your friends."

Quill gave Thisbe and Echo a quick glance before shrugging.  He didn't protest when Adam reached out to lock arms with him.  They followed Eros back into the palace and to one of the dining halls.  Adam was surprised to find that one of the long tables was already being laid out with food by Eros' servants- yet more attractive young ladies.  He looked up at Eros.

"Are all your handmaidens so lovely?"

"Of course," Eros replied.  "Those are the Nymphs.  They came to Titan with my family when they first moved here."

Adam was confused.  "You didn't always live here?"

"No, once we resided upon Terra, long before I was born.  But my ancestors moved here after we quarreled with our cousins.  We tamed Titan ourselves, making it a perfect home for our kind."

Quill was listening to the story just as raptly as Adam.  He seemed fascinated by Eros, which Adam could sympathize with.  He was missing his own father dreadfully.

They sat down to eat, Adam taking a seat directly beside Quill.  They were joined one by one by the other Guardians.  Drax sat beside Adam, and Gamora of Quill's other side.  Quill ignored all of them- he had already eating.  Adam looked over the food laid out before them; there were bowls overflowing with fresh fruit, loafs of warm bread, tureens of steaming broth and stew, and plates of meat.  Upon closer examination, he realized that some of it was raw.  This was what Quill seemed the most interested in, which was naturally alarming for Adam.

"Peter," he said, "Won't that make you ill?"

Quill shook his head, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.  "It's good for Titans raw.  And it tastes way better."

Adam did not press the issue further- but while he ate he occasionally gave the man a furtive glance.  He was trying to remember if he had ever read anything about the Titan people in any of Father's books, but he didn't recollect a single fact about them.

He happily ate some of the fruit- tart peaches and sweet, juicy melon.  He tried a bit of soup, but it was very spicy and he abandoned it quickly.

"I didn't realize that people off of Sovereign ate so much, and so often," he said as he watched his companions gorge themselves on meat and bread.

"Don't judge by us," Quill replied with his mouth full.  "We've all got very high metabolisms."

When dinner was over, Quill turned to Eros once more and said, “Hope it’s alright if we crash here.  We’ve been through a lot the past few days, and you’ve got the most comfortable beds.”

“As if you had to ask,” Eros grinned.  “Goodness knows I’ve got the space.”

Adam was led by one of the Nymphs (whose long auburn hair he spent the walk admiring) to a bedroom they had not visited on their earlier tour.  She smiled sweetly at him as she turned to leave him.  “The name is Syllis if you need anything, darling,” she said.  

When she had shut the door behind her, he set to exploring the room.  There was a bed almost as large as his back home had been, a large fireplace, a door leading onto a charming patio, and- to his immeasurable delight- a huge soaking tub.  He wasted no time in filling it with water as hot as he could stand.  He remembered the book that Eros had gifted him and hurried to fetch it.  When he had slipped into the steaming water, he thumbed happily through the thin pages, skimming paragraphs about wars and famines, and admiring illustrations of historical figures.  As he reached the end of the book, he flipped to a page that was entirely filled with one of these illustrations; it depicted a man, handsome and youthful, with bright eyes and short, curly hair.

The hair on the back of Adam’s neck stood on end.  The caption below the image read, “ Y. 124-86: Adam just before his death.

He snapped the book shut almost reflexively.  Even submerged in hot water up to his neck, a chill had run down his spine.  But then he recalled Eros’ words- a strong namesake .  He certainly hadn’t realized that he had been named after someone, but it was a perfectly logical assumption.

Nevertheless, the peace of his bath had been disturbed.  He hoisted himself out of the water and reached for one of the plush, if slightly dusty, towels hung nearby.  He dressed again, feeling restless.  He glanced out the window to find the world in utter darkness.  With a glance at the luxurious-looking bed, he decided that he was not at all content with the idea of sleeping alone, and headed for the door instead.

The hallway was quiet save for the chirp of crickets.  He looked both ways, finding that the closest door to his right was slightly ajar.  He padded over, poking his head in.  Inside, Mantis was reclined peacefully on a chaise, watching something on her transmitter.  He tapped gently on the door.  When she looked up, he said softly, “Do you know where Peter is?  I should like to talk to him.”

“His bedchambers are at the end of this hallway,” Mantis replied, sitting up.  “But I do not know if you should go there now.”

“Whyever not?”

Mantis lowered her chin.  “He may be with company.”

“I just want to ask him a question.”

She shrugged faintly, but said no more.  Adam thanked her and continued on his way.  As he reached the end of the hallway, he came to a set of double doors.  He knocked gently on the cool wood.  There was no answer, which at first disheartened him.  He always turned away and headed back to his own room, but the thought of sleeping alone in yet another strange bed kept him standing there.  He knocked again- and still there was no answer.

“Peter,” he said in hardly more than a whisper.  Then he turned the handle carefully and peered inside the room.

It was a big room, and fully lit.  Across from Adam there was a grand bed draped with silk and furs, and on the bed was Quill.  He was not sleeping, but instead on his knees, facing away from Adam.  He was naked, the muscles in his broad back taut under tanned skin.  Adam’s eyes fell, and saw that Quill was not alone in the bed.  There were slender legs wrapped around his hips, which were rocking rhythmically.  One of the Nymphs, Adam realized.  Her voice rose now in a peel of high laughter, and her hands came up to Quill’s shoulders.  Adam heard him groan and sigh.  He was glittering with sweat, and as Adam watched, his big hands stroked the outside of the woman’s legs tenderly.

Adam wasn’t terribly sure what was going on, but he got the distinct feeling that he should not interrupt.  So, he gently closed the door and took a step back.  His ears were ringing loudly.  A new feeling altogether had taken hold in his belly- a tingling that spread to his groin and thighs- as he held the image of Quill, bare and heaving, in his mind’s eye.  He let out a little sigh of bewilderment.  Then he made his way swiftly back to his own room, where he sat on the bed, feeling rather lost.

Adam slept very little that night, and what sleep he did get was haunted by images of the man in the book and the sound of Quill’s muted moans.  He felt almost feverish.  When he joined the Guardians in the dining hall for breakfast, Eros immediately said, “You look a bit peaked, Adam.  Did you sleep poorly?”

Adam nodded, at which point he was handed a cup of hot something by one of his companions.  He sipped it, finding it bitter and cloying.  He wrinkled his nose.

“Coffee ain’t for everybody,” Quill said with a laugh.  Adam looked to him, watching his face for a moment.  The image of Quill’s naked back was still lodged firmly in his mind.  He had the sudden urge to reach for the man’s hand, but he resisted.  He spent the rest of breakfast staring mindlessly at that smiling face, studying Quill’s lips, his ears.

It seemed very sudden when Gamora rose and said, “We should really get a move on.  We’ve got to report to Nova Prime about the station.”

Quill nodded, although he was clearly not pleased at the idea of leaving.  They rose and collected themselves, and Quill took a great deal of time to say goodbye to his father.  On their way out, he fell into step beside Adam.  Without so much as a word, he threw a big arm around Adam’s shoulders in a comfortable and friendly way.  Adam’s breath caught in his throat.

Quill clearly felt his unease.  “Something wrong, honey?”

“I didn’t sleep well,” Adam replied.

“Aw, sorry, kid.  I kinda forgot about you liking a bed buddy.  Won’t happen again, I promise.”

Adam, immensely comforted, smiled into the fresh morning air.

Chapter Text

In a day's time, the Guardians had arrived once more in the Capital City.  This time, Gamora was far less eager to depart their company.  In fact, she spent the few moments after their landing bodily herding Quill towards the headquarters main office.

"It's highly important that we tell Nova Prime about what we encountered on the station," she said.  "All of us need to be there!"

Quill did not resist her, although he made little effort to move forward on his own.  He was watching Adam rather dreamily over his shoulder.  Gamora could have smacked him.

In the end, they all made it to the headquarters lobby, where one of Rael's assistants looked anxiously at them from behind her desk.

"Hello, Guardians," she said.  "What can be done for you today?"

"We need to speak to Nova Prime," Gamora responded.  "Immediately."

The assistant asked no further questions, merely grabbed her tablet and scurried off to obey.  While they waited, Gamora cast her eyes around the room.  Richard was away once more, but at least one or two of his squad should be around.  She needed to know exactly what they had encountered on that station.

“Jeez, you're really concerned about this," Quill said, and she turned to stare at him.  He was standing with his hands in his pocket, an eyebrow raised.

"You're not?" Gamora replied.  "Do you remember what we saw?"

Quill shrugged.  "Sorta.  Was it that big of a deal?"

She looked to the other Guardians.  "Drax, you remember, right?"

He nodded, but she thought he looked unsure.

"I remember," Rocket said suddenly.  "Although I wish I didn't."

"Good," Gamora replied, "you can help me explain it to Rael."

"I remember what we saw, Gamora."  It was Adam, watching her with a fierce sort of determination.  She nodded at him.

As they spoke, the assistant had returned.  "Come this way, Guardians," she said.  "You've caught her between meetings."

She led them up a flight of stairs to the command room, where Nova Prime herself stood looking over holographic projections of the city.  She looked up at their approach.

"Greetings, Guardians.  Special Agent Gamora."

Gamora inclined her head politely.  "Your Honor, we have an urgent report for you."

"Is this about the Spartoi station?  Centurion Rider told me that you had headed out there."

"Yes- we found something very strange there.  We already took a report to Emperor J'Son, but what he told us only compounded the strangeness of what we found."

Rael looked at her expectantly.

"Richard's team was dispatched to the same station just two days before we got there.  They encountered the Spartax Royal Guard there, and Richard said that they were behaving strangely.  But when we asked J'Son about the behavior of his soldiers, he denied their ever being there."

At this, Rael's mouth became a thin line.  "Does he mean to imply that my Centurions were imagining things?"

"I don't think so, your Honor.  He seemed just as confused as we were."

Rael looked around at the other Guardians.  "I understand your concern, but that's all beside the point.  What exactly did you find?"  Her eyes fell on Adam.  "And who is this?"

"This is Adam," Quill replied.  "We rescued him from a crashed Sovereign vessel."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Adam said politely.

"What we found on the station was hard to describe," Gamora interjected before that conversation could progress any further.  "It may have been some sort of tear in the fabric of space, or it may have been a portal to... elsewhere."

Rael was nodding slowly.  "You approached it?"

"We got fairly close.  It was giving off this strange white light.  And Adam said that he could feel it, somehow."

"Curious," Rael murmured.  To Gamora, she had begun to look distinctly troubled.  "I shall have to speak again with Centurion Rider's squad to confirm with them exactly what they saw."

Gamora thought, I'm way ahead of you.

They left Rael's office and immediately parted ways- Quill headed to the apartment with Adam close behind, and Mantis followed.  Drax said to Gamora, "I am going grocery shopping.  Would you like to join me?"

Gamora shook her head.  "No, I'm going to talk to Richard's team.  I want to find out what they know for myself."  She paused, considering her next words.  "Don't say anything to Peter.  He already thinks I'm paranoid.  But something weird is going on here."

Drax nodded solemnly.  "Be careful."

She almost laughed.  But she saw the seriousness in his face, and remembered the sense of roiling dread that had risen in her stomach as she looked at the anomaly.  "Thank you," she said, "I will."

Gamora watched Drax disappear around the corner before she reached for her transmitter.  There were two messages from Richard already waiting.  The first read, We meeting for winner tonight? The second read, * dinner.  Gamora rolled her eyes.

Change of plans , she typed.   Meet me at the headquarters library when you get in .

She sent it, and then returned to her business.  She spotted Centurion Aron lounging on a small balcony overlooking the streets below, and made her way for him.  He was probably Richard's best friend outside of Quill, so it was odd that he would be here at headquarters while Richard was on on a mission.

He looked up at her approach.  "Hey, Gamora," he said amicably.

"Aron," she replied.  "No missions today?"

"None that I was invited on," he replied, and then lifted his arm.  She realized that it was in a cast.

"Oh.  What happened?"

"I fell on it on a mission."

"What mission?" She asked.

"To a Spartoi mining outpost.  In fact, I wasn't the only one to get injured on that death trap."

At this, Gamora looked more closely at him.  "That's what I came to ask you about.  My team was just there too, and we had some bizarre experiences."
He raised an eyebrow.  "Yeah, everyone has.  The place's bloody haunted."

"I wanted to ask you about what exactly you saw while you were there."

He let out a breath, looking around as though he half-expected her to have a news crew behind her.  "We met a couple of folks from the Spartoi Royal Guard.  But they seemed a little off.  They weren't sure who we were, for one.  Can you imagine, not recognizing the Nova Corps?"

She nodded, but said nothing, encouraging him to go on.

"They wanted us to leave immediately," he said.  "They wouldn't answer any of our questions.  Said that they already had the situation 'under control'.  They got pretty angry when we didn't clear right out."

"Did they threaten you?"

"Not directly.  But we didn't want to risk pissing off J'Son- you know how tentative our relations with the Spartax Empire are.  So we left."

"And do you know who ordered you send there in the first place?"

He shrugged.  "All our missions come from High Command, so you'd have to ask them.  Not that they'll give you an answer."

She heaved a sigh, looking down at the streets below.  People were out in abundance to enjoy the unseasonably cool weather, cruising in small leisure vessels or walking with their children and pets.  It was an idyllic scene, but ever since the events on the station, Gamora had been under a spell of unease.  She couldn't get the sickly white light of the anomaly- or that haunting, otherworldly music- out of her head.

She thanked Aron and continued on her way.  Now she headed for the Nova library, which three floors up.  She had spent a lot of time there when she was studying to take the Nova Auxiliary Agents' Exam- the librarian smiled fondly at her as she entered.

"Where can I find your cosmic event records?" She asked, and thus was led to a section of digital tablets in the back of the room.

"Looking for anything specific?" The librarian asked.

"Not really," Gamora lied.  "Just curious."

When she was alone, she began the process of combing through the record labels.   Black Holes, Pulsars, Stellar Collisions, Supernovae ... and finally, Unique or Unclassified Celestial Events . She pulled this record and carried it to a table.

She poured over the records, scrolling through for any mention of an anomaly like the one they had seen, for what felt like hours.  She scanned passages regarding fissures created by colliding stars- but those were enormous, light-years long.  She came across mentions of spontaneous wormholes, but none of the descriptions of those matched what they had seen.  The more she read, the more she doubted that the thing on the mining station could possibly have occurred naturally.  As the thought that it had instead been created came to her, she replaced Unique and Unclassified Celestial Events and headed instead to the section of the wall where the data about occult practices was stored.  She realized as she was sorting through the tablets that she was clenching her jaw.

At last she came upon a volume entitled, The Dangers and Risks of Altering Space-Time.  She removed it, staring at the wall of text displayed on its screen, and swallowed.
As she turned to head back to her table, she nearly collided with Richard.

"There you are," he said.  "I was looking for you in the 'Needlework and Housekeeping' section."

"You're hilarious."

"What have you got there?"

She proffered the tablet.  He read for a moment, nodding slightly.  "Seems like some heavy stuff.  You planning something?"

"No, I'm trying to figure out what's going on on that mining station."

Richard looked up at her.  "That?  They told us there was a viral outbreak and we shouldn't be on board."

"We got called out there right after you did," Gamora said, keeping her voice low.  "And we found something."

He frowned a little.  "What do you mean, something?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out."

"And your search has brought you to some New Age bunk about creating your own timelines?"

She looked sternly at him.  "If you had seen what we saw, you wouldn't think it was bunk."

"I'm gonna go get you some coffee, and then we can sit and talk about it."

She smiled appreciatively.  When he returned with two steaming cups of coffee, she pressed the tablet into his hands once more.  "You read.  My eyes are tired."
Obediently he took the tablet, and she sat sipping her coffee while he scanned it, lips moving slightly.

"It says that it's possible to open a "time slip" if you can channel enough cosmic radiation to cause the time-barrier to open.  It doesn't say how to channel cosmic radiation, though."

Gamora waved her hand.  "I don't need to know.  What do the slips look like?"

He read on for a moment, bringing the tablet close to his face.  "It says they can have a variety of appearances, ranging in size, color, and visibility.  The smaller they are, the less chance you have of fatally altering a timeline."

"Does it say anything else about their physical appearance?"

"Not really.  But it does say that they're usually accompanied by a high-pitched vibration, which can sound like whistling or singing."

She laid her hands flat on the table, looking directly into his face.  "That was what we saw on the station.  You can ask any of the others."

"You should probably get to the med bay, then.  It also says that prolonged exposure can cause symptoms like vision and hearing loss, memory lapses, and hallucinations."

She considered this for a moment.  "Does it say anything about convulsions?"

"No."

She sighed. "I'm going to call Quill."

She stepped out into the hall as she dialed Quill's number.  When he picked up, he was bathed in sunlight, his eyes obscured by sunglasses.

"Hey," he said.  "Where are you?  We're having a barbecue."

"Listen to me- that thing we saw on the station was a time slip."

He looked puzzled.  "You mean someone was trying to go to the past?"

"Or the future.  We can't know for sure.  But everyone should get checked out by the medics."

"How do you know this?"

"Richard and I have been reading.”

"Well, consider it duly noted.  Do you want to come have dinner or what?"

"We'll be down." She hung up the transmission and motioned for Richard, who was still looking for the tablet's proper spot on the shelf.  As he trotted to catch up with her, he said, "So what's the plan?  Are you gonna do anything about the time slip?  Or was this just curiosity?"

She contemplated.  "I'm not finished investigating just yet."

"Oh, no?  What else are you trying to find out?"

"I want to know who opened that slip."

"You sound as though you already have your suspicions."

"I do."

"Are you gonna tell me?"

"Not yet."

He shrugged, more than used to her cryptic moods.  She loved a great many things about him, but among her favorites of his traits was his unobtrusive nature.  He wasn’t one for pressuring or nagging; most often he seemed to merely enjoy being in her company.  Feeling immediately affectionate, she reached out to grab his hand.  They walked this way from the library over to the Guardians’ apartment.  

Everyone was on the back balcony already, Quill standing at the grill and Adam as close to him a the woodsmoke would allow.  Quill looked up at them.  “Hey, there you are.  And you brought Richie!”  He came from behind the grill to pull Richard into a bear-hug.  Gamora left them and came to sit beside Drax, who seemed to look her over appraisingly.

“Quill relayed your findings to us,” he said.  “We have discussed it and we find your dedication to uncovering the truth admirable.”

“Well, I just get the feeling that if I don’t look into it, nobody is going to.”

Quill handed her a plate of grilled ribs and seasoned carrots.  She picked at it as she went on, “I still need to know who created that time slip.  And, for that matter, who called us in to investigate it.”

“It was probably just somebody worried about all the weird activity,” Richard said, settling opposite Drax.

“Who would have noticed weird activity way out in the Aquila quadrant?”  Richard shrugged, and Gamora went on, “And was that slip there before or after the ship was evacuated?  And J’Son wasn’t especially forthcoming.”  She took a deep breath.  “It raises a lot of questions.  Maybe whoever created that slip wanted us there for some reason.”

All of them contemplated this for a moment in heavy silence.  It was Adam that eventually spoke up.  “I’m afraid I know very little about your history, but do you think it could be someone that you upset in the past?”

“God knows we’ve made plenty of enemies,” Quill said.

“But how many of them have the means of creating a rip in space-time?” Gamora replied.

Quill looked her in the eyes, his gaze dark and deadly serious.  It didn’t take her long to guess where his mind had gone.  She clenched her fists involuntarily.

“No,” she said under her breath.  “It was my first thought, too.  But he’s dead.  And he’s never coming back.”

Quill lowered his eyes.  “You’re right.  Listen, if we get some downtime between missions, we’ll help you out in any way we can.  But if you’re gonna keep investigating this thing- for my sake, don’t do it alone.”

“She won’t be alone,” Richard replied cheerily.  “She knows I’ll follow her anywhere.”

“So two of you up against what could be a cosmic supervillain.  I feel much better.”

Gamora, watching the two of them talk, felt suddenly very tired.  She rose from her seat and walked to the edge of the balcony, letting the cool evening breeze sweep her hair back.  Her eyes fell on the corner store across the street from the apartment complex.

“I’ll be right back,” she found herself saying.  “I’m going to pick up some drinks.”

“Good idea,” Quill replied.  “Grab me a Super Fizzy.”

No one offered to come with her; they all knew her well enough to see when she wanted to be left alone.

As she made her way down the public stairs and onto the busy street, she tried to take a deep breath and let her troubles go for a while.  She had learned long ago that obsession was not a productive state of mind.  Instead, she focused on the colorful flowers that bloomed in every planter, the whistles and chirps of the birds who darted to and fro over the street, and even on the Xandarians who moved around her, each wrapped up in their own business- each having no idea of the mystery she was delving in.  She wished often, though never very sincerely, that she too could lead a life of blissful ignorance.  But, she always reminded herself, that was simply not in her fate’s design.

In the corner store, she picked out a carton of colorful sodas and Quill’s Super Fizzy.  She passed by a stand of Jel-Zappers- Richard’s favorite candy- and doubled back to grab a package.  She handed some units off to the sleepy clerk and exited the store just in time to see everyone on the street come to a jerky halt.  Every face was turned upwards, and quickly people began to point and shout.  She looked as well, and was quick to see the object of their attention.

Hovering about three stories above the street was a Sovereign aircraft- unmistakable as it gleamed golden in the setting sun.

Gamora dropped her armful of sodas.  As they lay in a fizzling pile of broken glass, she was darting across the street.  She threw the door of the apartment complex open and fairly sprinted up the stairs.  As she reached the apartment and hurried to scan her passcard, she planned her next movements carefully: over the sofa, into the closet to grab her sword, and back to the balcony so she could finally do what she had been waiting to do since she first laid eyes on that treacherous yellow-haired brat.

She flew through the door, cleared the sofa, and opened the closet with such ferocity that she nearly tore the door from its hinges.  Then, almost faster than she herself could register, she was standing on the balcony with the rest.

Quill- as she had fully anticipated- was between the aircraft and Adam, arms spread protectively.  The rest had assumed ready positions reflexively, although what they planned to do against an armored vehicle she wasn’t certain.  Only Adam turned to look at her, and quickly lowered his eyes.

The ship first , she thought, and then you.

She unsheathed her sword and prepared for the jump from the balcony onto the wing of the aircraft.  But before she could move a muscle, a voice rang out.

“Guardians of the Galaxy.” It was Ayesha, of course, cold and sneering.  “You seem to be in possession of yet another stolen item.”

“We didn’t steal him,” Quill answered, his voice deep with anger.  He was glaring at the ship with all his Titan fierceness, teeth bared slightly.  “He ran away from you!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ayesha replied.  “My own darling creation.  He wouldn’t dare!”

Gamora took a step forward.  On the ship, several turrets turned to face her.

“Ah,” Ayesha’s voice went on.  “If it isn’t Lady Gamora.  I expected this sort of behavior from your brutish male companions, but I admit I thought better of you.”

“Shut up,” Gamora replied.  “And get your ship out of here.”

“I’m afraid that it won’t be going anywhere until Adam has come aboard.”

At this, Adam spoke up at last.  “I won’t!  I am not returning to you so that you may use me as a weapon!”

There was a moment of silence in which Ayesha seemed taken aback.  Finally she said, “This is that blasted man’s fault.  He planted these… seeds of disobedience in your poor impressionable mind.”

“Father was the only one to ever grant me autonomy.  He made me see you as you really are- a petty warmonger!”  As he spoke, Adam had come to stand behind Quill, and made the grave mistake of reaching out to clasp his hand.  The turrets turned once more, this time aiming directly at Quill.

“How sweet,” Ayesha said, voice growing colder yet.  “You seem to have developed a bond with Star-Lord- in which case, perhaps you will be more persuaded to return to me if I tell you that I will spare his life.”

“Leave him alone!” Adam cried desperately.  “He never wanted to be your enemy!”

“He made his choices.  And while it would be a shame to destroy such a beautiful specimen, it seems that-”

Ayesha did not get a chance to finish.  While she had been distracted, Gamora had seized her opportunity and lunged, landing nimbly on the aircraft and, between its plates of gold armor, sinking her sword deep into its engine.  It sparked and sputtered, pitching violently in the air.  Gamora withdrew her sword and turned to leap back.  The ship plummeted suddenly, and her trajectory altered so that she collided painfully with the ledge of the balcony.  Her fingers found purchase on the metal bars of the railing, however, and immediately Quill and Richard had rushed forward to help her up.

As soon as she was back on her feet, she swung to point her sword at Adam.  “How did she know where you were?” She demanded.

Adam looked genuinely startled to have a weapon pointed at him.  “I’ve no idea!” He exclaimed.  “I certainly didn’t contact her!”

“Gamora, stop!” Quill exclaimed, hurrying to pull Adam into a comforting embrace.  Adam watched Gamora over the man’s shoulder, brow furrowed.

“He can’t stay here,” Gamora said.  “She knows where he is now, and she’ll definitely be back.”

“With the Nova Corps right here?” Richard replied.  “That would be bold.”

“You don’t know Ayesha.”

“She’s right,” Quill replied, much to Gamora’s surprise.  “I’ll take him back to Titan.  There’s no way she’s getting in there, no matter how many remote controlled toys she sends.”

“What about you?  What if we need you?”

“Y’all can make it a little while without me.  Until we get this sorted out.”

“Get what sorted out?  Do you think Ayesha’s going to negotiate?  She tried to murder us over some batteries, Quill!”

Quill released Adam and turned to look at her.  Adam’s eyes were filmy with unshed tears.  “We’ll figure something out.  Adam can’t go back to her.”

Gamora stared at him for a moment, trying to work out what was going on in Quill’s head.  She looked down to his hand, which was once again gripping Adam’s.  She let out a breath.  “Let’s talk alone.”  When Quill hesitated, she said, “It wasn’t a question.”

So he followed her into the apartment, then into her bedroom.  She closed the door behind him as he entered and said, as evenly as she could,  “You’re going to give up your team because you’re fucking him?”

Quill looked immediately taken aback.  “I- I’m not- I haven’t even kissed him!”

She nodded.  “Okay.  You’re going to give up your team because you’d like to fuck him?”

“I’m not giving up anything!  I won’t be gone forever!”

“You’ve got no plan!  ‘Hide until this all blows over’ is not a plan!”

“I will come up with a plan.  Give me two fucking seconds!”

“Peter, listen to me.  Adam isn’t your responsibility.  He’s just a kid that ran away from home, and I know that you’ve bonded with him now, but if Ayesha is going to be breathing down our necks trying to get him back, maybe you should let her have him!”

He stared at her for a long time.  “I can’t believe I’m hearing this, from you of all people!  Just give him back to the person that he risked his life to get away from?  Do you even hear yourself?”

She let out a long breath.  “I know, Peter.  But we have responsibilities, and lives of our own.  And Ayesha is relentless.  We’re in an impossible spot.”

“Give me some time,” Quill said, eyes flashing.  “Give me a week.  We’ll figure something out.  If he has to live with my dad, then he can live with my dad.  But I am not sending him back there.”

She nodded.  She could see from his taut shoulders, the shine of sweat on his forehead, that he was not prepared to back down.  And, as much as she hated to admit it, he was right .  Gamora knew better than anyone the struggle of escaping an abuser.  But the thought of another episode like the one they’d just had, with Ayesha’s guns trained on her teammates, on Richard, made her stomach clench.  “You heard Ayesha,” she said quietly.  “You’re her first target.”

“I know.  But don’t worry about me- I can take care of myself.”

There was a knock at the door.  “Hey guys?” It was Richard.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about in there, but maybe we can make it a group discussion?”

Gamora opened the door.  Richard looked a little harried.

“What the hell was that?” He asked.  “Was that the lady you were telling me about?  The battery lady?”

“That’s her,” Quill answered.  Then he said, “She probably already has more ships on the way.  We gotta get out of here.”

He pressed past Gamora, heading for Adam.  “Come on, kid.  We’re gonna go stay with my dad for a little while, alright?”

“I don’t know how she found me,” Adam replied, his eyes on Gamora.  That being said, he did not protest any further as Quill hurried about, gathering necessities.  Soon Quill was bundling him out of the apartment, giving Gamora only an unhappy sideways glance as he shut the door behind them.

Chapter Text

In the end, Richard, noting that Quill and Adam might be recognized if they left on Aurora, offered the use of a Nova issue ship.  Appreciatively Quill loaded Adam and the few belongings he had taken onto it and flew them out of the Nova hangar.  As soon as they broke the atmosphere, Quill paused their flight to scan the surrounding space- his senses had been on high alert since the incident on the balcony.  He felt as if his heart was only slowing now.  Adam, meanwhile, had not left his side for even an instant.  As he sat in the pilot's chair, the Sovereign was practically in his lap.  His face was taut and unhappy.

"You'll be alright," Quill promised softly.  "I won't let her get you, I swear."

"I'm more worried about you," Adam responded.  "She would have killed you had Gamora not intervened.  I didn't even think to express my gratitude to her."

"Don't worry about all that," Quill said.  "We're going to see my dad, and even Ayesha knows better than to fuck with a Titan."

Adam sighed plaintively, but after that fell silent.  He turned his attention to the stars outside.  Quill, turning to study his face, thought he looked exhausted.

"Hey, cheer up," Quill teased, smiling a little.  "If there was anywhere I had to be stuck, I'd want it to be Titan."

Adam looked back at him.  "I suppose you're right.  It is a very beautiful place."

"We won't be bored.  Dad said you were really excited about that library."

Adam seemed to perk up at once.  "Oh, yes.  I'd nearly forgotten.  And that reminds me- there was something I wanted to ask you."

"Shoot."

"Your father gave me a book when we saw him last, about the history of our Galaxy.  In it I found a curious passage about a Sovereign man with the same name as me."

"Well, is Adam a common name for your people?"

"I've no idea.  But there was a picture, and I reckon it looked rather like me, as well."

Quill considered him carefully for a moment.  Then he shrugged.  "That's a little weird.  But, no offence or anything, a lot of your people look pretty similar."

Adam laughed.  Quill paused for a second at the sound, trying to remember if he'd heard Adam laugh yet.  It was a thoroughly pleasant sound.

"I only ask," Adam went on, "because the book described him as a galactic hero.  I was wondering if you'd ever heard of him."

Quill thought for a moment.  "Can't say that I have.  When was he alive?"

"It said he died in 124-86."

"Yeah, that was before my time.  Maybe Dad'll know something."

By now, Adam was standing with his side pressed to Quill's shoulder.  One hand was playing absently with Quill's collar, which was more than enough to send happy chills down the man's back.  He couldn't resist giving his companion a tender look.  Adam, gazing out the window again, did not see.

It was a fairly direct route from Xandar back to Titan, although it took a while.  When they reached a clear stretch of hyperspace, Quill left the ship on autopilot and went to examine the larder.  By now Adam had discovered a comfortable sofa and was curled up, apparently asleep.  Settling across from him with a bag of roasted comet crawlers, he recalled the fear that had seized his heart when he looked up and realized that they were being menaced by a Sovereign gunship.  In our own home, he thought incredulously.

 He had looked at Adam, who was instantly beside him, visibly torn between hiding and standing up for himself.  He remembered Ayesha's voice, which he had hoped never to hear again, and her cold, angry words.  He should have guessed that he would wind up with her guns pointed at his chest eventually; he alone knew the truth of her hatred for the Guardians, and it had little to do with batteries.  He had scorned her, and she was a frightfully proud woman.  But her reluctance for her people to know exactly what she had asked of him made the batteries a good excuse for her vendetta.

He let a long breath out, not missing the irony of it all.  Ayesha had wanted him as a partner, and here he was looking after the creature she had made to destroy him for his refusal.  It all seemed a little surreal.

Adam stirred, perhaps feeling Quill's eyes on him.  Peter rose, sighing softly, and made his way back to the cockpit.

When they had drifted into Titan's space, Quill went about making the careful maneuvers required to penetrate the planet's careful defenses. He skimmed between the asteroids and dipped into Saturn's atmosphere, and then they were rocketing back to the lush green forests of Titan.  He hadn't known his home planet for very long, but in the short time he had, Quill had come to adore the place above all others.  His heart seemed to lighten of its burdens when he was here, breathing the cool, crisp air and listening to the ambiance of the ancient woods.  There was, of course, also the fact that for the first time in his life he had a father, a man who loved him fiercely and unconditionally.  That was a feeling like no other.

He eased the ship down on a grassy knoll, cutting the engine and rising to wake Adam.  The being looked up at him drowsily, smiling.  "Have we arrived?"

"Uh-huh.  I sent my dad a message, so he knows we're coming this time."

Adam got to his feet, yawning.  "Good, I would hate to intrude on him."

"Don't worry about that.  Dad loves company."

They made their way from the ship across the vast lawn surrounding the palace, enjoying the mild warmth of the distant midday sun on their backs.  Almost immediately, Eros had emerged from the front doors to meet them.

"Hello, young ones," he said brightly as they approached.  "Back so soon?"

"I have a favor to ask of you," Quill replied.  "Adam's creator is trying to get him back- and he doesn't want to go.  So we need to hide him."

"Here?" Eros replied.  "I would be delighted."

"Thank you, your Highness," Adam said at once.  Eros laughed.

"You needn't call me that, Adam.  I may be the ruler here, but you are my son's friend.  Come inside, both of you.  Lunch is almost ready."

As they followed him inside, Quill sniffed at the air.  The wood-smoke scent of his father's home was immensely comforting to him.

"You'll be perfectly safe here, of course," Eros was saying to Adam.  "Titan's defenses are practically impenetrable."

"That is what Peter said," Adam replied.  Quill, watching them talk, saw the awed way Adam looked at his father.  He was confident that Adam could be comfortable here, at least for as long as it took to get Ayesha reined in.  Besides, he knew that in spite of Eros' calm exterior, he was bursting with joy to have company again.

Adam stopped suddenly to look back at Quill.  "What are you thinking about, then?" He asked.

"Lots of stuff," Quill replied, speeding up so that he could walk beside Adam.  "See, I don't know very much about the Sovereign, so we're gonna need your help when it comes to beating them."

"Beating?" Adam responded.  "Couldn't you just speak to them?"

"I don't think that's gonna work, honey.  Ayesha hasn't been very reasonable, historically speaking."

Adam frowned.  "I only wish that this didn't have to resort to violence.  I ran away from home to avoid it, and it seems to be all I can find."

Eros made a sympathetic noise.  "It is difficult, to live as a pacifist.  We are few and far between."

"Don't worry.  We'll go easy on 'em."  Quill grinned at Adam, who dipped his head bashfully.

They ate a quick lunch- Quill, with an eye on Adam, thought that the being could hardly sit still.  He was twisting his hands anxiously, turning to look out the windows every few minutes.  He barely touched the bowl of soup Eros had set before him.  Quill did not have to guess what  the problem was.

"Take it easy, Adam," he said gently.  "She won't find us here."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Adam replied, looking embarrassed.  "I just can't stand the thought of returning to Ayesha's charge."

"Was she that bad?"  Quill became aware that he has subconsciously reached out and laid a hand on Adam's.

Adam's eyelids fluttered.  "She wanted me to be perfect.  More than anything, she wanted me to be exactly the way she intended me.  And when I wasn't..."

Quill nodded, furrowing his brow.  "Did she hurt you?"

"Sometimes.  Never very seriously."  Adam wrapped his arms around himself, eyes lowered.

"I know how you feel," Quill said.  "Trust me.  I used to get the living hell beat out of me if I got too big for my britches."

He saw Adam's gaze travel briefly to Eros at this, his eyebrows drawn together.

"No, no, not him," Quill said quickly.  "The guy I grew up with.  Before I met my dad."

Adam looked into Quill's eyes.  "Was he anything like Ayesha?"

"Not at first glance," Quill replied, laughing at the thought.  "But I guess if you really dug into it, he needed to be in control, just like her.  He hated it when I got a mind of my own."

Adam smiled sympathetically at him.  "That sounds dreadful.  However did you come to be in such a situation?"

"It was my fault," Eros said immediately.  "I entrusted my precious son to the care of a man with no morals.  I should have expected as much."

Quill sighed.  "When my mom died back on Earth, Dad sent the Ravagers to pick me up.  They were supposed to bring me back to him so I could live here, only they never did.  So I grew up with them."

"Ravagers," Adam echoed.  "How curious."

"Curious?  Why's that?"

"It's just that I read about the Ravagers.  Thieves and plunderers all."  He seemed suddenly fascinated by his soup.  "It seems strange that you could end up so... lovely."
Quill's face warmed.  "I, uh... my mom was a real special lady."

"Well, it seems our situations are similar, if reversed.  I'm sure I've already said, but my father was the one to treat me kindly."  Here Adam let out a soft breath.  "I must take you to meet him someday."

Eros cleared his throat suddenly, rising from his seat and saying, "Peter, why don't you take Adam out to the gardens?  I'm sure he'll love them."
Adam perked up at once.  "That sounds just charming, Peter."

Quill gave his father a quick glance, and saw that he man was watching him knowingly.  He swallowed.

He led Adam down the long corridors of the palace to the back garden.  The sun was still high, casting the scenery before them a pleasant bronze.  Adam, having left his shoes behind, padded barefoot across the silky grass.  He seemed drawn as though magnetically to the flowers, reaching out with careful fingers to caress colorful blooms, bending to inhale their sweet perfume.  Quill, following a few feet behind, admiring the sun catching on his golden curls.  He looked divine, the man thought, like a dream.

“You like those?” Quill asked as Adam examined a bush of big, fiery-colored blooms.

“They’re gorgeous,” Adam replied.  “Quite like something Father kept.”

“You sure do miss your daddy, huh?”

Adam bowed his head a little.  “I wish I didn’t have to leave him.  But we both knew that I could not stay.”

There was a moment of somber silence.  Then Quill said, “Hey, wanna see something really cool?”

Adam nodded, and Quill extended a hand.  Adam grabbed it readily.  Quill led him along a particular path that ran between great mounds of colorful roses, all lovingly cultivated by Eros and the Nymphs.  Then they passed over a small footbridge that led onto a great circle of high hedges shaped into a maze of sorts.  This Quill had had no trouble in memorizing, because the prize to be had at the middle was so tempting.  He guided Adam quickly through it- taking small pleasure in the being’s coo of admiration at this show of wits- and into the center.  It was a gazebo, large and ornate, covered from roof to floor with crawling vines.  These vines were laden with sweet, nectar-filled flowers of orange and purple.  As the pair stepped up onto the gazebo, Adam looked about in wonder.

“How charming,” he said.

“One of my little hiding spots.  None of the others can get through the maze.  Here.”  Quill reached out to pick a flower, proffering it to Adam.  “You can eat it.  They taste like rainbow sherbet.”

Adam popped it in his mouth obligingly.  “That’s clever breeding,” he said at once.  “Is that why you like it out here?”

“That and it’s nice and secret.  Sometimes I just want to get away from everybody, you know.  It gets a little loud.”

“Yes,” Adam laughed.  “Your teammates seem an honorable bunch, but a bit rambunctious.”

“That’s true.”  Quill reached for his belt, where he had a small flask stashed.  He uncapped it and took a mouthful.  When he had lowered it, he found that Adam was watching him with wide eyes.  Self-conscious, he replaced the cap and grinned.  “It’s just some sanja .  You want a nip?”

Adam nodded, so Quill handed the flask over.  Adam took a very tentative sip, and immediately wrinkled his nose.  “Yuck,” he said when he had swallowed.  “Is everything you people drink so bitter?”

Quill laughed, taking the flask back and sliding it back onto his belt.  “When we go back inside I’ll find you something sweeter.”

Adam stepped away, going to the other side of the gazebo to look out over the black-green hedges, one hand coming up to pluck another flower.  He held it between his fingers a moment, admiring the colors.  “It is nice here,” he said.  “I’m very glad you showed me.”

Quill sighed, leaning on one of the pillars of the gazebo, trying to think of what to say next.  “So what do you think of the world so far?”  He asked eventually, feeling lame.

Adam turned to glance over his shoulder, brushing a shiny curl out of his face.  “I have seen so much in the short time I have been away from home,” he said.  “Some of it pleasant, some not so much.  But I must say, what of it has been pleasant has been largely thanks to you.”

Quill beamed.  “Jeez, that’s sweet of you.”

“I mean it.”  Adam turned to face him, chin lowered.  He smiled a little.  Quill found himself stepping closer.

“You know, my old man thinks…” He trailed off, his throat tightening.

“He thinks what?”  Adam’s liquid-amber eyes gleamed.

“He thinks… that you’re gonna have a really good time staying here with him.”

Adam let out a happy breath.  “I think I shall!  Now, take me to see the rest of the gardens.”

More than happy to oblige, Quill began a very thorough tour of the more groomed parts of the palace gardens.  He showed Adam the beds of edible flowers, then the fields where the vegetables and wheat were grown, and finally, the orchards.  “We produce pretty much all our own food,” Quill said happily.  He pointed from where they were standing to the outskirts of the garden, where it became woodlands.  “We hunt out there a lot.  And Dad keeps birds outside the east wing.”

Adam, shielding his eyes from the sun, said, “I should like to go back to the library.  Do you enjoy books?”

“Can’t say as I do.  I can’t read most of my dad’s, anyway.  They’re in weird languages.”

“Well, what if I read them to you?  I need practice!”

That idea certainly piqued Quill’s interest.  While what he had said was true- he was not one for literature- he had suddenly never been more excited to get to the library.  So they set off, wandering back over the grassy hills between the house and the orchards.  As they went, Adam said, “I’ve just realized that we didn’t bring any of the nice clothes you bought me.”

“Oh, there’s plenty of clothes here.  And we’ve got the Nymphs, who never get to see anyone except us and Dad.  They sure will be excited to look after you.”

“That will be nice,” Adam replied emphatically.  “I don’t miss many things about the Sovereign palace, but I do long for my handmaidens.”

As they walked, Quill found himself immersed in thoughts of what Adam’s early life must have been like; waited on hand and foot by devoted maids and living in one of the most opulent cities in the galaxy- and yet, born simply to serve Ayesha’s cruel purposes, eating bland food and allowed to think of nothing but combat.  It was almost paradoxical.

As they reached the doors leading into the palace, Quill caught sight of one of the Nymphs as she lingered by a nearby fish pond.  “Echo!” He called.  She looked up at once, and her face lit with happiness at the sight of him.

“Young prince,” she said as she hurried over.  “Did you need something?”

“Adam and I are going to the library.  Can you bring some wine?  The sweeter the better.”

Echo nodded enthusiastically, her eyes going to Adam.  She smiled graciously at the being before saying, “Tell me who it is we’re entertaining, then.”

“This is Adam.  He’s a Sovereign… uh, what exactly are you?”

“I’ve no official title, although I suppose it would be appropriate to call me a lord.”

Echo curtsied politely.  “Lord Adam.  We were very excited when we heard that Prince Peter had brought a friend.  How long will you be staying?”

“We don’t know, yet,” Quill replied.  “We’re still getting… some things sorted out.”

“Well enough.  We can fix you up with a bedroom and make you comfortable.”

Adam looked sidelong at Quill.  “Well, I was hoping to sleep with him, if I could.”

Echo’s eyes flicked from Adam to Quill, a tiny smiling coming up on her face.  “Oh, I see.  We didn’t realize it was that sort of an arrangement.”

“It’s not like that,” Quill responded at once.

“Not like what?” Adam asked, his head cocked slightly.  Echo giggled.

“Off to the library, then,” she said.  “We’ll bring some wine and cheese.”

His ears hot, Quill led Adam from the garden to the library.  Almost as soon as they had entered, Adam had left Quill’s side and was wandering along the shelves, fingers outstretched to stroke each spine.  “What shall I read you?” He asked.  “History, science, or perhaps some fiction?”  Before Quill could answer, Adam’s fingers fell on one especially large volume.  “Here we are.  Some fairy-stories.”

Quill didn’t protest.  There were some overstuffed cushions on the floor at the center of the room, upon which he made himself comfortable.  Soon Adam had joined him, sitting directly at his side.  “There are pictures,” he said.  He laid the book out in his lap, stroking the pages fondly as he flipped through.

“How about this- Sise ena geces sac mien.   ‘The Song of the Stars’.”

Quill looked over Adam’s shoulder at the dusty pages, at a sea of words he did not understand.  Adam, however, seemed perfectly comfortable as he began to read.

“‘ Cohi oliredoc rulofel hes irir. Agoh mesile enienala esimil ne apupoy. Pa ipoteb teterid linet apire… ’”  He paused, looking at Quill briefly.  “Shall I translate?”

“That’s okay.  You can tell me what it was about at the end.”

Adam shrugged at went on.  “‘ Nenat ni larohi. Rehira sovit tom ewiyi cineh ti ari tiecit pietec! Tites cielali eniy res. Leley ecisefa yecasir. Epah yelag nuber lac madas okonace arat esuto te. ’”

He went on reading for some time, his voice- as gentle and flowing as a summer breeze- eventually becoming a pleasant hum in the background.  Quill’s eyes grew heavy, and his thoughts slowed to muddled visions of sunlight on Adam’s golden skin as he bent to admire a flower.

“Peter.”

He started awake, having dozed off sitting up.  Adam was looking at him expectantly.

“Sorry,” Quil said at once.  “I guess I was tired.”

Adam laughed, resting one hand on Quill’s knee.  “That’s quite alright.  I suppose it’s good to know that my reading was soothing to you.”

“What was it about, anyway?”

“Oh, it was a love story.  About a man who fell in love with a star.  He brought the star gifts of music, and the star fell in love with him, too.  Sadly the man died of old age, but the gods thought their love had been so pure that they made him a star, too.  And they lived together in the heavens for the rest of time, as it were.”

Quill yawned and stretched.  There was a tap on the library door, and Echo pushed in with a tray of wine.  “Here we are,” she said as she set it on the floor beside them.  “It’s melon wine, the sweetest thing I could find.”

“Thanks,” Quill replied.  When she had left them, he poured a glass for Adam.  The being sniffed uneasily at it before taking the smallest of sips.  Clearly he was expecting it to be bitter, and was visibly surprised that it wasn’t.

“Very delicious,” he said.

“Don’t drink too fast.  We like our wine strong here.”

Adam smiled at him, taking another sip before setting the glass down.  “Peter,” he said, suddenly earnest.  “I hope you don’t think me foolish for what I’m about to say.”

Quill straightened up, running his fingers through his tousled hair.  “Of course not.”

“I don’t know a great deal about emotions.  Nothing at all, if we’re being honest.  No one seemed to be able to teach me on Sovereign- wise and worldly as Father is, he never invested much time in feelings.  And goodness knows Ayesha had nothing to pass on to me in that regard.  So all of this is a bit overwhelming for me.”

Quill nodded, scratching his beard absently while he wondered where this could be going.

“I suppose what I mean to do is thank you for all that you have showed me so far- both in the way of experiences and emotions.”

“There’s still a lot I want to show you.”  Quill paused for a second before going on, “Sorry.  That was a weird thing to say.”

“Not at all.  I suspect that I have only scratched the surface of a wealth of knowledge, and there is still much I would like to explore.  I know that you will be very helpful.”

“I’ll sure try.”  He reached out for Adam’s hand, squeezing it gently as he stared at the floor.  His brain was still in a sleepy fog, and so he wasn’t thinking very carefully.  “You’re one of a kind, Adam,” he said with a laugh.  “You really are something special.”

Chapter Text

Adam woke in a pool of sunlight.  He was perfectly snug- Quill's bed was very comfortable, and although the room was rather cold, Adam was bundled in a cozy duvet.  He slid an arm out from under the blanket now, brushing his hair from his face. In the bed beside him, Quill was sprawled face-down, still soundly asleep.  Adam sat up. This was the first time he had awakened before the man, so he took a moment to admire him in his peaceful rest. The sunlight made his tan skin glow and his reddish beard shine.  He snored softly.

With a sigh, Adam let the duvet fall from around him.  He stood up out of the bed, straightening his night clothes and smoothing his hair.  Then he wandered to the window, looking out at the gardens below. Quill’s bedroom commanded quite a view, stretching from the gardens to a patch of dense woods, and beyond that to distant lavender mountains.

Titan was a beautiful place, but after a week and a half, it had grown rather boring.  It seemed to Adam that he and Quill had exhausted every option when it came to entertaining themselves- they had spent hours in the garden, the library, and exploring the rest of the palace.  Quill had brought Adam along with him to pester the cooks and chat with the Nymphs. Every evening they had supper with Eros before retiring to Quill’s room. Adam had read several books cover to cover already, and although he had thousands more at his fingertips, he found he had lost his enthusiasm for them.  He found himself wondering what the rest of the Guardians were doing- surely it had to be more exciting than this.

In the bed behind him, Quill stirred.  Adam turned to watch him sit up, rubbing his face blearily.

“You’re already up,” the man said, yawning.

“I wasn’t very tired,” Adam replied.  Then, with a pointed sigh, he turned back to the window.  He heard Quill rise from the bed and pad across the floor to stand behind him.

“Whatcha thinking about?” He asked.

“I was wondering- there must be something to do outside the palace.”

Quill shrugged.  “It’s mostly woods out there.  We could take a ride over to the old city, but there’s nothing to see there.  It’s been deserted for decades.”

Adam brightened at once.  “But it must be terribly interesting.  How will we get there?”

“We could take the ship.  Or the horses.”

“Horses?”

“Yeah, they’re big animals that you can ride.  My family brought some with them when they left Earth.”

“I know what a horse is.  Father had several that I learned to ride when I was very young.”

“Well, that’s great.  We’ll take them out after breakfast.”

Feeling more cheerful already, Adam quickly got dressed and combed his hair.  He practically bounced down the hall after Quill to the dining hall.

Eros was already there, watching them calmly as they entered.  "You both look well-rested," he said. "Planning anything for today?"

"I was wondering if we could take Adam out on the horses."

"Certainly!  They don't typically get a chance to venture outside of the pasture.  Where were you thinking of riding?"

"Adam wanted to see the old city."

At this, Eros looked decidedly hesitant.  He took a sip from his goblet and said, "Do be careful.  We never cleared the city after it was abandoned. The bomb did a lot of damage."

"Bomb?" Adam replied.  Both Eros and Quill looked uncomfortable, but now Adam's curiosity had been piqued.  "Who in the world was able to penetrate your defenses?"

"That's just the trouble," Eros replied.  "Our enemy came from within."

"A traitor?"

Eros nodded.  "My own brother."

"Dad doesn't like to talk about it," Quill said suddenly.  "I'll explain on the way."

Adam, who was growing used to the rich and flavorful Titanian food, enjoyed a breakfast of eggs and bacon.  Quill had showed him where the meat and eggs came from- Adam had thoroughly enjoyed petting the colorful, downy feathers of the birds they kept.  The source of the bacon was less pleasant. Quill and his father were avid hunters, who took great joy in chasing and bringing down the massive wild boar that roamed the forests.  They also hunted deer and rabbit, the latter of which Adam found especially tasty.

"I'll show you how to shoot a crossbow," Quill had promised when he had returned from a walk one evening with a big gray hare thrown over his shoulder.  "Not that I think you'll ever need to use it."

While Adam conceded that there would probably never come such an occasion, the thought of Quill teaching him to shoot was oddly satisfying nonetheless.

Eros led them out of the palace and along a narrow path leading from the front door between a pair of thorny hedges.  On the other side was the coop where the birds lived, and beyond that, a building that Adam had not ventured into yet.

“We used to have a lot more horses,” Eros said.  “But we lost some of our best stock in the attack.”

Adam looked over at him, feeling a bit dismayed.  It seemed that whatever had happened to the Titan people hung over Eros like a dark cloud.

"Are you coming riding with us?" He asked.  "There's something I've been meaning to ask you about."

"No, I think I'll let you two youngsters adventure without me.  I'm sure we can have a chat when you return."

He led them into the building, where the air smelled of sweet hay and tangy horse dung.  The walkway in front of them was lined with stables, but they were largely empty. At the end of the passage, a big door let out onto a grassy pasture were wildflowers swayed in the breeze.  Adam left his companions' side and wandered to the nearest occupied pen.

The creature inside almost startled him with its sheer magnitude.  The horses he rode back home were sleek, graceful creatures with smooth, shiny coats and meticulously groomed manes.  This beast barely resembled them. It towered over Adam, looking down with shiny black eyes. Its coat was long and heavy, and a shaggy mane hung in its face.  It gave its head a shake, snorting. Adam took a step back.

"Don't be nervous," Quill said, coming up behind him.  "That's Journey. He's a sweetheart." Quill reached out a hand, and the horse pressed its big leathery nose into his palm.  Quill patted the creature's powerful neck. "Aw, I missed you, boy. Sorry I haven't been around to ride you."

The horse gave a happy whinny.

Quill opened the door of the stable and stepped in, stroking Journey's flank.  The horse was a deep reddish-brown in color, with black legs. His massive hooves were covered by long fur.  He swung his great head around to sniff Quill, who laughed and scratched between his ears.

"You can take my dad's horse," he said to Adam, who was lingering in the doorway.

"Is it... as large as this one?"

"Yeah, she's about the same.  She's two over."

Adam left Quill brushing out Journey's mane and wandered to where Eros was standing.  Another horse, this one a soft fawn in color, was gently taking an apple from his palm.  Adam approached, and Eros said, "This is Areion. She's a calm thing, so she'll give you no trouble."

Adam pet her nose.  "I wonder what Father would make of these beasts.”

“Is he a breeder?”

“You could say that.”

Adam hung back while Eros and Quill went about getting the horses saddled and bridled.  They led the creatures out of the stable, where Adam watched Quill mount effortlessly- he sat astride the massive beast as if he were born to ride it.  He made a very handsome sight as he gripped the reins and spoke gently to Journey, who pawed the ground enthusiastically.

“Do you need help?” Eros asked, motioning to Areion.  Adam shook his head, approaching the massive animal carefully.  He wrapped a hand around the pommel and got a foot in the stirrup, hoisting himself up.  When he had settled, he looked around and found that he was terribly high up. But Areion was steady under him.

Quill nudged Journey into motion, and Adam followed suit.  He was surprised at the smoothness of Areion’s gate as they started off.  Eros shouted a goodbye.

Quill steered them to the beginning of a shady path at the forest’s edge.  Without any warning, he whooped and gave his bridle a shake, sending Journey into a gallop.  As they thundered into the woods, Quill gave another joyful holler. Adam watched in amusement, nudging his own horse into a trot.

Quill slowed soon, and Adam caught up.  “Sorry,” the man called. “I never get to ride, and I sure do love it.”

“I can see that,” Adam laughed.  “Don’t mind me. I can keep up.”

They cantered along together for a while, enjoying the dappled sunshine and symphony of birdsong.  Adam let out a huge breath, feeling more at peace than he had in awhile.

“I packed us a picnic,” Quill said.  “For when we get where we’re going.”

“How far is the city?”

“Not very.  A couple of miles, maybe.”

“Can you tell me now, what happened?  Why it’s deserted?”

Quill heaved a sigh.  “I’ll be up front with you.  I’m not totally sure. Like I said, it’s hard for Dad to talk about, and I don’t usually see my grandfather.  What I can tell you is that my dad had an older brother called Thanos. Have you heard of him?”

Adam thought for a moment, fancying that the name did sound rather familiar.  “Perhaps.”

“He was a bastard.  Really evil dude. No one knows why, for sure, but it probably came from him looking so different from the rest of his people.”

“Different how?”

“Oh, you shoulda seen him.  Ugly purple motherfucker.”

Adam watched Quill in silence, waiting for more.

“Anyway, he went crazy and attacked his own people.  Firebombed the city, which was where almost all the Titan people lived.  He killed his own mother, and he tried to kill his dad. He would have killed my dad too, except he was on Earth with my momma at the time.”

“Is that why your father had to leave you?”

Quill nodded, and for a moment it appeared that a dark shadow had crossed his face.  “Thanos was fucking my life up before I was even born.”

Adam nodded empathetically.  “What happened to him?”

“Nothing, for a while.  No one could find him, but he had servants.  Lots of people doing his dirty work all over the galaxy.  Gamora used to be one of them, and so did her sister.”

“Gamora has a sister?”

“Sure does.  Anyway, Thanos wanted to do something even bigger than killing his own people.  He wanted to kill half the universe. So he started going after these things called Infinity Stones, which are pretty much the most powerful things ever.  He had this idea that if he collected them all, he could do anything. And he was almost right. A bunch of us had to get together to stop him. That’s how my back got broken.”

“What became of Thanos?”

“Don’t know, for sure.  We think he got transported to a nether realm, or at least that’s what one of my pals on Earth thinks.  He could be dead, but who knows? As long as he isn’t here .”

“That all sounds terrible,” Adam said after a while.  He patted Areion’s neck. By now they had come to a small river with a stone bridge crossing it.  Quill led Journey down the gentle embankment to let him drink, and Adam followed.

“We’re not far off now,” Quill said.  “Another stretch of forest and we’ll be there.”

Adam nodded.  “Are there any other Titans left?”

“Besides me, my dad, and his dad, there’s my auntie- she lives not far from here- and her kids.  All in all, we’re pretty much gone.”

“What a dreadful shame.”

They set off again, moving with refreshed speed.  Adam let Areion gallop for a while, enjoying the cool wind on his face.  “You’ll have to see the Sovereign horses, someday,” he called over his shoulder to Quill, a few paces behind.  “They’re beautiful.”

“I believe it.  Seems like everything Sovereign is beautiful.”

In about fifteen minutes, they had crossed from the dense forest into grassland, and in the distance, Adam could see the city- although if he hadn’t known better, he would not have assumed it was anything more than an outcrop of rock on the horizon.  Suddenly, it felt as though a cold hand had closed around Adam’s heart. He pulled up on Areion’s reins and she halted. Quill brought Journey up beside her.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“I don’t want to go any closer.”

Quill cocked his head, but said, “Alright, we don’t have to.  If we’re being honest, the place gave me the creeps, anyway.”

Adam, with one eye still on the distant ruins, dismounted.  He rubbed his sore tailbone and said, “Let’s rest here and have our picnic.”

“Sure thing.”  Quill leaped off of Journey, and they settled in the tall grass as the horses wandered off to graze.

“Something about it…” Adam said vaguely.  “All that death…”

“Tell me about it.  I can hardly stand to look at it.”

Quill offered him bread and cheese, and more melon wine.  All of this Adam munched on distractedly. Eventually he turned so that his back was to the city, and focused on Quill.  The man beamed at him.

“Whatcha thinking about, cutie?” He asked.

“Many things,” Adam replied.  “It seems to me that there is a great mystery unfolding at the center of my life.  Every day, I discover things about myself that I do not understand.”

Quill nodded, although he looked very lost.  “Like what?”

“I’m still bothered by that curious book- that man who shares my name.  I know it is most likely a coincidence, but something feels very odd. And now you tell me of a man named Thanos, who I have never heard of nor read about, and yet the name is familiar to me.  Almost as if I heard it in a dream.”

“That’s weird.”

Quill had scooted closer while Adam spoke, so that their faces were mere inches apart.  He looked suddenly very interested in what Adam was saying, which encouraged him to go on.

“I wish there was a way to contact Father.  Perhaps he could give me some answers- he seems to know so much about the universe.  More than I could ever hope to know.”

Quill nodded.  Adam could feel the man’s warm breath on his face now.

“I will be sure to talk to your father.  I suspect he may know-” Adam was cut off by Quill’s mouth being pressed gently to his.  He blinked several times in surprise- and then, for a few seconds, let his eyes close, feeling Quill’s beard prickle his cheek.  Then he was turning away, his face very warm. Quill seemed to follow him for a moment, bumping his nose clumsily against Adam’s cheek.  Then he hastily withdrew.

“Sorry!” He said, as Adam brough his fingers up to his lips to touch them lightly.  “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”

Adam looked back at him.  “I’m afraid I don’t understand.  Was it some sort of affectionate gesture?”

“Yeah,” Quill replied, face turning a hot crimson as he focused all his attention on a blade of grass.  “It’s just a dumb thing humans do.”

Adam smiled a little, fingertips still touching his mouth.  His lips were tingling fiercely. “Please don’t be sorry. It wasn’t unpleasant.”

Quill looked up at this, eyes glinting.  “No? Like, maybe you’d like to do it again?”

Adam hesitated, his gaze fixed on Quill’s beard.  It had been so scratchy. “Let me consider it,” he said at length.  “Perhaps I can do some research.”

 At this, Quill gave a short laugh.

As they finished their picnic and climbed back onto their horses, Adam was still thinking.  He had been kissed plenty of times- his handmaidens had kissed his cheeks politely in greeting, and Father had kissed his forehead once in a rare display of affection.  But no one had ever kissed him on the mouth.

They rode home in relative silence.  To Adam, Quill seemed to be very embarrassed.  He hardly looked at Adam for the entire trip, and he whistled in a forcibly cheerful way.  This was just as well- Adam spent a large portion of the ride running his fingers over the spot where Quill’s beard had scratched him.

As they emerged from the woods and headed towards the stables, Quill looked to Adam suddenly.  “I hope I didn’t freak you out,” he said softly. “It’s just I’ve been wanting to do that for a while.”

Adam, more confused than ever, was pleased to dismount and head inside.  He passed Eros on the way, but in his distraction forgot entirely that he had wanted to speak to the man.

He went to the library, where he set about at once looking for any book he could find on the subject.  He came across a few with titles like Customs of the Terran Peoples and The Interstellar Traveler's Guide which seemed as though they might be useful, and settled by one of the windows with the intent of researching.

He had only read a few paragraphs concerning the friendship rituals of certain Terran people (surprised to learn that some subpopulations exchanged elaborate handshakes as a form of greeting) when he heard the door open.  Eros had entered, and was dipping his head politely to Adam.

“I hope you don’t mind me intruding,” he said as he came to sit nearby.

“Not at all, your Highness.”

“Peter told me what happened on your trip today.  He’s very worried that he may have… put you off.”

Adam set his book aside.  “I’m just terribly confused about it all.  I hoped these books might help me to understand.”

“You don’t need them, because I’m going to tell you.  Adam, my son is terribly taken with you. I could sense it as soon as he came here, and I assumed, given what I know about him, that he had already made you aware of his feelings.  But something about you has made him uncharacteristically inhibited.”

“Taken how?”

Eros chuckled.  “I don’t want to speak too freely on his behalf, but in my practised opinion, I would say he’s quite in love with you.  And don’t misunderstand me- I am not implying that you are in any way obligated to return his feelings. But I thought you should know, and it seems he can’t work up the nerve to say it.”

Adam considered the heavy book in his lap.  “I must apologize. Things like love are still so new to me.  Perhaps I ought to talk to Peter.”

“I think that would be wise.  But before you do, I seem to recall that you wanted to discuss something with me this morning.”

“Oh, you’re quite right.  You see, the book you gave me- A Brief History of the Galaxy - contained a picture that made me very curious.  A man who shared my race and my name, and who looked rather like me, was written of as a great hero.  Do you know anything about him?”

Eros smiled wryly.  “As a matter of fact, I do.  He was quite a close friend.”

Adam opened his mouth slightly in amazement.  “Truly? You knew him well?”

“Yes, very well.  He was a champion of the Sovereign people, back in the days when their children were born naturally.  He made a name for himself not only among the Sovereign, but all over the galaxy. He was a crusader for oppressed people everywhere.  A symbol of hope and rejuvenation. There are countless planets that name him as their savior and honor him to this day. You should be proud to be named after him.”

Adam nodded, tucking his legs under him.  “How did he die?”

“It’s still a bit of a mystery, even to me.  The universe was told that he caught a fatal illness, but there are many who believe his death was orchestrated by a higher power- by those that had come to fear him.”

For the second time today, Adam felt as though he had ice in his veins.  “Thank you,” he said quietly. “That was what I wanted to know.”

In the end, Adam was quite unable to find Quill.  He looked all over, wanting to discuss everything that Eros had told him, but he seemed to have vanished altogether.  Adam ate dinner with Eros, and then slept alone in Quill’s bed, enjoying the musky smell of him that clung to the sheets in his absence.

It was only in the morning that he reappeared, fairly bursting into the room and startling Adam awake.

“We gotta go,” he said, his voice tight with anxiety.  “As soon as possible.”

“Why?” Adam exclaimed as Quill fairly dragged him out of the bed.

“I got a transmission from Gamora this morning.  Ayesha took a Nova outpost captive, and she’s going to blow it up if we don’t return you to her.”

Chapter Text

Standing on the gangway with her hands clasped behind her back, Gamora watched the Nova vessel descend.  Quill had set off from Titan as soon as he'd got her message- and he had Adam with him, which was a relief.  She had been worrying since she sent the transmission that he would get it into his head that Adam was safer with Eros, or that they could deal with Ayesha without involving him.

"Hey," he called to her as the hatch opened.  He fairly sprinted to her side, saying as he reached her, "So where is she?  What outpost?"

"The Cygnus Quadrant."

"Where the cadets train?"

She nodded gravely.

"Alright, what's the plan?"

She raised an eyebrow.  "I figured it was obvious.  We hand Adam over, and no one gets murdered."

Quill actually laughed, which made her prickle with irritation.  "I mean it," she said. "There's no other way out of this. She has fifty gunships poised to turn that outpost to dust.  And you already know she won't negotiate."

At this point, Adam had caught up with Quill and was standing partially behind him, looking pale.  Gamora did her best to ignore him.

"Come on," she urged.  "Let's get a move on."

Quill shook his head.  "We can't do that. There has to be another way."

"There's almost three thousand people out there.  You really want to put all of them at risk for the sake of one person?"

"No," Adam cut in.  "Peter and I have already discussed this.  I am going to go willingly, and confront Ayesha myself."

Quill's mouth was a thin line.  "I don't like the idea. I think we can outsmart her."

"We aren't gambling with people's lives, Quill," Gamora said firmly.

The man gave an unhappy sigh.  Then he turned to Adam. "Don't do anything yet.  We need to think about this."

"Well, don't think too hard.  I'm going to meet Richard at the barracks, and you had both better be right behind me."

She strode off, her mind instantly racing.  This was going to take a great deal of careful maneuvering.

The call had come in at about midnight from a panicked Denarion on the outpost.  The place was surrounded by Sovereign ships, and Ayesha had sent a messenger. She demanded the return of her "beloved creation"- and if he was not returned, she meant killing.  Gamora had to admit that it was bold, even for her; a direct attack on the Nova Corps could spell war for the Sovereign. If she was really willing to risk that, then perhaps Adam was more important to her than Gamora had initially thought.  She had assumed that the woman had given up her chase after that day on the balcony, because they had heard nothing further from her. I should have known better , she mused.

As she walked, she suddenly became aware of a presence beside her.  She looked up and found that Mantis had joined her, her long antennae twitching nervously.

"Have Peter and Adam arrived?" She asked.

"Yes.  And Peter's doing exactly what I thought he would do."

"By which you mean, defending Adam?  Surely you can't fault him for that."

Gamora sighed.  "No. I can't. I'm sure I would be the same way if it was Richard.  But that's all beside the point. Right now we need to work out how to get Adam to Ayesha without her harming anyone on that outpost."

"We can't send a transmission?"

"She blocked all signals in and out, probably to prevent us from communicating with the hostages.  Which means we need to get there with Adam as quick as we can. There's no telling when her patience will run out."

Mantis nodded.  "Let me come with you.  I am sure I could be of some help."

Gamora paused, examining the woman's face closely.  "Have you seen something?"

"I may have.  It is always so hard to be certain."

"What was it?"

Mantis lowered her eyes.  "Ayesha may try to harm Peter."

Gamora nodded.  "I could have guessed as much.  Do you think there's any way we could get him to stay here?"

"It is doubtful."

She sighed again.  "We'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it."

So saying, she started off again.  Mantis scurried behind her. They went from the docking bay across the Nova campus to where Richard was waiting.  One of his teammates had intercepted the call from Ayesha, which Gamora supposed was fortuitous. Richard had wasted no time in passing the message along to her.  Her first instinct had been to fly to Titan and retrieve Adam herself, to avoid any funny business from Quill. But what was questionably her better judgement won out, and she called him instead.  His reaction had been of genuine dismay- it seemed that he had anticipated something like this. She had felt a pang of sympathy for him, and for Adam. She didn't want him sent back to that cold and exacting woman any more than the rest did.

She was wishing more and more that they had ignored that call for the downed ship.  It would have spared everyone the suffering.

Richard was awaiting them in the courtyard, dressed in his full Centurion regalia.  He offered her a weak smile, which she did not feel compelled to return.

"That bad, huh?" He asked.

"Well, Quill isn't putting up as much of a fight as we anticipated.  And Adam seems totally willing."

Richard nodded.  "That's good. We ought to get a move on."

The trio made their way from the courtyard to the barracks, where they were selecting a few Corpsmen to help them evacuate the station when Ayesha was subdued.  By the time they had rounded a few up, they had been joined by Drax- and shortly after him, Quill and Adam. Quill’s eyes were red.

“Ready?” Richard asked, reaching out to pat Quill’s shoulder.  “We’ve kept those folks waiting long enough.”

No one said much as they went from the barracks to the Nova hangar, where they boarded Richard’s ship, Clemency .  Gamora watched Richard grab Quill’s shoulder and lean in, apparently offering some comforting words.  Quill nodded, lowering his eyes. He was pressing his lips together, which she knew meant that he was fighting tears.  A pit began to form in her stomach.

Soon they were leaving the hangar behind, setting a course for the Cygnus quadrant.  Gamora settled in one of the seats that lined the cabin, folding her legs uncomfortably.  She fished her transmitter out of her pocket to check for new messages, of which there were none.  This was somewhat of a relief- she had told Rocket only to send a message if there was trouble at home.  She doubted that Ayesha would be audacious enough to send her gunships here, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

As she sat contemplating, she realized that someone had sat beside her.  She looked up and found Quill watching her evenly.

“Are you satisfied?” He asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” She replied incredulously.  “You can’t honestly think that I wanted this to happen.”

He let out a miserable sigh, wringing his hands in his lap.  “No. I guess that wasn’t fair. But I wish there was some way we could think this through a little more.  I can hardly bear it, having to send Adam back to that evil woman. God only knows what she’s gonna do to him.”

Gamora bit her lip, watching him run his fingers anxiously through his hair.  “Look,” she said at last. “I don’t want him to go back any more than you do. I hate it.  I know how I would feel if someone was making me go back to Thanos.  But right now, it’s what we have to do.”

“We can’t leave him there.”

She closed her eyes a moment, letting a breath out.  “How are we going to get him back?”

“I don’t know.  I’ll figure something out.  But there’s no way I’m just letting him go and forgetting about it.”

“We can’t ask the Nova Corps to go to war over him.”

“Why not?  We know what Ayesha wants to do with him- we could say that he’s potentially a weapon.  We have to keep him out of the wrong hands.”

She rose to her feet, feeling the urge to pace come on.  “Starting a war would mean death and destruction. We want to avoid that if we can.”

Quill nodded.  “What else can we do?”

“I hate to say it, but we may have to do it ourselves.”

He gave a little laugh.  “You have no idea how good it is to hear you say that.  These last few weeks have been hell for me, you know. I like Adam- I like him a whole lot.  But you’re my best friend in the world, and I don’t want to disagree with you.”

She halted her pacing, feeling an overwhelming fondness for the man rise in her chest.  “I know. And I know I’ve been a paranoid fool, but I can’t help it. I’ve been so afraid that Adam was a threat to us, to everything we’ve worked for.  I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize.  I’ve had my blinders on this whole time.  All the signs were pointing to this, Ayesha wanting him back.  I just thought we could figure something out.” His eyes were gleaming with unshed tears.  Her heart ached for him suddenly. She knew better than anyone that Quill had been unlucky in love.  There were too many stereotypes about his species, too many people who had the wrong idea about him. She couldn’t blame him for getting attached to someone who seemed so willing to love him.

“We aren’t going to let this go,” she said in a fierce whisper.  “I promise. We’ll get him back.”

He turned his head away sharply, those tears falling now.  She resolved that Quill needed a moment alone, and decided that now would be a good time to talk with Adam.  She left Quill hurriedly drying his face and walked from the cabin to a smaller room, where Drax was sitting with Adam.  The Sovereign was quite the opposite of Quill- his face was blank, his eyes unfocused. Drax appeared to be making attempts to comfort him, but was clearly being ignored.

Both of them looked up at her approach.  Gamora inclined her head at Drax, and in that odd way he had, he seemed to know exactly what she wanted; he quickly retreated from the room.  Alone with Adam, she clasped her hands in front of her and said, “I owe you an apology.”

He inclined his head slightly to one side.  “Whatever for?”

“I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt like everyone else.  You deserved at least that.”

“But you were right, weren’t you?  You were afraid that I would cause trouble for you and your team, and now it seems I have.  In the end, it was your judgement they should have trusted.”

She was silent for a moment, watching his calm golden face.  Finally, she sighed. “That’s a load of shit, and we both know it.”

For a brief moment, he smiled.  “Yes.”

She allowed herself a small laugh.  “You’ll learn about me in time that I’m not always as smart as I think I am.”

“I’m afraid I won’t have the chance to learn much of anything, as much as I would like to.”

She sat beside him, locking her gaze firmly with his.  “We are not leaving you,” she said firmly. “On that, you have my word.”

He looked surprised.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you think that the Guardians of the Galaxy are about to let that stuck-up creator of yours win, you’ve got another thing coming.”

He smiled again, and this time the expression was genuine.  Gamora sat, feeling as though the happiness in his face was shedding warmth like the sun on a summer day.

“But what can you do?  Surely you won’t let her harm any of those people on the outpost?”

“No.  We’re going to give you up to her and let her think she’s got what she wanted.  And when everybody’s safe, we’re coming to her.”

Adam’s face fell.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  How do you plan to challenge her in her own home?”

Gamora blew a breath out.  “We haven’t really got that far yet.  But we’ll figure something out. Right now, you need to go calm your boyfriend down.”

Adam gave a tiny, anxious laugh as he rose.  “My… my boy-friend. Yes.” And with that, he had left her alone once more.

That had been easier than she anticipated.  Now, though, the truly difficult part- figuring out how exactly they were going to retrieve Adam from Ayesha’s captivity- began.

----------

When they dropped from jump-speed, the outpost in question was directly ahead of them.  Gamora, who had joined Richard in the cockpit in hopes of running her ideas past him, could see the glinting gold of the Sovereign gunships already.  There was a whole swarm of them, all hanging in space like flies around a corpse. She wrinkled her nose.

“Ayesha blocked all transmissions, so we’re just gonna have to hope she knows Adam is on board,” Richard said, more to himself than her.

“If she opens fire, everyone on that station is dead.”

“She won’t open fire,” Richard said firmly.  “That would mean war.”

“You don’t know her.”

“You never explained exactly why these people hate you so much in the first place.”

“It’s actually kind of a funny story.  Everyone thinks it was about the batteries that Rocket took, but Peter and I know the truth.  She tried to seduce him because she “wanted his seed” or something gross like that.”

Richard looked up in surprise.  “You’re joking.”

“No.  And he was going to let her have it.  He only backed out at the last minute because she told him what she was going to do with it.”

“Which was?”

“The obvious.  And the idea of people being created using his DNA freaked him out.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “And how do you know this?”

“I followed them, just in case Peter decided to do something stupid.”

Richard seemed to be preparing a response to this, but before he could, a crackle of static over the radio made them both start.

“Centurion Rider, have you arrived at the Cygnus outpost?”  It was Rael. Her voice sounded taut.

“Pulling up to it now, your Honor,” Richard replied.  “And they weren’t joking, there’s at least fifty gunships out here.”

“Is Ayesha aware of your presence?”

“She must be.”

As they spoke, Gamora watched one of the gunships pull away from the outpost and start towards them.  Reflexively, her hand came to rest of the hilt of her sword.

The ship aimed its cannon at them.  The radio crackled again, and this time, it was the cold, high voice of Ayesha that rang out.

“Nova Corps- do you have my darling boy?  I hope so, for your station’s sake.”

Richard replied, “We’ve got him, Ayesha.  Let us pass through and you can have him back.”

Gamora turned to look to Quill and Adam where they were seated together.  Adam was deathly pale.

“It’s alright,” she said quietly.  The being turned to bury his face in Quill’s shoulder.

The gunship had eased off and was now flanking Clemency, guiding it to the outpost.  They passed through the artificial atmosphere and came to land on the tarmac without incident.  Now the ship that had escorted them here landed in front of them.

“Why don’t you send my dear Adam out,” Ayesha radioed, “so that he can be returned to me?”

“Then you swear you’ll call off your ships?” Richard responded.

There was a long silence.  Then, Ayesha replied, “Yes.  But do not think that this clears the air between my people and the Guardians of the Galaxy.  They know what is truly owed to me.”

“Yeah,” Richard said under his breath, “and unfortunately now I do too.”

Gamora turned once more to Adam.  “Here,” she said, reaching to unfasten one of the small blades tied to her waist.  “Hold on to this. It may not protect you, but you can take it as a promise that we will come back.”

Adam nodded, whispering, “Thank you, Gamora.”  Quill’s eyes, too, were full of gratitude.

When Adam had tucked the blade into his clothing, Richard opened the hatch.  Adam flinched at the hiss, but did not hesitate in starting towards it. Quill followed right behind him, clearly intent upon accompanying him to the gunship.  But before he reached the hatch, Mantis leapt forward and grabbed his sleeve.

“Peter, no,” she breathed.  “You cannot.”

Quill looked momentarily as though he wanted to argue, but they all knew what Mantis was like when she had had a vision.

“Let him go,” she went on quietly.  “I promise, everything will be alright.”

“Did you see that?” Quill asked, his voice husky with emotion.  “You gotta tell me if you did.”

“No, but you must trust Gamora.  She is determined.”

Quill nodded.  Then, he turned to Adam, reaching to pull him into an embrace.  Adam did not resist, his arms hanging limply at this sides. Quill kissed his forehead and whispered something.  Adam nodded and returned the kiss on Quill’s cheek. Then, Quill was releasing him and he was heading down the boarding ramp.  They all hurried to the cockpit to watch him from the window. He looked very small as he made his way across the tarmac to the waiting Sovereign vessel.  He paused at the hatch there, looking back over his shoulder. Quill, standing beside Gamora, gave a little sob and pressed his hand to the glass. She reached out to squeeze his arm gently.

Adam vanished into the gunship, and the hatch snapped shut behind him.  At once it had taken to the air, and all of those aboard Clemency hurried outside to watch the vessel rise back to the stars.  In an instant, it had made the jump and was gone.

Richard deployed the Corpsmen to start the evacuation.  The remaining gunships disappeared one by one, and although the threat was seemingly passed, they had to follow protocol.  The Guardians stayed aboard, sitting close to their leader. For a while, he was inconsolable, sobbing wretchedly into his shirt sleeve.  But when his tears seemed exhausted, he simply sat back in his seat and stared, his misery silent now.

Gamora watched him with a growing sense of unease, realizing that if there was any hope for him at all, she had better make good on her promise.

Chapter Text

His eyes sticky and his throat sore, Quill retreated to his bed as soon as they had reached the apartment.  He didn't recall having cried this much in years. He knew that the rest probably thought he was a blubbering idiot, but he could not shake the feeling that he had betrayed Adam.  Adam, who had trusted him so explicitly, and who he had sworn to protect. The thought that they had just handed him back to the woman he had risked life and limb to escape made Quill sick to his stomach.  The thought of Adam, helpless and alone aboard the gunship, made his skin crawl.

He buried his tear-streaked face in a pillow.  His head throbbed. He doubted he would sleep a wink, but at least here in the dark of his room, he didn't have to face his teammates.  But before long, there was a gentle knock on his door. He sat up as the door opened, quickly mopping his face with his sleeve. He found that Mantis was standing in the doorway, looking anxiously at him.

"Peter," she said softly.  "I do not think you should be alone."

He shook his head slightly.  "I'm alright."

She fixed him with a sympathetic black stare.  It was no use lying about one's feelings to her.

She came to sit on the bed beside him.  "Don't worry about Adam," she said quietly.  "We are going to bring him home."

Quill nodded.  "I don't think I'll be able to sleep until we do."

"Come and eat something.  You are going to make yourself ill."

Reluctantly he got to his feet, swaying unsteadily.  Mantis placed a hand on his arm, and immediately flinched at the raw strength of his emotions.  Then she was leading him out of the room and to the kitchen, where the rest had gathered.

"Steady, Pete," Richard said as he got a look at the man.  "We're not giving up!"

"That's what everyone keeps saying," Quill replied.  "But how the hell are we gonna get in there?"

"I've been thinking," Gamora replied.  "The Sovereign never see real combat. They all hide behind their simulators.  If we went there in person- a lot of us- we might catch them off-guard."

"And what then?  You think that Ayesha's ever gonna give up?"

"Only if we kill her."

Everyone was silent for a moment.  "If that's what it takes," Quill whispered eventually.  He balked at the thought of a happy life with Adam being built upon someone's death- it seemed ill-fated.  But then again, he could think of no real redeeming quality that Ayesha possessed.

Drax cooked them dinner.  Quill sat by the window picking mindlessly at his plate, barely tasting his tiny bites of food.  As night fell, he grew drowsy. He fell onto the couch, and within minutes Richard and Gamora had taken up a place on either side of him.  He dozed, grateful for their proximity. In a few hours, he awakened from shallow, dreamless sleep and found that the rest had gone to bed.  He was draped in a blanket and one of them had tucked a pillow under his head.

Smiling slightly to himself, he rose.  He got himself a glass of water, then wandered to stand in front of the mirror hanging in the hallway.  He stared at his haggard reflection in the dimness, almost startled by his sallow skin and sunken eyes. “Jesus,” he muttered.  “You better pull yourself together, old son. This ain’t helping Adam any.”

He took a long drink of water before heading to his bed.   In the morning , he thought, we’ll figure something out.

The morning came.  Drax came to shake Quill gently awake, and Quill groaned into his pillow.

"You should get up," Drax said.  "We are working out a plan, and Gamora wants to leave immediately."

"She had a real change of heart, huh?" Quill said with a weak laugh, pushing himself out of the bed.  His eyes were gritty. He sighed. "I just wish I knew how Ayesha found out where Adam was."

"Maybe she is tracking him somehow."

"What, like a microchip?"

"It's possible.  When we have recovered him, we ought to check."

He herded Quill to the kitchen, where Gamora and Richard were already up.  Richard handed Quill a plate of eggs and bacon. "Eat up, Pete. You're gonna need your strength."

As he duly sat and began to eat, Gamora heaved a sigh and said, "Well, it's not the most elegant of plans.  But it's the best we can do."

"Hit me," Quill replied.

"It's simple.  We use Aurora’s cloaking device to get under their radar, land in the palace, disable their all their toys with an electromagnetic shock, neutralize Ayesha, and grab Adam."

"And when everything comes back online?"

"We'll be long gone.  And with their precious leader taken care of, hopefully they'll be discouraged from following us."

Quill sat and contemplated this for a moment.  "Well, if it's the best we have. I assume Rocket rigged something up for the turning-off-the-weapons part?"

"He did.  He and Groot are bringing it to the ship now."

As hesitant as he was about such a plan, Quill found that his heart was lighter at just the prospect of seeing Adam again.  As soon as he had finished his breakfast, he was on his feet. Drax, Richard, and Gamora came with him, and on the way out, Mantis emerged from her bedroom to fall in with the procession.

“I hope this ain’t all of us,” Quill said.

“A few Corpsmen are coming with us,” Richard replied.   "They're waiting for us at the hangar."

This was something of a comfort to Quill.  Gamora was likely correct in her assertion that the Sovereign would be largely helpless without their technology, but it was hard to be certain.  They were a mysterious people. He wanted all the help they could get.

"Does Rael know where we're going?" He asked, looking to Richard.

"I just told her that we were taking a few men to follow up on the Ayesha situation.  Not technically a lie. But if it does come to killing Ayesha- we weren't involved."

"Understood."

They walked through the early-morning haze from the apartment to the hangar.  Outside the building, about fifteen Corpsmen were awaiting them. Richard exchanged a salute with them and led the way to the ship.  Quill was eager to board Aurora - he had missed her these past weeks.  As they approached the sleek silvery vessel, he ran his hand along her smooth flank.  Thanks to Rocket's careful modifications, she possessed a unique cloaking device as well as an array of signal jammers- that made her the ideal ship for sneaking in.

On board, Quill settled comfortably into the pilot's chair.  His friends sat close by, and he looked around at them feeling remarkably grateful.  He started the engine and they zoomed gracefully from the hangar into the brightening sun.

“Well, this feels just like old times, doesn’t it?” He said.  “All of us headed out on some stupid mission that might get us all killed.”

“It is a cause worth dying for,” Drax, standing by the window to watch the ground drop away under them, said resolutely.  “I have come to find Adam charming.”

“Me too,” Mantis said with a giggle.

They all looked expectly at Gamora.

“He’s alright,” she said at last.

Sovereign was not a long journey from Xandar.  Quill’s piloting became absent-minded as he thought of just what he would do when they had Adam back.  He was going to kiss him again, and he wouldn’t be ashamed this time. He would scoop Adam up into his arms and never let him go again.  His heart throbbed with this thought, a sort of euphoric power overtaking him. He would defy Man and Nature if he had to- he would protect Adam with every cell of his being.   We’re going to be happy, goddammit , he thought fiercely.   Happy together.

Aurora dropped from jump speed with a little shiver.  Quill surveyed their surroundings carefully. Sovereign was far enough from any of the major jump points to be considered remote, but no more than a two-hour journey.  Quill threw the ship on autopilot and got to his feet, stretching. Then he made his way from the cockpit to the galley, where most the Corpsmen had settled down.

“Listen up, y’all,” he called.  “When we get to Sovereign, we’re gonna hit ‘em with an electro-pulse that disables all their tech.  But we don’t know for sure if that means they’ll be unarmed. Be prepared for a skirmish.”

A Rajak woman sitting nearby raised her hand.  “Do we have permission to use deadly force?”

Quill looked to Richard, who shook his head firmly.

“Avoid mortally injuring anyone, if you can,” he said.  “The Sovereign are a peaceful nation, after all. Just because their crazy leader likes picking fights doesn’t mean they all do.”

“We want Ayesha and Adam,” Quill added.  “So just cover us while we get in there.”

They all nodded their understanding.  Satisfied, Quill wandered back to the pilot’s chair.  Gamora was dozing in the seat behind it, and awakened as he neared.

“Are you ready to face her?” She asked, almost as if she had been thinking it in her sleep.

“Sure am,” Quill said.  “You just wait ‘til I get my hands on her.”

“Don’t underestimate her.”

“Oh, I’m not.  I know what she’s capable of.  I also know that she thinks I’m just some drunk horny pirate- but I’ll kill her with my bare hands if I need to.  I want Adam to live the life he wants, without her haunting him.”

She smiled a bit.  “Hm. Murderous vengeance is not usually your thing.  You must really love him.”

Quill swallowed hard.  “Yeah,” he said eventually.  “I reckon I do.”

It seemed that in no time, the orb of golden light that was Sovereign was looming before them.  Rocket, emerging from his quarters, went about engaging their cloaking devices as they drifted into the planet’s airspace.  Effectively invisible, they swooped down towards the royal city. Quill, only now becoming anxious, watched the metallic skyscrapers pass as he aimed them for the palace.  When its dramatic domes and arches loomed below them, he began the descent. His stomach was churning. Suppose they were too late, and Ayesha had done something terrible to Adam.  Quill didn’t think he could bear it.

“Land us right there,” Rocket said, pointing a claw at a nearby rooftop.  “We can get most of the palace shut off from there.”

Quill did as instructed, bringing the ship down gently on a part of the roof wide enough get everyone off the ship.  As soon as they had landed, Rocket called for Groot. Groot emerged with a metal cylinder under his arm, which he carried down the boarding ramp as it lowered.

“Everybody out,” Rocket said.  “I’ve got to get the ship out of here before this thing goes off, or we’ll kill her too.  Quill, to set that off, press it to the roof and push the big button. Signal for me when you’ve got your girlfriend back.”

“Will do.”  He followed Groot down the boarding ramp, and the rest of their party came with him.  As soon as the last Corpsman had filed off of Aurora , Rocket lifted her off the roof and sped away up into the atmosphere.  Quill turned and looked around. “I don’t know where Ayesha is keeping Adam.  We’re gonna have to split up. I’ll take Mantis and Drax, and half the men. Gamora, you take Rich, Groot, and the rest of them.  If you find him, let me know right away.”

“And if he’s not here?” Gamora asked.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Now let’s get a move on before someone spots us.”

He grabbed the device from Groot and examined it, finding the button Rocket had promised.  He gave one last glance at his companions, who were watching expectantly. “I hope everyone has their rubber shoes on,” he said as he pressed the device to the ground and pushed the button.

Instantly, the air filled with a sort of heavy static.  Quill felt electricity snapping at the ends of his fingers and in each strand of his hair.  Drax laughed aloud, clapping his hands together gleefully.

Below them, the palace had gone completely dark.  The world was suddenly silent, free from the omnipresent hum of technology.  From what he could see, the entire building was out. “Alright, let’s move,” he said.  He scanned the roof for any way in, and quickly his eyes alighted upon a small horizontal doorway about ten yards away.  “There,” he said. “Once we’re inside, head in opposite directions. Anyone you run into is probably going to be unarmed, so avoid hurting them if you can.”

That said, he opened the door and stepped onto the ladder leading to it.  Holding tight, he looked around below him. The long hallway was still and quiet, and Quill counted his blessings that they were intruding upon a less populated area of the palace.  He descended the ladder quickly, and stood by to watch that the rest got down safely. Then they were setting off, Quill and his party heading right and the others left. Immediately Quill’s senses were on high alert.  He trotted along with Drax hot on his heels, scanning the doors they passed for any signs of life. He heard no voices or movement behind any of them, and so they pressed on. He became aware of his heartbeat, pounding in his ears.  He realized as he went that he had no idea of what he would do if he encountered Ayesha- although a small part of his mind was suggesting a bargain. Maybe if he gave her what she had wanted from him to begin with, she would let Adam go without a fight.  He doubted it, but it was worth a shot.

They came to a set of ornate golden doors, which Quill pushed through without hesitation.  He found the room on the other side a nest of activity. There were Sovereign on every side, moving about in a helpless sort of panic.  None of them even seemed to notice his entrance until he had been followed in by a gaggle of Nova Corpsmen. Those nearest to him stopped short, watching him in shock.  He raised his hands peaceably.

“We don’t want a fight,” he said.  “Just tell us where Ayesha is.”

He expected resistance, even outrage.  What he got instead were several fingers pointing in the same direction- to another set of massive golden doors at the other end of the room.  Quill shrugged as the Sovereign folk parted to let him pass. He ran up to the doors, bracing himself for a battle. He realized that, despite what he had told Gamora, he had no idea what Ayesha was capable of.  She was called the High Priestess, which led him to believe that she had the power of some deity on her side. He halted once more, glancing at Drax, and then at Mantis. “Are we ready?”

They nodded.  He pushed the doors open, and found that they led on to the massive throne room he had stood in once before.  It was almost completely empty, save for two figures standing at bottom of the staircase leading to the throne.  Quill’s heart leapt with joy when he realized that one of these figures was Adam. The other, of course, was Ayesha.

They both looked up at the sound of Quill’s entrance.  There was a moment of tense silence, broken by a cold laugh from Ayesha.

“I thought this little trick may be the doing of your lot,” she said.  “Luckily, Adam was already in my company when you turned our lights off.  No chance of you slipping out with him.”

“No one wants to slip out,” Quill said immediately.  “We came here because we’re giving you an ultimatum.”

“Oh?” Ayesha replied.  “And what might that be?”

“You let Adam go and leave us alone, or we kill you.”

Ayesha gave a humorless cackle.  “How quaint.” She turned to Adam, bringing a hand up to lift his chin.  He stared calmly at her, although to Quill his eyes looked glassy. “You’ve brought out a curious boldness in Mr. Quill,” she said.  “I didn’t think an honorless mutt capable of such a thing.”

Adam curled his lip at her.  “Do not speak of him so. He is far more honorable than you could hope to be.”

She released him and took a step towards Quill.  “Your timing is impeccable. You see, I was just about to deliver Adam’s punishment for disobeying me.”

“Like hell you will,” Quill replied, immediately grabbing the element gun from his waist.  Before he had had a chance to train it on Ayesha, however, he was being thrown off his feet with enough force to send him flying a good distance.  He laid on the cold metal floor, winded, before scrambling to his feet. His companions had also drawn their weapons, but with a wave of her hand Ayesha had seemingly immobilized them.  They were frozen as though made of stone. Quill, panting, returned his attention to Ayesha.

“There’s more of us,” he said.  “A lot more. You can’t overpower us all.”

“You underestimate me,” she replied evenly.  “Now, be still. Your insolence has only made things worse for Adam.”

Quill suddenly found that he, too, was utterly unable to move.  He hissed in helpless fury, his eyes meeting with Adam’s. The being, who had avoided looking at him until now, had tears glittering on his cheeks.

“Do what you will to me, Ayesha,” he said, “but do not harm him.”

Ayesha paced a circle around Adam.  “Your time away from home has spoiled you,” she said.  “Before you left, you were such a clever, obedient child.  Now you speak this way to your own mother.”

Adam’s voice was tight with vehemence as he replied, “You are not my mother.”

Even frozen as he was, Quill flinched at the force of the slap Ayesha delivered.  Adam staggered, clutching his face, and gave a barely-audible cry. Quill’s vision was tinged with red, and for a moment he was consumed with visions of throttling Ayesha for daring to lay a hand on Adam.

But he did not get the chance.  Ayesha had taken a step back from Adam, as if preparing herself to strike him again.  Before she could, the room was filled with a flash of light that left Quill momentarily blinded.  When his vision returned to him, he was amazed to find Ayesha sprawled on the staircase, several meters from where she had been standing seconds prior.  There was no question about what had happened- Adam was standing with one hand slightly raised. His jaw was set and his eyes dark.

Ayesha’s spell was broken; Quill was able to move once more.  He quickly aimed an electric blast of the element gun at the High Priestess, which left her in a shuddering heap.  To the Corpsmen he called, “Get her contained.” Then, he was running to Adam.

The being nearly leapt into his arms.  “Peter!” He exclaimed as his legs wrapped around Quill’s waist and his hands cupped the man’s jaw.  “Oh, my Peter! I’m so happy to see you!”

Quill, with hot tears on his face at once, craned his neck to kiss Adam.  This time, Adam returned it with an intensity that seemed to surprise even him- after a few seconds, he withdrew, panting, and pressed his palm to his mouth.

“I know you said you would come back for me,” he breathed, “but I never thought it would be so soon!”

“I couldn’t stand being away from you,” Quill replied, spinning Adam in a circle.  “I swear I’m never letting you out of my sight again.”

Adam laughed, running his fingers through Quill’s hair before kissing him again.  “I don’t want you to.”

Quill set him down, looking over his shoulder to see how the Corpsmen were progressing.  Ayesha was still unconscious, but they had handcuffed her nonetheless.

“What’s going to happen to her?” Adam asked.

“I dunno,” Quill replied.  “She did threaten a Nova station.  But she’ll probably get off pretty easy, considering that you’re a peaceful nation.”  He glanced at the doors that led onto the throne room, where several Sovereign faces had appeared.  None of them seemed particularly distressed at their leader’s situation.

“What’s going on with them?” Quill asked.

“I suspect they’re quite as relieved as I am.  None of them like her, you see. She is a petty tyrant and a selfish fool.  I heard a great deal from my handmaidens.”

“Did she hurt you?”

“A bit.  I shall recover.”  But even as he said this, Adam’s knees seemed to buckle.  Quill caught him deftly as he fell. He was limp in the man’s arms, shivering noticeably.

“Adam, you’re not gonna have another seizure, are you?” Quill asked anxiously, thinking that his heart could not bear any more stress today.

“I don’t think so,” Adam replied.  “But… I think it would be wise if you took me to my father.”

Quill nodded.  “Where is he?”

“He lives on a compound not far from the palace.  I’m sure one of the servants will bring us.”

Quill leaned to scoop Adam up, carrying him easily.  He called out to Drax, who came to them at once.

“Call Richard and Gamora.  Tell them that we’ve got the situation covered, but we need someone to sort out what’s happening with Ayesha.  I need to take Adam to his father.”

“Understood.  Should we wait for you?”

“Nah, I’ll be over in a few days.  I have a feeling Adam and I need to get some things sorted over here.”

That said, he turned his attention to the Sovereign still standing in the doorway.  “Can one of you bring us to Adam’s dad?”

A young female in the front nodded.  Quill followed her, Adam lolling about sleepily in his arms.  “Hang in there, sweetheart,” he whispered.

They took an open-topped car from the palace through the streets of the Sovereign capital.  It was a quiet, peaceful evening; the denizens they passed seemed perfectly unaware of what was unfolding at the palace.  Adam dozed on Quill’s shoulder as they wove between high-rises and public gardens bathed in twilight.

At last, they were pulling up at a set of high golden gates.  Beyond, Quill could see a large, handsome building with the air of an old library.  The gardens surrounding it were tastefully manicured, and the walkway was lined with statues of animals.  Overall, it lacked the garishness of the rest of the city. Quill felt suddenly and inexplicably uneasy.

“You’re going to love my father,” Adam said as Quill lifted him carefully out of the car.  “He’s such a clever man.”

The servant got out to let them through the gates, but she retreated after that.  Quill carried Adam up the walkway, looking up with mild discomfort at the cold stoney shapes of the animals.  As they reached the front door, it was opened before them by a man in butler’s clothing. Quill nearly jumped out of his skin when he got a look at the man’s face- he looked as though one of his parents may have been of the canine variety.  But it was impolite to stare- Quill lowered his gaze and said, “We’re here to see… uh, Adam’s dad.”

“Of course.”

They were led from the foyer down a grand hallway, where a familiar and unpleasant scent reached Quill- it was antiseptic.  The place smelled like a hospital.

“Adam,” he said quietly, hugging the being close to his chest.  “What does your dad do?”

But Adam had drifted back to sleep.  Quill eased him carefully through a doorway and into a large room.  Here, the antiseptic smell was overwhelming. Quill realized as he looked around that this was because they were standing in a laboratory.  The walls were covered with anatomical diagrams and the floors were bare metal. Along the back of the room, there was a counter lined with jars of varying sizes.  They were filled with liquid and had what could only be animals floating inside them.  Quill decided he did not want a closer look.

“Your lordship,” the butler said.  “Your son has arrived with a guest.”

Quill turned to find the man being addressed, thinking how strange one of the elegant Sovereign must look in this environment.  What he found instead startled him so badly that he nearly dropped Adam. There was a figure looming over them- eight feet tall at a minimum and composed, it appeared, entirely of metal.  He looked up into the being’s face and found that it was only as human as a mask- red metal, with hollow black eyes and furrowed brow that seemed painted on.

Quill realized that he was shuddering.  “Uh, hi,” he said weakly.

The enormous figure inclined its head slightly.  “It was kind of you to bring Adam to me here- I can see that he is indisposed at the moment.”  The voice was as deep as a well, echoing on the walls of the room. “Bring him here.”

A massive hand was indicating a table towards the back of the room, which Quill hurried Adam to.  When the being was laid out, Quill retreated as far from the monstrous man as he could get as he approached to examine Adam.

“Wake up, my dear one,” he said quietly.

Adam stirred, opening his eyes slightly.  He gave a delighted smile and exclaimed, “Father!”

Quill staggered, reaching out for anything he could brace himself on.  It was a metal shelf, and resting upon it was a tray of small white somethings that, upon closer examination, Quill realized were eyeballs.  He gave an involuntary noise of disgust and turned his head away.

The metal man was speaking quietly to Adam, who had reached out to find one of his great hands.  “Father,” he said. “I want you to meet Peter. I have been staying with him since I left home. He is very dear to me.”

“Is that so?”  Adam’s father looked up.  “Then I suppose introductions are in order.”  He took a step towards Quill and extended a hand.  Quill reached to shake it weakly.

“Quill,” he said, “Peter Quill.  Star-Lord.”

“Ah, I have heard of the notorious Star-Lord,” the man replied.  “One of Ayesha’s many nemeses. The pleasure is all mine.”

Quill swallowed.  “I didn’t catch your name.”

The man’s metallic face moved in a way that resembled a smile.  “I am the High Evolutionary.”

Chapter Text

When his father had finished examining him, Adam was lifted carefully by the great man and carried back to his bed.  When he turned to look over his shoulder, Adam found Quill a few paces behind, watching the back of the High Evolutionary anxiously.  He followed all the way to Adam's room, but he halted at the door while Adam was brought to his bed.

"Come in, Peter," he called.  "Come and sit, there is so much I must tell you."

Quill was visibly hesitant.  The High Evolutionary laid Adam down, and for a moment Adam was overwhelmed with joy to be back in his own home, with his cozy duvet being laid over him.  He looked around, eyes travelling over his shelves of books and his chaise by the window.

"Father, do you know where Rune is?" He asked.

"I believe the kitchen maids have been looking after him in your absence.  I will see if he can be located."

A gentle hand reached out and stroked Adam's hair.  Adam smiled warmly at the man. "I missed you so, Father," he said, and the High Evolutionary looked as pleased as his metal face allowed.

"I find I missed you, too.  The household is very dull without you."

That being said, he turned to make good of his promise to locate Rune.  Quill, who was still lingering in the doorway, hurried to move out of his way as he passed.  When he had gone, Adam said, "Peter, please come in and sit with me. I don't understand why you are suddenly so shy."

"Your daddy won't mind me being in here?" He asked as he stepped into the room.

"Why ever would he mind?" Adam replied.

"Well, a lot of times daddies don't take too kindly to strange men in their kids' bedrooms."

"You are hardly a strange man."

Quill sighed and settled on the edge of the bed.  Adam sat up, reaching out for him. "Hold me, you fool!  I was afraid we had lost each other!"

Quill's mood seemed to break at this.  He turned and wrapped his strong arms around Adam, grinning.  Adam nestled into the warmth of his chest, letting out a huge breath.  "You were terribly brave," he whispered. "I was so afraid that Ayesha would hurt you."

"Nah, I could have taken her," Quill replied, kissing the side of Adam's head.  "But I sure am glad I didn't have to. You were something, alright!"

Adam withdrew a little, looking up into Quill's handsome face bashfully.  "I wish she hadn’t forced my hand. But she made me so angry, the way she was talking to you.  And the nerve of her, to call herself my mother!"

Quill reached to stroke Adam's cheek soothingly.  "What was she fixing to do to you, if you hadn't done her first?"

Adam shrugged.  "Who can say? I suspect she wouldn't have done anything that left a scar, not with her obsession with my body being... unmarked."  He thought with a shiver of the night before- Ayesha had seen enough of his closeness with Quill to suspect him of unbecoming behavior , and although he had insisted quite truthfully that he had no idea what she meant, she had forced him to undergo a truly humiliating examination to quell her suspicions.  He crossed his legs under the covers.

"You won't have to worry about her anymore," Quill was saying.  "She's where she belongs, and Nova is gonna take care of her."

"Where are the others?" Adam said, eager to change the subject.

"I told them to finish getting the palace situation under control and head home.  I'll catch up in a few days."

"So you're staying?"

"For now, yeah."

Adam smiled, reaching to take Quill's hand in his.  They sat for a while in content silence, before there was a gentle knock at the door.  Looking up, Adam found that the High Evolutionary returned- and he was not alone. Quill scrambled from the bed and retreated to stand by the window as Rune was delivered to Adam.

"My darling," Adam crooned.  "You are looking well-fed!"

Rune was a large cat with long, luxuriously soft white fur.  He was purring like a tiny motor as he curled up in Adam's lap, looking up with dazzling amber eyes.  Adam kissed his head and ran his hands along that lean, nimble body. "I missed you, my little friend," he said as Rune nuzzled his chin.

Quill, who had apparently forgotten his nervousness, had come to the bedside.  "Wow!" He exclaimed. "I haven't seen a real cat in years." Hesitantly he reached out to pat Rune, who eyed him suspiciously.

The High Evolutionary, who had stood watching Adam with his cat, spoke up suddenly.  "I cannot help but notice that you are of Titan blood, Mr. Quill."
Quill started and laughed nervously.  "Sure am. No one's ever pinned me like that before."

"I doubt there are many who know much of the Titan folk.  But I make it my business to be familiar with all species- and I must admit, yours has always been of special interest to me."

Quill looked to Adam, and his eyes were bright with panic.  Adam laughed.

"Father, you are making Peter uncomfortable," he said.  "Perhaps we can discuss this more after we've both had some rest."

"Of course.  Perhaps Mr. Quill would like a room of his own?"

"That won't be necessary.  I find sleeping with him to be very comfortable." Adam replied, which caused Quill to make a small noise of alarm.

"You know, Adam, I'm sure you want your bed to yourself," he said.  "I can go somewhere else."

Adam frowned at him.  "Don't be silly. I would much prefer you here."

"Very well," the High Evolutionary replied.  "Although if he is going to share your bed, I might suggest a bath first."

Adam turned to Quill with a smile, and saw that the man was trembling.  "Peter, why are you behaving so strangely?" He asked. "Come closer. Let me kiss you."
Quill obeyed, kneeling at Adam's bedside and accepting a kiss on his forehead.  His skin was clammy. "My dear, I believe you may be ill. Why don't you bathe in my washroom and come to bed with me?"

At this, the High Evolutionary said, "I will leave you two, as I have much work to do.  Don't hesitate to call for me, Adam."

"Thank you, Father."

When he was gone, Quill climbed into the bed, shivering violently now.  Adam crooned and stroked his hair. "Rest," he said. "You must be exhausted.  Tomorrow, I'll show you all my favorite places to spend time."

He stroked Quill's face until the man had dozed off, and then he cuddled Rune a moment before laying back himself.  "Too much adventure," he whispered to the cat, who purred sympathetically.

-----

When he woke, there was fresh morning sunlight pouring into the room.  Quill was not in the bed beside him, and when Adam sat up, he could hear running water in the washroom.  He gently removed Rune from his lap and stepped out of the bed, wandering to the washroom door and sliding it carefully open.  Quill was facing away, standing in Adam's huge bathtub and using the pitcher to pour water over his chest and back. Adam admired his nakedness- his tanned, powerful back and generous buttocks.  His thighs were thickly muscular, covered with fine blonde hair. There was also hair, Adam noticed, in a line that began at the base of his skull and ran down to between his shoulders.
Quill, singing softly to himself, seemed oblivious to Adam's presence, even as Adam stepped into the washroom.  It was only when Adam had come to stand in front of the mirror, intent upon admiring the man, that he glanced over his shoulder and gave a startled yelp.

"Jesus!" He cried, nearly dropping the pitcher.  "What are you doing?"

Adam laughed.  "I was just watching!"

Quill set the pitcher down and said, "You can't sneak in here while I'm trying to bathe.  I'm naked!"

"So?  I was naked the first time we met."

"Yeah, but that was different."

"How?"

He hesitated, moving now to cup himself.  "It just was!"

Adam could not help giggling at the scarlet shade of Quill's face.  "You needn't be embarrassed," he said gently. "I think you're very magnificent."

Quill only turned redder.  He lowered himself into the bathtub to obscure Adam's view of him.  "Peter," Adam said softly. "I hope Father didn't frighten you too badly."

Quill sighed.  "You didn't tell me your daddy was... like that."

"I suppose he is intimidating, if you don't know him.  But he has always been very kind to me- I trust you will warm up to him in time.  Now finish washing and get dressed so we can have breakfast."

That said, Adam excused himself.  He was eager to get dressed, now that he had a proper wardrobe at his disposal again.  While Rune watched him contentedly, he chose a flowing white top and a gold-embroidered vest, and a pair of red suede leggings.  He was admiring himself in front of his mirror when Quill emerged from the washroom. He was fully dressed now, to Adam's disappointment.

"You look cute," he said, wandering over to place a gentle kiss on Adam's cheek.  A shiver of pleasure passed through him.

"Gamora called you my boy-friend," Adam said casually, reaching for his hairbrush.

"Did she now," Quill drawled.  "I suppose I am, if you want me to be."

"But what does it mean?"

"Well, it means we're seeing each other.  Sweethearts."

Adam smiled a little at him.  "That doesn't clarify anything."

"Don't worry about it.  It's just a word."

Adam shrugged.  When he had finished grooming, he said, "Come now, Father will be waiting."

Quill did not seem pleased, but he didn't protest.  He followed Adam down the grand hallway to a large sunny room in the west wing; here, the High Evolutionary was sitting at the head of a long table, a book laid out before him.  Adam hurried to his side.

"Good morning, Father," he said, leaning in to press a kiss to that cool metal cheek.  His father reached out to give his hand an affectionate squeeze.

"You are looking better.  And I see that Mr. Quill has taken a bath."

Quill dipped his head politely, but said nothing.

"You are making him very shy, I'm afraid," Adam said.  "He's usually not so retiring."

The High Evolutionary chuckled.  "I can hardly blame him for being anxious, can I?"

Adam brought Quill to sit down, stroking the man's back.  "I'll stay close to you," he promised. Quill smiled.

"I am very glad that I am getting the opportunity to meet you, Mr. Quill," the High Evolutionary said when Quill had settled.  "I have been hearing a great deal about you ever since your first ill-fated meeting with Ayesha. She was a bit obsessed, I'm afraid."

"Oh, I know," Quill replied.  One of the servants, a butler named Procyon, had placed plates of porridge and fresh fruit- Adam's favorite- before the two of them.  Quill went on, "She wanted me to... uh..."

"I know well what she wanted," the High Evolutionary replied.  "And while I cannot say that I disagree with her motives, she has never been one to handle such things graciously."

"She is a hateful woman," Adam said, picking out a slice of apple to nibble.  "I am glad that she's gone."

"I would not hold my breath if I were you, my child.  I doubt that the Nova Empire would be bold enough to strip her of her position."

"But... she will leave me alone now, won't she?"

Adam saw his father's expression grow dark.  "You can be most assured of that." That said, he turned his attention back to Quill.  "My boy, I hope you will allow me the luxury of a few questions."

Quill nodded stiffly.

"When you first met Ayesha, you told her that you are half-Terran, and confirmed my suspicions last night that the other half is Titanian.  May I ask which parent was which?"

"Momma was the Terran."

"Ah.  Are you a son of Mentor, then?"

"I'm his grandson.  Eros is my dad."

"Prince Eros is wonderful," Adam said.  "We stayed with him while we were hiding from Ayesha."

The High Evolutionary nodded.  "How old are you, Mr. Quill?"

"I don't really know.  Early forties."

"Have you become a father, yet?"

Quill was turning red again.  "No, sir."

"Well, that's no matter.  You are young, and there is hope for you yet."

Quill looked as if he would have liked to be struck dead by lightning.  Adam patted his arm.

The High Evolutionary seemed content with these answers, for now.  He sat back, watching Adam and Quill eat their breakfast. Adam reached out and touched Quill's hand gently.  When he turned to look at Adam, he was smiling, and his eyes seemed as though they would overflow with fondness.  Adam's chest felt tight as he looked up into that broad, handsome face. He wanted to nuzzle Quill's beard like Rune nuzzled his chin.  Eventually, Quill returned his attention to his plate, leaving Adam's brain buzzing.

After breakfast, Quill seemed eager to be out of the High Evolutionary's company.  Adam was happy to oblige, because that meant showing him around the compound. It was comprised of several buildings- aside from the large main house, there was a greenhouse, a stable, and an observatory, all surrounding the large garden.  

Adam was delighted to be back in the place where he had spent his young life. and out here, Quill seemed to relax.  They sunned themselves in the garden for a while, saying little. Quill dozed on a patch of soft green grass; Adam watched fish in the small pond nearby.  He found it a pleasure simply to be in Quill's presence, despite the fact that the man didn’t seem especially given to stimulating conversation. He exuded a sort of peaceful calm that Adam could not quite name.  

From where Adam sat he could admire the big fellow, sprawled in the sunshine; looking at his long, powerful limbs and great chest inspired Adam to move a bit closer.  He gazed at Quill’s soft mouth and moved closer still. Soon he was right beside the man, sitting cross-legged in the grass. Quill, half-asleep, was oblivious- that is, until Adam leaned in to kiss him.  When Adam withdrew, Quill’s eyes were wide open, and he was looking up at Adam with flushed cheeks. He smiled prettily, and Adam was spurred to kiss him again. This time, Quill was ready. He caught Adam in his strong arms and pulled him into an embrace, fastening their mouths.  Adam let a small sound of delight escape him.

It was not a kiss like the few they had had before.  Quill opened his mouth and caught Adam’s lip between his, tugging it gently.  Adam froze for a moment, confused. Quill withdrew.

“No?” He said quietly.

Adam frowned, gingerly touching his mouth.  “I liked it,” he breathed. “But why?”

Quill laughed, his eyes gleaming.  “I don’t know how to explain. Just close your eyes!”

Adam did as instructed, and at once Quill was kissing him again.  Now those large hands came up to caress Adam’s back and shoulders; the touch drew goosebumps up all over Adam.  Now when Quill’s tongue brushed his mouth, he didn’t flinch. In fact, he leaned in to Quill all the more firmly, a wonderful heaviness filling him.  He felt almost drowsy, content to doze off in this man’s arms. But while Adam was growing deeply relaxed, Quill seemed to be getting more energetic by the second.  Now clasped to Quill’s chest, Adam could feel his heart racing. His breathing was quick and shallow. His hands were kneading the small of Adam’s back.

When Adam finally began to feel breathless and pulled away, Quill gave an ecstatic little laugh.  “Wow,” he murmured. “That was dynamite.”

Adam smiled and got to his feet.  “I hope you don’t mind if I leave you for a short while, Peter,” he said as he brushed his clothing off.  “I wanted to speak to my father alone.”

“He can’t see us out here, can he?”  Quill asked, going a little pale.

“Don’t be silly!  He knows I need my privacy.”

He left Quill in the garden, assuming that he was quite able to entertain himself for a bit.  He walked back along the garden path and to the house, where he stood for a while in the hallway, thinking about a great many things.  He had wanted to ask his father so many questions over breakfast, but Quill’s obvious discomfort had distracted him. Now he would have to interrupt the High Evolutionary’s work, which always made him feel rather guilty.

He wandered to the lab, standing meekly at the doorway and peering in.  There was his father, back to the door as he leaned to examine a specimen.  Despite this, his great voice rang out, “Come in, my son. I am certain that there is much on your mind.”

Adam padded across the smooth metal floor and perched on a stool by the window, where he could face the High Evolutionary.  For a moment there was a sort of contented silence between them, both pleased to be back in the others’ company. Finally, the High Evolutionary said, “You have left your friend alone.”

“He is in the gardens.  He said he didn’t mind.”

“I’m sure he could use a rest after all his excitement this morning.”

Adam smiled.  “I promise, he’s quite a brave man.  I don’t know what it is about you that’s got him so nervous.”

“The Titans are a sensitive breed.”  As the High Evolutionary spoke, he was dissecting an enormous tentacle with impossibly care.  Adam had grown used to such sights, and looked on calmly. His father went on, “He’s a handsome specimen, I will say that of him.”

Involuntarily, Adam giggled.  “Isn’t he?”

“Tell me how you met this man again.”

“When my ship crashed, he rescued me.  I have been living with his team ever since.  They are all quite nice people, and I fancy that we were beginning to get used to each other when Ayesha interrupted.”

“Are you thinking of going with Mr. Quill when he leaves?”

This gave Adam pause- he hadn’t thought about this at all.  In fact, this was the first time he had registered that Quill was not going to be here forever.  Either he was going to leave and Adam would be alone once more, or Adam was going to depart with him and leave his comfortable life here behind.

The High Evolutionary was watching him evenly.  “You don’t need to make a choice now,” he said. “It is obvious that Mr. Quill is wrapped around your little finger, if you will.  Whatever you chose, you can count on him as a companion.”

These words made Adam’s heart leap into his throat.  “That is kind of you, Father,” he said, his voice tight.  “And it leads me to another question. I was hoping you could tell me what it’s like to be in love.”

The High Evolutionary did not seem at all taken aback at the question.  He let out a short breath and said, “Clinically speaking, I could give you a list of symptoms commonly associated with feelings of romantic love.  Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, increased heart rate, diaphoresis. But I am certainly not the right person to tell you what it feels like.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Adam replied with a sigh, looking out the window behind him at the lush green gardens beyond.  “No matter. I’m just going to have to figure it out on my own.”

Chapter Text

Ayesha, who remained unconscious for the entire process of being restrained and brought onto Aurora , only awakened when the ship was breaking the Sovereign atmosphere to head home.  Gamora, sitting nearby, watched her closely as she came to. The woman, who was handcuffed to an iron strut, let out a pained breath and opened her eyes; she stared around in obvious confusion for several moments, taking in the interior of Aurora with hawkish golden eyes.  At last her gaze alighted upon Gamora, and she curled her lip.

"What have you done?" She demanded.

"Not me," Gamora replied evenly.  "Your precious Adam."

Ayesha's face went on a journey through bewilderment to realization, and finally to venomous anger.

"Then he has made complete his betrayal," she said in a low and dangerous voice.  Gamora shrugged.

"You made your bed," she said, repeating something she had heard Quill say a million times; although the meaning must have been lost on Ayesha, her expression changed once more.  Gamora saw bitter regret rise in her throat, her eyes growing glassy.

"I never should have treated him so terribly," she said under her breath, and Gamora barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes.  The rhetoric was all too familiar to her. She sighed and got to her feet, taking a step closer.

"Listen, you've got bigger things to worry about than your science project running off with his boyfriend.  You threatened a Nova outpost. They take that shit seriously."

"A means to an end," Ayesha responded, her gaze distant.

"Does Adam really mean that much to you?"

The woman heaved a sigh. "I thought he did.  Now it seems that everything I do for my people shall be futile."

Gamora raised an eyebrow.  "And what exactly was Adam going to do for your people?"

"He was supposed to lead us into a new age.  The next step in our evolution."

"And he was going to do that by destroying the Guardians for you?"

"That was only to be his first heroic act.  When he returned victorious, our people would celebrate- they would recognize him for what he was: the second coming of our first great savior."

Gamora considered her a moment.  Now that Ayesha had said this, something was suddenly occurring to her.  She had heard the name Adam before, albeit a very long time ago.  Thanos had mentioned it in passing. Now, though, she could not quite remember what he had said.  She let out a short breath. "What happened with... your first savior?"

Ayesha closed her eyes as though in an ecstasy.  " The Great Adam.   I was only a girl when he died, but I remember him so clearly.  He was a magnificent being. Tall and lean, and of course very handsome."

"That's very poetic," Gamora said, "but who was he?"

"He was the Prince of the Sovereign, back when we still had a ruling family.  When we were besieged for our resources by jealous outsiders, he led our army to defeat them.  And after that, he went on to become a galactic peacekeeper. A herald of the Gods."

Gamora considered her fingernails, trying to look disinterested.  In reality, what Ayesha was telling her was stirring memories up inside her that she had no desire to remember.

"Thanos knew him," she said softly.

"Of course.  Two princes, and of almost equal renown.  They were almost inseparable. They say that Adam's death is what caused Thanos to break.  He could not bear to lose him."

Gamora sat again.  "How long ago was this?"

"Before your time," Ayesha replied, sniffing rather disdainfully.  "Almost fifty years."

"And what does this have to do with the new Adam?"

"It has everything to do with him.  Since the death of the original Adam, my people have been struggling to recreate him.  We began to mold ourselves in his image, achieving physical perfection and societal harmony.  But he was never reborn, in all the decades we have been trying. At last, I allowed an outsider to intervene.  He had almost as great an interest in remaking Adam as we did. And it was with his help that Adam was finally reborn."

"But he can't have actually been reborn," Gamora said.  "The new Adam just looks like him."

"More than that- he is in every way like his predecessor.  When we were creating him, we programmed every gene for our purposes.  It absorbed considerable resources, and angered the Enclave- our high council.  But it worked. And now... now my creation has turned on me because of that man."

"Peter?"

"No, the man Adam calls his father.  The High Evolutionary."

Gamora's blood ran cold.  "You're joking, right? The High Evolutionary is just a myth."

Ayesha laughed unpleasantly.  "He's as real as you or I. I should have guessed his ulterior motives when he approached us offering help.  His interest with Adam is not for our people, but for himself."

Gamora chewed her lip, half-expecting Ayesha to say she was joking.  But the woman’s golden face was stony. Her fists were clenched in her handcuffs.

Richard poked his head into the hold.  “Having a nice chat in here, ladies?” He asked.  Gamora rolled her eyes.

“How far out are we?” She asked.

“Twenty minutes.  I was just on the phone with Rael, and she wants Ayesha to go directly to high security until we can organize a trial.”

Gamora heard Ayesha snort.  “A trial by the Nova Empire,” she spat contemptuously.  “That ought to be charming.”

Mulling over everything that Ayesha had told her, Gamora followed Richard back to the cockpit.

“This is way deeper than we thought,” she said under her breath, settling in behind the pilot’s chair.

“I could have guessed as much,” the man said.  “Nobody throws down with the Nova Corps over something that isn’t pretty damn important.”

“Adam’s some sort of recreated hero,” she muttered.  “And I don’t think he has any idea.”

When they had reached Xandar, Richard steered them directly to headquarters.  When they had landed, he stood up and planted a kiss on Gamora’s cheek. “We’re gonna take her in.  Meet you back at my apartment for dinner?”

She nodded.  With her hands planted on her hips, she stood at the top of the boarding ramp and watched as the small brigade of Corpsmen escorted Ayesha- looking miserable out of place among them- from the shipyard into the building.  Then she turned to look at the remaining Guardians, who had come to stand in a cluster behind her. She realized that this was the first time they had been without their leader since he had been healing from his injury.

“Well, I guess we’re taking a few days off,” she said.  “I’ll try to get in touch with Peter tomorrow, after he’s sorted out everything with Adam.”

“Who would have thought that the Sovereign would go down so easily?” Rocket said, climbing up onto Groot’s shoulder.  “I figured that was going to be a bloodbath.”

“Ayesha has turned her own people against her,” Drax said.  “I saw it with my own eyes. They betrayed her to us without any struggle.”

“No surprise there,” Gamora replied.

“I sensed great unrest among them,” Mantis murmured.  “The lives they lead are unnatural. What a terrible place.”

“Well, maybe they’ll wise up now that Ayesha’s been taken down a notch,” Rocket replied.

“I am Groot.”

“You got that right, pal.   Serves her right .”

With these words swirling around in her head, Gamora departed.  She did not walk home with the Guardians, but instead took a side street near headquarters that led to a secluded courtyard between some residential buildings.  By now it was evening, the suns sinking into the distant ocean. Night birds were beginning to sing, and from the open windows of some nearby apartment, Gamora could hear the opening tune of some Xandarian game show.  The air was hazy and still.

Instead of the restful peace she should have been feeling, Gamora was eaten up with a sort of nameless dread.  At first she thought nothing of it- whenever Thanos came up in conversation, she was on edge for hours. But as she lowered herself onto a stone bench and watched some rose-colored clouds drift by above, she gave more thought to Ayesha’s words.  Something in particular had unsettled her: the mention of the Enclave. Like so much of what the High Priestess had said, the word troubled her. She had repressed so many memories that it was almost impossible to recall why it sounded familiar, but it was a feeling she could not shake.

Just as she was contemplating pulling out her transmitter to try the word in a search engine, it began to ring.  She pulled it out and saw that it was Richard calling. As soon as she had accepted the call and his face had appeared before her, he was saying, “You gotta come back to headquarters right away.”

“Why?”

“A transmission came in for the Guardians.  We don’t know who from, but they say they have information about the… the thingy.”

“The time-slip?”

“Yeah.  They said they’re on Knowhere.  They want to meet with you.”

Gamora got to her feet.  “I’ll be right over.”

She all but ran back to headquarters.  When she had reached the lobby, scarcely out of breath, she found Richard waiting for her there.

“The transmission came in while we were away,” he said.  “The caller says they tried to contact the Guardians directly, but got no answer.”

“We were out of range,” Gamora replied.  “What else did they say?”

“Not much.  They seemed afraid to say anything too descriptive over the transmission.  They want to see you in person.”

“Me specifically?”

“Any of you.  And I don’t want you going alone.”

She shook her head.  “I’ll call the others.  We can head over right now.”

“Slow down for a second,” Richard said, placing a hand on her shoulder.  “I know this means a lot to you, but we should proceed with caution. This could be a trap.”

Gamora nodded, taking a deep breath to slow her heartbeat.  “I need to get in contact with Nebula.”

“Your sister?  Why?”

“She lives on Knowhere with her boyfriend and a few of the Ravagers.  They can back us up.”

Richard didn’t seem to think that this was the best idea, but he didn’t argue.  She followed him up to dispatch, where all transmissions were received. The dispatcher played the message for her.  There was no visual- only a field of black static. The voice was garbled, clearly in an effort to protect the caller’s identity.

“Can you call them back?” Gamora asked.  “I need to speak to them directly.”

The dispatcher placed the call.  For several minutes, it rang with no answer.  Finally, the screen filled with static once more, and a distant, echoing voice said, “Lady Gamora.”

“Can you see us?” She demanded.

“Enough of you.”

“You are the one who sent the transmission?”

“Yes.  And trust me when I say, I did not want to.  But you are my last hope.”

“Why is that?”

“I know who is responsible for the event on the mining station.  And I know who called you to investigate it.”

Gamora stared hard at the static.  If she looked hard enough, she almost fancied that she could make out the shape of a face among it.  “Why are you telling us?”

“It’s as I said.  My last hope. But I cannot say any more, in case they are watching.  Please, you must come to Knowhere. I will be watching for you there.”

“We will come,” Gamora replied.  “But if this is a trap, know that we will not go down without a fight.”

“Of course.”

The call ended abruptly.  Richard was looking at Gamora.  “We’ll all go,” he said. “I’m sure Rael can spare a few squadrons.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Gamora replied.  Then she turned to the dispatcher. “I need you to place a call.”

She gave him the number, and soon it was ringing.  Gamora held her breath. She didn’t think it was terribly likely that her sister would answer a call from the Nova Corps.  But, to her relief, in a moment the screen had turned on again, this time illuminated not with Nebula’s face, but with the scruffy, unassuming visage of her boyfriend, Kraglin Obfonteri.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said at once.  “I thought it might be.”

“Where is Nebula?” Gamora asked.  “I need to talk to her.”

“She’s here somewhere.”  For a moment he disappeared from the screen.  There was the sound of a scuffle in the background, and he reappeared with Nebula at his side.

“What is so important that you had to wake me?” Nebula snapped when she saw who the caller was.

“We’re coming over to interrogate an important witness, and we need your people on standby just in case.”

Nebula raised an eyebrow.  “What kind of witness?”

“I can explain more when we get there.  Just get everyone ready.”

Nebula sighed lengthily.  But she said, “Fine. Send me a message when you get here.”

She hung up.  Gamora looked to Richard and shrugged.

Soon after, the Guardians had regrouped at headquarters.  None of them looked particularly pleased at having been disturbed again, especially so soon after hearing that they were taking some time off.

“Would Peter want us going on a mission without him?” Mantis asked.

“He’s going to have to deal,” Gamora replied.  “This is important. We could finally get some answers.”

Rocket looked especially put out.  “This whole thing is weird. I don’t trust it.”

“That’s why I called up Nebula.  She’s going to watch our backs.”

To prevent any further arguing, Gamora turned sharply and motioned for them to follow her to the ship.  Duly, they filed along behind her.

-----

The flight to Knowhere was just long enough for Gamora to catch up on some much-needed sleep.  The dark visions that typically haunted her sleep were not lessened by her chat with Ayesha, and when she awakened, she laid in a daze of unease for several minutes.  Finally she rose, heading for the kitchen for a glass of water. As she stood drinking, Mantis appeared beside her.

“Something is troubling you,” she said gently.

“You’re right,” Gamora replied.  “But it’s not important right now.  We can talk about it later.”

“It is in regards to Ayesha, isn’t it?”

Gamora sighed.  “Did you hear any of what she said?”

“No, but I know that she spoke to you at great length.  And something she said upset you.”

“She mentioned Thanos, okay?”

Mantis looked instantly sympathetic, her black eyes softening and her antennae laying nearly flat.  “I will not press the issue.”

“Thanks.”

Gamora headed for the cockpit, where Rocket was dozing at the wheel.  She nudged him awake. They were approaching Knowhere, the great head looming in the black void before them.

“This place always gives me the creeps,” Rocket muttered.  They sailed past busy mining vessels and pleasure cruisers headed for a night of debauchery.  Nebula and her gaggle of pirates lived in a mostly abandoned high-rise behind the left eye-socket when they weren’t out on marks.  This is where Rocket headed, following Gamora’s directions. The building she was looking for was easy to pick out, being very tall and in a state of disrepair.  There was a convenient landing spot for Aurora near the roof.  When they had touched down, Gamora pointed at Groot.  “You’re staying here on ship duty. If anything happens to his baby, Peter will never forgive me.”

“I am Groot.”

“Don’t complain,” Rocket said.  “You know you hate it here.”

The remaining four left the ship behind and stepped out into the damp darkness of the abandoned building.  A bright light fell on them almost at once.

“Howdy!” A voice crowed.  It was Kraglin, holding a massive lantern.  “How’s everyone been?”

He led them down several levels, the air growing warmer and dryer all the time.  Soon they had entered what could only be described as a sanctum, brightly lit and positively full of loud, drunk Ravager men.  Gamora recognized a few who had belonged to Yondu’s crew, but by now Nebula had largely replaced them all. They all made way for the Guardians, watching Gamora with a particular reverence.  She smirked a bit.

In a small room at the center of the haven was Nebula, reclined on a stone chair.  She stood up as Gamora entered.

“Sister,” she said with the faintest hint of a smile.  “It’s been a long time.”

“It has,” Gamora replied, glancing around at the walls draped in tapestries and the floor carpeted with furs.  “And I hate to see you under these circumstances. But we do need your help.”

“What is this about?” Nebula asked.

“A few weeks ago, we investigated an anomaly on an abandoned Spartoi mining station.  I’ve had a weird feeling about it ever since, but my research hasn’t turned anything up.  Now someone here says they have the answers I’m looking for.”

“I see.  One of your ‘weird feelings’.”

“This is serious.  Whoever caused that anomaly, I think they could be a real threat.”

Nebula nodded, clearly seeing the determination on Gamora’s face.  “Where are they?”

“They wouldn’t say over the transmission.  Just that they’d be watching for us.”

Nebula considered this a moment.  “I think I know who your mysterious witness might be.”

“You do?”

“We keep a close eye on who comes and who goes here.  And there’s a newcomer that’s been here for about a week, holed up in one of the inns by the nasal passage.  We can’t find out much else about them, just that they haven’t exited the inn in days.”

“Take us there.”

Nebula gathered a few Ravagers to accompany them.  As she did this, Gamora caught sight of something odd- there was a young girl with Kraglin, who was sorting through some papers in a corner.  She was hardly more than 8, with soft blue skin and dark hair. Her knees were tucked against her chest, and Kraglin was talking quietly to her.

“Who’s that?” Gamora asked, pointing.

“Rasad is her name.  We found her wandering around in the streets here, and Kraglin insisted we take her in.”

Gamora smiled at the back of Nebula’s head.  “That’s nice of you.”

When they had reached the ship once more, Nebula took up a spot in the cockpit.  She directed Rocket from the high-rise through a neighborhood of squalid huts and derelict warehouses.  After that they came to a slightly more modern part of the city, where there were a few open-air markets and, more importantly, a large inn that was probably the least run-down looking building in all of Knowhere.

“As you can see, your witness is probably on the wealthier side,” Nebula was saying.  “They’ve been staying there for days.”

“Let us off here, and stay on guard.”

Nebula did as instructed.  Gamora was the first out, Mantis hot on her heels.  They made their way across the short distance Nebula had left between the ship and the inn.  There were some people at the market who turned to look as they passed, and Gamora studied all of their faces.  One in particular, a girl of about 20, stood seemingly in awe for a few seconds before dropping the groceries she had been carrying and taking off.  Gamora took note of all this, although she did not have time to stop and ponder the implications now.

There was a doorman at the entrance of the inn, but he seemed very disinterested in attempting to stop their entrance.  Inside the building, they found themselves standing in a small lobby, where a few people were chatting behind the desk, and a few more were quietly sipping tea by the window.  Gamora paused, scanning the room.

Her eyes fell on a tall, lean figure standing at the back of the room.  She locked eyes with this person, who from this distance was entirely nondescript.  A long black coat, muddy boots, and tangled, greyish hair. The figure motioned with one hand, partially hidden by the coat.  Gamora exchanged a glance with Mantis, her silent cue to keep her senses trained on this person, before they set off towards them.

“Can you be sure you weren’t followed?” A small, wavering voice hissed as Gamora approached.

“We have a guard watching,” Gamora replied.  “She’ll alert us to any possible danger.”

There was a moment of silence.  “Come this way.”

The figure turned, black coat billowing.  Under it, Gamora glimpsed several weapons, all lashed tightly to this person’s waist.  They hurried away, and she could only follow.

The Guardians were led down a flight of stairs into a dusty, poorly lit storage room.  All around them, boxes of supplies piled up to the low ceiling muffled all outside noise.  Under the single fluorescent light, Gamora got a better look at the figure.

She was a older, gray-skinned individual of uncertain race.  Her face was gaunt, her eyes sunken and bloodshot. Her hair hung limply in her face.  She stared at Gamora for a long time, as though she were working up the urge to speak. At last she managed, “I am Kefa Nuki.  For the last 18 years, I was a member of the Universal Church of Truth.”

Chapter Text

When Quill and Adam laid down to sleep, Adam seemed to make a special point of cuddling up to Quill's belly.  Usually, Quill would not have minded, but tonight Adam was dressed in a sheer silk robe tied loosely around his waist, his cornsilk curls falling on his bare golden neck.  Now that he was at home he seemed to be revealed in his true glory: he had been beautiful- now he was breathtaking. He had bathed and his skin smelled softly of roses. After his bath, he had rubbed himself down with shimmery oil, which illuminated the metallic effect of his skin.  He had seemed very adamant that Quill should be watching while he did this, and while he was stretching by the window before he laid down. All of this contributed to Quill being very aroused when Adam finally joined him in the bed. Adam, oblivious, nestled into him with an affectionate smile.

"You're the prettiest damn thing I ever seen," Quill muttered, causing Adam to laugh behind his hand.

"You are a flatterer," Adam replied, his cheeks turning a peachy color.  "But do go on."

Quill leaned in to nuzzle the being's jaw.  "You smell like flowers."

"That is intentional."

Quill nibbled his neck a little.  Adam started, making a small sound of surprise.  Quill withdrew. "Did you want me to stop?"

Adam shook his head quickly.  "Not at all!"

So Quill returned his mouth to the smooth skin of Adam's neck, brushing his lips where he could feel Adam's heart beating.  He pressed a firm kiss there, then opened his mouth and let his teeth touch flesh. It tasted vaguely of bitter soap, and more strongly of that perfumed oil.

Adam was giggling ticklishly.  Grinning, Quill sucked gently, feeling his own pulse begin to quicken.  He was so hard that it hurt. At this moment he would have given up a limb to make love to Adam- but he resisted.   Not yet , he told himself.   He's not ready yet.  You'll scare him. But the thought of what he had seen when Adam had been naked, ages ago as it seemed, was tantalizing.

Adam gave a little moan, and Quill realized that he was sucking hard on the being's neck in his lustful reverie.  He withdrew, horrified to find a dark purple-brown mark left behind. Adam seemed unbothered, blinking up at him sleepily.

"Adam, your dad's gonna kill me," Quill whispered.

"I don't know why you are so convinced of that," Adam purred, stretching his arms above his head.  "He quite likes you."

Quill sighed, shifting positions so that he had better access to Adam's chest.  He pushed the silky robes aside to bare planes of golden flesh. He kissed the dip of Adam's collarbone, then continued on down his sternum.  Adam said nothing, simply letting out a great sigh of enjoyment. Quill, feeling pleased with himself, kissed across Adam's chest to his nipple.  This he took in his mouth, sucking lightly. Adam gave a sharp coo.

"Oh," he said aloud, sitting up slightly.  "That was most pleasant. But I can't help feeling that I'm not doing my fair share."  He slid his arms around Quill's neck, pressing their mouths together. Quill laid back, pulling Adam into his lap, and allowed himself to be kissed.  Adam's weight was resting on him now, making him throb unbearably. For a long time they kissed, Adam’s gentle hands moving up and down Quill’s arms, over his chest.  But eventually, the being’s breathing began to slow. When Quill broke the kiss, he found Adam’s eyes fluttering, his swollen lips parted slightly. So, with the utmost care, he rolled Adam off of him and covered him up- Adam murmured drowsily.  Quill laid down, aching but pleased with himself, and buried his face in his pillow.

When he woke up, Adam was bundled in his duvet like a caterpillar, just the fluff of his yellow curls visible.  Quill grinned, sitting up. There was a bothersome pit of want in his belly. He eased himself out of the bed and tiptoed to the bathroom, this time very careful to lock the door behind him.

When he was alone, he let his breath out.  Habitually, he brought his hands up to rub his belly- that was how he always started.  He massaged around his navel, stimulating all the nerve endings there, before letting his touch move down a bit.  His fingers slid past the waistband of his boxer-briefs. He let his eyes close and his mouth open; he inhaled deeply in an attempt to catch some of Adam’s scent on his tongue.  His mind filled with images- warm and lustrous skin against him, silken golden flesh. Handfuls of those delicate curls, and that taste of soap and clean skin on his tongue. What I wouldn’t do, he thought, what I wouldn’t do!  He gave himself a few long, slow strokes and hummed in his throat.

He wanted so badly to act on his desires, to explore further what he had seen that very first day.  But Adam wasn’t ready, and Quill knew better than anyone the pain and horror of being forced before your time.  He could not be the perpetrator of such an atrocity, not to Adam or anyone else.

He shook his head, clearing out the memories.  Instead he focused on the image of Adam’s peachy-colored lips and long dark lashes, those golden cheeks shining as he smiled.   Begging to be kissed .  He had been so yielding last night, so forgiving.  He was soft and gracious and so fucking beautiful.  To have him return Quill’s kisses, and with such enthusiasm, was enough to assure him that he was correct in his pursuit.  He would not be disappointed, not this time.

Quill’s knees buckled.  He groaned, grabbing for the edge of the sink to steady himself.  He was making a proper mess, but he could worry about that in a minute.  For now he simply enjoyed the images washing over him, of Adam’s belly and lower back and slender golden thighs.

He cleaned up after himself and washed his hands.  By the time he was exiting the washroom, Adam was stirring in bed.  Quill came to kneel beside him.

"Good morning, beautiful," he said.  His belly was still throbbing pleasantly.  "Sleep good?"

"Mm," Adam replied, freeing his arms from his snug bundle to brush the hair out of his face.  "I'm starving."

"Yeah, I've worked up an appetite," Quill replied.  He leaned in and kissed Adam's warm brow. “Any chance we can… go out for breakfast?”

“Out?” Adam echoed, sitting up.

“Yeah, to like, a restaurant or something?”

Adam cocked his head.  “I do not think that my people have such a thing.”

Quill sat back on his heels, grinning.  Of all the planets he had explored and peoples he had gotten to know, he had never encountered a culture without restaurants.  He sighed. “So it looks like we’re eating with your dad again.”

Adam got up, and took care that Quill was watching while he dressed.  He pulled on a tight-fitting top and draped yet another a loose silk robe around himself.  He combed his hair, smiling over his shoulder at Quill all the while. He was perfectly radiant in the early morning sunlight streaming through his window.  Quill was beginning to feel self-conscious, in the same clothes he’d been in 3 days ago, and with his beard steadily growing out. And yet, when Adam looked at him, his eyes glittered.

In with a chance, Quill thought, his heart skipping happily.

When Adam had finished dressing, he padded up to Quill to link their arms.  Quill led him from his bedroom back down to the dining hall. As Quill had anticipated, the High Evolutionary was already there.  Immediately, the trembling began again. That metallic face turned towards them, and Quill- remembering the dark mark he had sucked onto Adam’s neck the night before- felt his pulse picked up.

“Good morning, young ones,” the man said.  “You both look as though you’ve slept well.”

Adam beamed.  “We did! I never would have thought that I would be so much happier sharing a bed, but now I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Quill really wished he would stop saying things like that.

They sat, Adam settling close enough that his shoulder bumped Quill’s whenever he moved.  Quill, meanwhile, was acutely aware of the High Evolutionary’s eyes on him. He barely tasted his food.

“Hey Adam,” he said at length.  “Do you think we’d be able to take a walk around the city?  I’m dying to know what it’s like here.”

Adam looked a bit surprised.  “I would love to. But I’m afraid I won’t be a very useful guide.  I’ve never been into the city before.”

“We’ll do some exploring, then,” Quill said quickly.  If he didn’t get out from under the robot-man’s penetrating gaze soon, he was going to crawl out of his skin.  At any rate, Adam seemed pleased. He was quick to finish his tea and crumpets.

“How exciting.  I shall finally get the chance to explore my own home,” he said.  “Father, I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not.  I’m sure I needn’t tell you to be careful.”

“Whatever of?  Ayesha is in the custody of the Nova Corps- I am free from her!”

“I fear that there may be some here still loyal to her.  Mr. Quill may attract their attention.”

“I can handle myself,” Quill said, getting to his feet.  “But that reminds me, Adam. Did Ayesha tell you how she found out where you were?”

Adam nodded.  “I’m afraid it was due to that incident on the Krylorian moon.  Word spread quickly about a Sovereign off of our home planet.”

“I should have figured.  But you don’t have a tracking chip in you or anything?”

Adam looked to the High Evolutionary.  “As a matter of fact, Ayesha had implanted one in my arm.  But Father disabled it shortly before my departure.”

“That’s lucky,” Quill replied.  “So I guess we don’t need to worry about anyone else coming looking for you.”

Adam practically pulled Quill out of the dining hall and up the corridor.  The dog-butler bowed as they passed, then opened the front door for them. The day outside was cool and clear.  Quill sucked in a deep breath of the fresh air happily as he led Adam down the stairs. They walked between the animal statues, and now they made a bit more sense to Quill- although they were no less unsettling.

When they reached the grand front gate, Adam paused, one graceful hand coming up to rest on the iron bars.  “I’ve never been out there on my own,” he said softly.

“Well, I’m gonna look out for you,” Quill said.  Adam smiled sweetly.

The street that the compound lay on was fairly deserted- a few Sovereign denizens were making their way along it, all of them looking as though they were in a hurry to be somewhere.  A few of the open-topped vehicles like the one they had ridden here zoomed by, and above larger vehicles like flying buses passed. Across from the compound, there was a small, pretty park complete with a pond and a walking trail, but it was completely empty.

“Does anyone here ever relax?” Quill wondered aloud.

“I’m afraid they aren’t afforded much time to,” Adam replied.  “As I’m sure Ayesha told you, all of our citizens are assigned a role to fulfill before they are even born.  They do their jobs to keep this place running smoothly. And they’re all quite sure that if they didn’t, the world would fall apart.”

“You don’t sound so convinced.”

Adam blinked a few times.  “I suppose I’m not. Especially now that I have visited other worlds and seen the happy, leisurely lives that other people lead.  It seems wrong.”

They had taken a right onto the street, and were headed towards a row of buildings that were all perfectly identical in structure.  There were a few more people here, and as they passed some of them stopped to stare. Quill reached to take Adam’s hand in his.

“They aren’t used to outsiders,” the being said.  “Very few are allowed in.”

But as they continued on, it became obvious that it was not Quill they were staring at.  Eventually, one of them, an older female, stepped suddenly in front of them. Her hands were raised, palm up, in front of her.

“Your majesty,” she said.  “We are blessed to have you among us.”

Quill looked at Adam, who was wearing an expression of plain surprise.  “Oh,” he said. “You all know me?”

“Of course.  Ayesha tried to keep you hidden from us, but we knew of the return of our savior all too well.  We all have faith in you- you have already overthrown her.”

Adam was growing pale.  “I didn’t mean to,” he breathed.  “I was only defending myself and my friends.”

The woman looked to Quill as if seeing him for the first time.  “They always said you would not return to us alone,” she murmured.  “Although none of us would have expected a half-blood to be your companion.”

“I will assume for your sake that you mean him no insult,” Adam said at once.  “Peter was instrumental in Ayesha’s defeat.”

“It’s alright, Adam,” Quill soothed.  “Most folks don’t mean any harm when they call me that.”

He tugged Adam’s hand a bit, eager to move him along.  But the woman pursued them. “Will you take over as High Priest?  Your citizens are enthusiastic to welcome you.”

“I… I don’t know,” Adam replied, his grasp on Quill’s hand tightening.  “I hadn’t thought about it.”

“You must have plans to depose the Enclave-” the woman went on.  Adam’s face was bloodless by now. Quill moved carefully around the woman, guiding Adam along after her.

“Look,” he said over his shoulder.  “Adam has a lot to think about. We’re just trying to get some fresh air, right now.”

She said nothing else, although for a moment she grasped at the trailing sleeve of Adam’s robe almost beseechingly.  Adam looked hugely uncomfortable. When they were out of her earshot, Quill pulled Adam aside and said, “You don’t listen to all that, now, you don’t have to take over anything you don’t want to.”

“But perhaps she’s right,” Adam replied.  “Maybe I do have a responsibility to them.”

“You’re just a kid, Adam.  You don’t need to be worrying about all that right now.”

Adam let out a shuddering breath.  “Of course. I’m sure they can make arrangements for now.”

They continued on, but now Adam seemed wary.  With every stare he clung to Quill’s arm a little more firmly.  Quill was quick in finding a less populated area to guide him to.  There was a row of shops that no one seemed to be patronizing. “This is perfect,” he said.  “We can do a little shopping to take your mind off things.”

The first store was a simple food market.  Quill picked about for a while, curious about Sovereign cuisine, but what he found was a great deal of freeze-dried fruit and frozen dinners.  There didn’t seem to be a piece of fresh food in the store. So they moved along to a clothing shop that sold only plain, gold-toned garments by the bundle.  There was a shop for home furnishings- unsurprisingly, all gold and uniform- and a drugstore where the shelves were so immaculately stocked, Quill began to think that nothing had been sold there in months.  By this time, he was perfectly queasy. Adam, who had been very quiet for all of this, said, “I think we should go home.”

“Yeah,” Quill replied.  “I should probably start getting ready to head out.”

At this, to Quill’s abject horror, Adam burst into tears.  “Oh, Peter!” He sobbed. “I can’t bear it! Please, don’t leave me here!”

Quill hurriedly cupped his face, kissing his wet cheeks comfortingly.  “You gotta come with me,” he said. “I can’t stay.”

“But what will the people here do?  They need a leader.”

“It doesn’t have to be you.  You don’t have any experience with leading.  And I think this place needs more help than you’re gonna be able to give it on your own.”

Adam’s shoulders heaved, and fat tears rolled down his face.  He reached out to cling to Quill’s chest. “It’s all too much,” he whispered while Quill stroked his hair.  “Everything that’s happened to me. I’ve barely had a moment to process it. But I do know that I can’t be away from you.  My heart will break!”

“It’s okay,” Quill crooned.  “We’re gonna go back to Xandar for a while, okay?  We can think about everything when we get there. But being here… I don’t think it’s any good for you, Adam.  The air here is all wrong.”

Adam nodded, pressing his head under Quill’s chin.  “I think so too, Peter. And yet, I don’t want to leave home.  I will miss my father, and the servants, and Rune.” He took a moment to suck in a deep breath, getting his tears under control.  “And my bed.”

Quill laughed.  “I’ll get a new bed, okay?”

Adam leaned back to look up at him, smiling.  “You are truly a blessed man. My heart aches when I look at you.”

At these words, the pressure in Quill’s head seemed to spike immediately, causing Adam’s golden face to go blurry.  He beamed dizzily, chewing his lip. “Mine too,” he said eventually. “Anyway, we should go talk to your dad, let him know what we’re doing.  He’s not gonna give us a hard time, is he?”

“He would never.  He always told me that my choices were my own to make.”

“That’s a relief.”

In walking home, they were careful to choose a path that avoided the more populated areas.  The last thing Adam needed now was any more harassment from the Sovereign citizens. They returned to the High Evolutionary’s compound without incident, and inside, Adam went at once to find his father.  Quill followed, thinking of how happy he would be to get away from this unsettling place.

The High Evolutionary was in a large conservatory filled with all manner of strange plants.  He was quietly tending what appeared to be a giant venus flytrap when they entered.

“Father,” Adam said at once.  “I’m going to leave with Peter.”

Peter was surprised firstly by how confident Adam seemed- he didn’t waste even a second beating about the bush- and secondly by the High Evolutionary’s response.

“Of course,” he said, hardly looking up from his work.  “I expected as much.”

Adam moved close to the man, smiling lovingly up at him.  The High Evolutionary extended a massive hand to stroke Adam’s cheek.  He seemed to pause a moment when his fingers reached Adam’s neck, where that dark spot still lay.  Quill’s stomach backflipped. But all that the High Evolutionary said was, “When are you departing?”

“Soon as possible,” Quill spoke up.  “My team’s been waiting for me.”

“I see.  Adam, I presume that you will be taking some belongings with you?”

“Certainly.  I had hoped not to leave my beloved Rune behind, but I fear space travel would not agree with him.  Would you mind terribly, looking after him for me?”

The High Evolutionary chuckled softly.  “I would do anything for you, my sweet.”

“That’s settled, then.  I will go and prepare my belongings.”  Adam turned on his heel, hurrying out of the conservatory.  Quill made to follow him, but before he could, the High Evolutionary said, “Stay a moment, my boy.”

Quill’s heart sank.  He turned, looking up at the enormous being with dread creeping up his throat.  “Yes, sir,” he said politely.

“I can see that you care a great deal for Adam.  I want you to know that I appreciate this- but I do want you to be well-informed about him.  You see, as you may have already guessed, Adam is my crowning achievement. He is the culmination of years of labor and countless failed experiments.  I, for many reasons, consider him my own child.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I ask only that you take good care of him.  He is physically powerful- and due to grow even more so, with time- but his spirit is delicate.  He requires assurance, and tenderness.”

“Yes, sir.”

The High Evolutionary watched him carefully with those cold, black eyes.  “Adam has a very important role to play in the destiny of the Universe. He must be guided carefully.”

Quill nodded, swallowing.  “You can count on me, sir.”

He nodded.  “Go on, then.  He will want your help in preparing to leave.”

Quill did not need to be told twice.  He all but ran from the room, his heart in his throat.  He found his way back to Adam’s room, where the being was sorting through his clothing.

“What did Father want?” He asked, looking up.

“Just to ask me another question about Titans.”

Adam sighed.  “Such a pest, that man!”  But he laughed affectionately.  Quill sat on the bed, staring into Adam’s face.

“You know I’m gonna take good care of you, right?” He asked.

“Of course,” Adam replied, smiling and batting his lashes.  “I trust you entirely.”

Quill, transfixed by those shimmering eyes, let out an enormous sigh and said, “Well, that’s good.  Because I reckon we’re gonna be together for a long time, you and me.”

Then he sat back, reflecting with a smile on this perfectly joyous thought.

Chapter Text

The High Evolutionary kindly arranged for a ship that would take Adam and Quill back to Xandar.  Adam, who had painstakingly packed every belonging he thought may come in use- which was to say, most of his belongings- said an extended goodbye to his father before they left.  The High Evolutionary pet his hair and placed in his hand a familiar bottle- the medicine to prevent another seizure.

“I haven’t be able to determine the cause of your episodes, but this should prevent another for now.”  With a smile he went on, “I do hope that you will visit when you are running low.”

Adam fairly climbed the man to kiss his cold cheek as he had so many times before.  “I will not forget about you, Father. How could I?”

Adam stayed very close to Quill as they walked to the palace hangar.  The episode with the citizen on the street had left him rather shaken, with a great deal of confusing thoughts buzzing about in his head.  But Quill had been steadfast in making sure he was safe. He was confident, assertive, and gentle- and Adam had embarrassed himself by weeping like a spoiled child in front of him.  He watched the side of the man's proud face, already plotting the ways he could atone for that little episode.

Quill turned and smiled dazzlingly at him.  Adam swooned.

"I feel so fancy," the man was saying.  They were entering the palace hangar now, Adam's belongings in a large satchel slung over Quill's powerful shoulder.  "Getting carted around by one of these remote-controlled ships."

Adam nodded, reaching to entwine his arm with Quill's.  Quill let him, grinning up at the ship they were approaching.  It was a passenger vessel, not like the tiny gunship Adam had first fled Sovereign aboard. He had to laugh at what a long time ago that seemed.

They boarded the ship, Quill setting Adam's belongings carefully on the floor before spreading himself on a large, comfortable chaise by the front window.  Adam settled close by, admiring the man once more. He was laying with one leg propped up on the back of the chaise and the opposite foot on the floor; the effect was that Adam's eye was drawn immediately between his legs.  He could not help staring- he had been thinking about Quill's body since he had watched him bathe, about smooth tanned skin and taut sinew and tufts of soft reddish hair. He found himself wondering about other things, too. Quill was a man, after all, in every sense of the term.  Adam knew of men from Father's textbooks; he knew enough, in fact, to be very curious.

Quill, who had closed his eyes, seemed to realize that he was being stared at and opened them again.  Adam looked away, his face warming.

They spent much of the trip home in sleepy silence.  Quill seemed exhausted, Adam thought as he watched the man's head loll.  He couldn't blame him, if the last few days had been anything like as emotionally taxing for Quill as they had been for Adam.   Just as they were entering Xandarian airspace, he began to snore. Adam watched him affectionately, still curled up in his seat nearby.  Quill scratched his belly in his sleep.

Eventually Adam rose, peering out the front window to watch as they cruised down through the atmosphere towards the island where the Nova Headquarters resided.  Things were beginning to look familiar to him here. There was the Imperial University with its tidy silver walls, and beside it the glass-roofed Arboretum. There was a public fountain where children dashed through streams of cool water that shot from underground at the entrance of the University.  Nearby was the Headquarters campus, where people in dark blue uniforms patrolled. Then, across the banks of a small river was the city itself. Adam supposed he would get a chance to explore it properly, if this was to be his home.

The ship glided easily down and landed in a courtyard at the Headquarters.  Adam came to give Quill's shoulder a gentle shake.

"Wake up, my dear," he said.  "We've arrived."

Quill murmured and sat up, rubbing his eyes.  "Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep."

"That's quite alright, you seemed very tired."

Quill yawned and got to his feet.  Together they made their way down the boarding ramp and into the sunshine.  Adam looked up to find several Corpsmen approaching, clearly startled at the sudden arrival of a Sovereign ship.  But the man leading them seemed to relax when he saw Quill.

"Oh, it's just you," he said, reaching out to clasp Quill's hand in greeting.  "We were afraid it was someone here for Ayesha."

Adam's stomach dropped.  He had entirely forgotten that Ayesha was in the custody of the Nova Corps.

Quill's hand was on his shoulder suddenly.  "Denarion, this is Adam," he was saying. "He's the reason Ayesha threatened that station."

"So I've heard," the Denarion replied.  "I'm glad to see that everyone's doing alright. I'm Rhomann Dey.  An old friend of Peter's."

Adam smiled politely.  "What is going to happen to Ayesha?" He asked.

"She's going to stand trial for holding the station hostage," Dey replied.  "More than likely she'll get off pretty easy, all things considered. Your people were our allies, historically speaking, and no one was actually hurt."

"She will be released, then?"

"Oh, yeah.  Don't worry, though, she won't bother you any more.  We're gonna be keeping a close eye."

"I am grateful."  That said, Adam turned to look anxiously at Quill.

"I suppose my team got home safe?" Quill asked, wrapping a comforting arm around Adam's shoulders.

"They did, but they took off again straight away.  Rich said something about a call on Knowhere."

"Knowhere?" Quill replied.  "Well damn. No one even called me."  To Adam he said, "Let's just get you back to the apartment.  Are you hungry?"

Adam nodded.  Quill's strong arm around him had dispelled a great deal of Adam's anxiety, but he was still looking forward to the safety of the apartment.  They walked there, and on the way Quill stopped into a little store where the scent of baked goods filled the air. Adam stayed close to Quill as they approached the counter.

There was an older woman standing there, smiling at them.  "If it isn't Peter Quill," she said fondly. "And with a new friend!"

Adam turned his face into Quill's shoulder, feeling shy.  The woman laughed pleasantly.

"We'll get the usual," Quill said, one hand massaging Adam's back.

"Of course.  And how about one of our berry tarts for your pretty friend, on the house?"

"Much obliged, ma'am," Quill replied.

They left the store with a box of baked goods.  From there it was a short walk to the apartment building.  As Quill unlocked the apartment door and they stepped inside, he called, "Anybody here?"

There was silence.  "Wow," Quill said. "They're all gone.  Must have been an important call." Adam thought that he detected a hint of unease in Quill's voice.  But then, the man shrugged. "Guess we get some more alone time."

Adam could have purred at the thought.  He followed Quill to his bedroom, where Quill set down Adam's satchel of belongings.  He kicked his big boots off and tossed his jacket onto the bed. "Let me take a shower," he said to Adam, who was lingering in the doorway.  "Then we'll do something fun."

"Like what?"

"We'll order some take-out and watch a movie.  Or you can read to me again. We'll figure something out, okay?"  He smiled toothily at Adam.

So Adam was left sitting on the bed, quite alone in the stillness of the empty apartment.  He sighed, then glanced over and noticed Quill's jacket where it lay in a heap. He reached out, his hand finding silky leather and soft fleece.  He gathered it into his arms, admiring the vibrant leather and the careful stitching. Then, he was hugging it to his chest, burying his face in the forgiving folds.  Quill's scent, like fresh grass and machinery, filled his nose. He hummed.

When he couldn't inhale any more, Adam let the jacket drop and rolled onto his back, sighing hugely.  Quill's bed may not have been as comfortable as his own, but they would be sleeping in it together- and for now, that was what was important.

For a while he lay in placid contentment, listening to the distant sound of a running shower and Quill's noisy music.  When the water stopped, Adam sat up again, anticipating Quill's return. But the music did not stop- Quill must have been taking his time.  Adam sighed. When several minutes passed and the man had still not appeared, Adam got to his feet. The bathroom was just across the hall from Quill's bedroom.  The sliding door was open slightly, and steam was escaping into the cooler air. Adam padded forward and laid a hand on the metal of the door. The music was quite loud, so Adam did not bother calling for Quill.  Instead he simply slid the door further open, peering around it in an effort to find out what was taking Quill so long.

Quill was standing in front of a large mirror hanging on the wall, perfectly naked.  This, of course, was a delight to Adam, who stared happily at the gingery hair on Quill's belly.  He was dismayed, however, to find that the real object of his interest was largely obscured. Quill's big hand was wrapped around it, moving over it rhythmically.  From what Adam could see, it was large and red. Adam's gaze traveled to Quill's face. His eyes were closed, his mouth open slightly. He was panting.

Adam, fascinated, opened the door a bit more- just enough to make it squeak loudly.  At this, of course, Quill turned to look at him. He gave a yelp of alarm and quickly turned away, crying, "Adam!"  He scrambled for a towel, wrapping it clumsily around his waist. When he turned to face Adam once more, he was positively crimson.

"Adam, you can't just walk in!" He was saying.

"I'm sorry," Adam replied evenly.  "I thought you had finished your shower."

"I had- I was just- you can't just-"

"I am sorry," Adam said, seeing that he had caused Quill a great deal of distress.  "But there's no reason to be embarrassed."

"No reason?" Quill echoed.  "Do you not know what I was doing?"

"Of course I do.  And while I should not have invaded your privacy, I must assure you that masturbation is perfectly healthy.”

“Adam, please ,” Quill replied.  “I'll be right out.”

Adam retreated.  He was no less confused about Quill's extreme reaction, but he figured it was best to let the man be alone.   He wandered to the kitchen, trying to distract himself while he waited for Quill.  At last he emerged, fully dressed but no less red in the face.

"Sorry for yelling," he said quietly, going directly to the refrigerator to fetch a bottle of cider.  "You startled me."

"I'm sorry," Adam said again.  "I shouldn't have bothered you."

Quill sat on the sofa, sighing.  "It's okay. I'm sure you don't understand, but it's a private thing for a lot of people."

Adam sat next to him, immediately cuddling close.  Quill watched him with glassy eyes, smirking faintly.  "The Sovereign forbade it," Adam said at length. "I was punished for it by Ayesha.  It was Father who explained to me that it was normal, and that I oughtn't be ashamed of it.  I was only worried that no one had ever told you."

Quill leaned in suddenly, bumping his brow to Adam's.  Adam shivered at the contact, leaning more firmly into Quill.  He kissed the side of the man's warm face. "I wish I could describe what I feel for you, Peter Quill," he whispered.  "I wish I could make you understand. But I hardly understand myself."

Quill turned to look at him again.  One large hand came up to cup Adam's chin, and the gesture was so tender that Adam's lip trembled.  Quill was smiling now, so widely that the tips of his sharp teeth were visible.

"I don't need you to make me understand," he breathed.  "I get it."

Adam lowered his eyes, watching the muscle in Quill's jaw work as he seemed to consider his next words.  Suddenly Quill was reaching for his hand, taking it gently into his own.

"I'm so afraid to say it," he murmured.  "I've said it before and had it thrown back in my face.  But I trust you."

"Trust me how?" Adam gave Quill's hand a fond pet.

"I trust you to feel the same way."

Adam gave a long blink.  Even fresh from the shower, his smell was strong- intoxicating, Adam thought.  

Quill swallowed several times.  His green eyes had grown shiny with unshed tears, and Adam wondered why he was crying.  Had Adam really upset him so badly?

At last he said, "I love you.  I want to be with you forever."  Then he quickly turned away, bringing a hand up to his face to catch an escaping tear.

Adam opened his mouth slightly.  "Love," he said. That was it! The thing he had been fruitlessly searching for the name of- the thing that had bloomed in his heart for this gentle, beautiful man.
Quill was staring at the floor, cheeks glittering.  Adam reached for him at once, hands moving over his broad shoulders, his wide chest.  "Why are you crying?" He asked.

Quill shrugged, refusing to look up.  Adam laid his head on Quill's shoulder.  He took a few deep breaths of that heady scent.

"I have been trying to give a name to what I feel," he said.  "But you have done it for me. Love."

Quill turned to look at him at last.  Slowly, a smile broke out on his face, and now his tears were flowing freely.

"You love me?" He asked, as if he could hardly believe it.

"Yes!" Adam replied.  It felt wonderful to give it voice.  "Yes, I love you!"

Quill went on smiling for a long, quiet moment.  Then he said, "Well, that makes you the first who ever said it back."

He threw his arms around Adam.  Adam buried his face in Quill's shoulder.  "But why are you crying?" He asked.

"'Cause I'm happy.  Sometimes people cry when they're happy."

"How strange."

"Yeah."  Quill sniffled loudly.  "Sorry. Did you want to watch a movie?"

"I'm still very hungry."

"Right!  Let's order some dinner."

Quill ordered a veritable feast from one of the local restaurants.  When the delivery boy- a youth who seemed very starry-eyed over Quill- had dropped it off, Quill seemed to have recovered from his emotional expenditure.  He beamed at Adam while he unpacked their supper. Adam became distracted by the food, as it all smelled wonderful. Quill fixed him a plate, and he sat by the window to look out over the darkening city while he ate.  Quill sat next to him, and when Adam looked up he realized that the man was proffering a bottle of cider.

“Want one?” He asked.  The smell of the alcohol was already on his breath.

Adam nodded.  He set the bottle aside for a while, too busy enjoying the taste of all this new food.  But after a bit of particularly spicy sausage, he found himself reaching for it. The first sip was crisp and fruity, enough to encourage him to take another.  It was so refreshing, in fact, that he had nearly drained the bottle in a matter of seconds.

“Whoa, whoa,” Quill said with a laugh.  “Slow down. You’re gonna get drunk.”

Adam set the bottle aside duly.  But in a moment, it had become apparent that the damage had been done.  His head was swimming. When he looked to Quill, he found that focusing his eyes was a struggle.  He had dropped his fork, his hands strangely heavy.
Quill noticed at once.  “Uh-oh,” he said. “Let’s get you some water.”

The man rose and disappeared for a moment, leaving Adam to press his forehead against the cool glass of the window.  When he returned, a glass of water in hand, Adam could not help but giggle.

“What’s so funny?” Quill asked with a smile, sitting once more.

“I saw quite a lot of you today,” Adam replied, his tongue seeming to stick to his teeth.  “But not as much as I would have liked to.”

Quill beamed.  “Oh, yeah?”

“Yes.  I’m very curious.”

“Well, maybe when you’re sober again, we can do something about that.” Quill winked.

Adam took a few more bites of his food, hoping to ease the dizziness that had now overtaken him.  When Quill rose, Adam reached for him, fingers grabbing clumsily at the man’s strong arm.

“You want me to put you to bed?” Quill asked.

“No! What about the movie?”

“We can watch it another time.”

Adam did not protest further.  The comfort of a bed that smelled of Quill suddenly sounded very enticing, and so he allowed himself to be led into the bedroom.  Tenderly, Quill laid him in the bed and wrapped the soft sheets around him. “I’ll be in a little while,” he whispered. “I’m gonna try to call the team.”

“Don’t be too long,” Adam replied.  But the second Quill had left the room, he was drifting into a pleasantly light-headed sleep.

It was a delight to awaken beside Quill the following morning.  He sat up and watched Quill’s face as he slept, full of a sort of radiant beauty that seemed to have blossomed overnight.  He had always been handsome, but now light seemed to pour from him. His skin was luminous, and he seemed to be smiling very faintly.  Even the curl of hair that fell on his brow seemed to glow. Adam sat for a moment staring at him in wonder, debating whether something in Quill had truly changed, or if it had been something in Adam himself.  He stroked the man’s face, tracing the whorl of his ear. Quill’s brow furrowed slightly. Eventually he opened his eyes, and the green of them seemed more vibrant. He smiled sleepily at Adam.

“Hey there, gorgeous,” he sighed. “How’d you sleep?”

“Heavily,” Adam replied, still watching Quill carefully.

“Me too.  I don’t think I’ve slept that well in years.”  He sat up and gave a luxurious stretch. Then he was leaning in to kiss Adam on the cheek.  “Do you want some breakfast?”

“Naturally.  Were you able to get in touch with your team?”

“Yeah, they’re on their way back now.  They got some information about that weird thing we found on the mining station.”

“What sort of information?”

“They didn’t say.  I guess we’ll find out when they get back.  For now it’s just you and me.”

“Well,” Adam yawned, nuzzling Quill’s fuzzy cheek.  “I can hardly complain about that.”

Chapter Text

Gamora's mouth had gone dry and her vision went out of focus for a moment.  When it came back in, she realized she had taken hold of the woman by the neck of her shirt and lifted her clean off the floor, pinning her against a stack of boxes.  She felt Drax's hand on her shoulder, firm and reassuring, and promptly released Nuki.

"Eighteen years?" she asked.  The woman nodded hurriedly. Gamora sighed.  "Then you weren't around when they destroyed Zen Whoberi.  So I don't have to kill you."

Nuki, who did not seem especially shaken by Gamora's outburst, said, "There is no time to waste.  You must act quickly in pursuing them."

"You're going to give us all the information you have about them," Gamora replied evenly.

"I am afraid that will be quite impossible," Nuki replied.  "I am restricted by their magic in what I may say, as all the Church's disciples are.  I am risking life and limb simply to warn you."

Gamora's hand had gone reflexively to the handle of her sword as Nuki spoke, and now she unsheathed the weapon with a metallic hum.  She laid the flat of the blade on Nuki's shoulder, looking the woman directly in the eye. "Let me make myself clear," she said coldly.  "If you don't tell us what you know, I will make you suffer more than the Church ever could."

Nuki laughed humorlessly.  "Then you do not understand them as well as you think."

“Why did you call us here, if you can’t tell us anything?” Gamora snapped.

“I had to tell someone.  Someone had to know the name.”

Mantis was suddenly stepping forward.  “Maybe I can help. I am a mentat, you see.  If you can think the things you want to tell us, I can read them directly from your mind.”

Nuki did not respond, just stood looking uncertain.  Clearly, no such thing had ever been suggested to her.  At last, she nodded. “I suppose it is worth a try, if it means a better chance of putting a stop to the Church.”  Nuki pushed Gamora’s sword away from her neck, straightening her gray blouse. “What must we do?

“It is simple,” Mantis replied.  “You must bring into your mind the thought you wish to communicate.  I will place my hand on you, and hopefully sense your thoughts.”

Nuki rolled a sleeve up and held her arm out, giving Gamora an anxious look over Mantis’ shoulder before closing her eyes.  Mantis laid her palm on Nuki’s bare skin, letting out a breath as she focused her concentration. Her antennae began to glow gently.

“I see it,” Mantis said after a few seconds.

Gamora stepped closer to her.  “See what?”

“The Church.  It is enormous- a spaceship!”

Gamora shuddered involuntarily.  She knew the vessel all too well, with its vaulting steeples and hard, ugly spires.  It suddenly seemed very recently that its massive shadow had fallen on Zen Whoberi.

“What else do you see?” She asked, voice low.

“It is hard…” Mantis replied, sounding uncertain.  “There are barriers…”

“Just try.”

She watched Mantis’ brow furrow.  Nuki was keeping very still and quiet, now fully under Mantis’ spell.  “I see a great altar,” Mantis said at length. “And many devotees, bowing before it.  But I cannot see what they are worshipping.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Gamora replied quickly.  “Can you see where they are?”

Mantis went silent again, the muscle in her jaw working rhythmically.  “No… it is obscured.”

Suddenly, Nuki was making a strange, choked sound.  She was backing away from Mantis, breaking the contact.  Mantis was stepping back as well, her hands flying to her head.  She cried out in pain, and immediately both Drax and Gamora were reaching for her.  “What is it? What do you see?” Drax asked.

“Nothing,” Mantis replied.  “I tried to look further into her mind, but I was blocked, somehow.  And it felt as though someone were looking back at me- as though they knew I was there.”  She gave her head a little shake. “I have never felt anything like it before!”

Gamora stepped back to let Drax tend her, returning her attention to Nuki.  The woman had collapsed to the floor, where she was laying in a heap. Gamora dropped to her knees beside her.

“Are you alright?” She asked, giving the woman a shake.  But it became quickly obvious that the woman was not alright.  Her gray skin had grown pale, her eyes rolled back in her head.  A thin trail of dark blood was dripping from one nostril. She was dead.

Gamora got to her feet, heart pounding.  By now, Mantis had realized what had become of Nuki, and said in a quavering voice, “Did I do that?”

“No,” Gamora replied.  “It was the Church.”

A silence fell over the dusty storeroom while they stared at the lifeless body of the witness.  The implication that someone could be dispatched in such a way was unsettling. Eventually Rocket muttered, “Well, that’s spooky.”

Gamora said, “We’ve got to get out of here.”

“What are we going to do?” Mantis asked quietly.

“I don’t know yet.  I don’t know if we can face the Church on our own.  They’re incredibly powerful.”

“That is obvious,” Drax replied.  “Perhaps the Nova Corps can assist us in finding them.”

Gamora shook her head.  “They’ve never stepped in before.  I don’t see why they would start now.”

She turned, leading the way out of the storeroom.  If they were any place other than Knowhere, she may have worried about leaving a corpse in their wake, but here, she doubted that anyone would notice.  As they made their way up the stairs to the lobby of the inn, she pulled out her transmitter. There was a notification for two missed calls- Quill, probably home and wondering where his team was.  For a moment she considered calling him back and pouring out all that was in her heart to him. If there was anyone who could soothe her, it was him. But she didn’t want him to worry anymore, not with everything he had just been through.  Instead, she pressed on, eager to be back in Nebula’s company.

But as they passed through the doors of the inn, something caught Gamora’s eye- a flash of motion, accompanied by the sound of hushed voices.  She turned towards it, scanning for the source. There was a low hedge to their right- and behind it, another flash of movement. She could see the colored fabric of a cape, perhaps a bit of hair.  In an instant, she had sprung, practically diving over the hedge to pursue whoever it was watching the Guardians.

She landed squarely on a warm body, and there was a shout of alarm.  A brief struggle ensued as Gamora fought to overpower whoever it was.  It didn’t take long- this person was a good deal weaker than her. Soon she had pinned them to the ground, snarling.  “Who are you?” She snapped, “And what do you want with us?”

She recognized the face staring back up at her.  It was the girl she had seen in the market on the way here.  She was pale blue- a Luphomoid, like Nebula. Her face was contorted in an expression that Gamora could not quite identify- she looked halfway between panic and awe.

“It really is you,” she exclaimed.

Gamora was staring at her quizzically when there was another movement, and Gamora realized that there was yet another young woman sitting behind the hedge.  This one, largely obscured by a hooded cloak, was of unidentifiable race. She was watching Gamora with the same strange reverence.

“Cerise is never gonna believe this,” she was saying.

“Who are you?” Gamora repeated.  “What do you want?”

“Sorry,” the girl currently pinned under her replied.  “We’re big fans of yours. It’s a real honor to meet you.”

“Fans of mine?” Gamora echoed, more confused than ever.  

The other girl spoke up again.  “We’re part of a group that lives by the standard you set.  We’ve been hoping you would come here for ages now.”

Gamora was bewildered enough to release the girl she was holding and get to her feet.  They two scrambled up as well, dusting themselves off before returning their eyes to her.  The three stood for a moment in silence, during which time Gamora realized that these two were no more than teenagers.  Both of them were dressed in elaborate, if somewhat cheaply-crafted costumes. She could see weapons- or at least sheaths and holsters- at their waists.

“Gamora,” Drax called.  She looked up to find that the Guardians were gathered on the other side of the hedge, weapons drawn.  “What is happening?”

“I… I’m not sure,” Gamora replied.  This was the truth- her mind was still struggling to make sense of anything the girls had said.  She returned her attention to them. “You’re fans ?  Of me, specifically?”

“Well, we like your team too,” the girl in the hood said.  “But we all want to be like you. I’m Ganymede, by the way.  I’m second in command.”

“And I’m Spirit,” the Luphomoid piped up.  “I’m the scout.”

“But why do you want to be like me?”

They both looked at her in silence a moment, as if dumbfounded by the questions.  “You’re a hero,” Spirit said eventually. “We’re all girls like you- we lost our homes and our families.  But you made something of yourself, and now you’re the greatest warrior in the galaxy.”

With a bemused glance at her companions, Gamora decided to humor these youths for a moment.  “And what do you do?”

“We’re vigilantes here on Knowhere,” Ganymede replied.  “We break up domestic disputes, rescue slaves, steal from rich folks at the casinos.  You know, like the Guardians.”

Spirit was looking at the Guardians closely.  “Is Star-Lord with you?”

Ganymede rolled her eyes.  “She loves him.”

Gamora, watching them carefully, said, “You’re barking up the wrong tree.  He’s got a boyfriend.” Then she shook her head. “So there’s a whole group of you out here pretending to be the Guardians?”

“We’re not pretending,” Ganymede replied.  “We really help people. And we do it because of you.”

Drax laughed.  Gamora gave him a look over her shoulder, and he quieted at once.

“Who’s your leader?” She asked.

“Cerise.  She founded the group.  You have to come and meet her.”

Gamora nodded.  “I think you’re right.”

Spirit and Ganymede exchanged looks of delight.  “We told her we saw you. She’s waiting.”

“Lead the way.”

The girls took off, practically running.  Gamora followed calmly behind them, and behind her, the Guardians came somewhat more reluctantly.  Drax caught up to her as they walked. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” He asked. “We don’t know anything about these women.”

“Leave the paranoia to me.  It’s what I’m good at, remember?”

They followed Spirit and Ganymede from the inn up a narrow dirt road that was lined with dilapidated shanties and greenish bogs.  As they went, Gamora turned to Rocket and said, “Call Nebula, tell her that she can go home.”

At this, Ganymede said over her shoulder, “We know your sister.  She’s helped us with a few missions before.”

“She never mentioned you,” Gamora replied.  She followed them up a small alleyway that led back into the more populated part of the city.  From there, they crossed a footbridge over a channel of reeking sewage, then climbed a shaky ladder onto the roof of what appeared to be an old restaurant.  The smells of frying oil and old fish were overpowering. On the roof, there was a set of metal doors that Ganymede opened. Inside, it was brightly lit. There was faint music playing.  Spirit ushered them inside.

“Cerise,” Ganymede called.  “We brought her! She’s here!”

They walked down a tight hallway that opened onto a larger room.  This room was very obviously inhabited by several young women. The floors were laid with colorful carpets and littered with makeup and articles of clothing.  The walls were covered in posters of movie stars and pop singers- and of the Guardians, she realized. The largest poster, hung on the back wall and surrounded with candles like some sort of makeshift shrine, was of her.  A little jarred, she halted. The Guardians gathered close behind her, all of them clearly as confused as she was.

“I don’t believe it,” a voice said.  Gamora turned to find that another girl had now entered the room.  This one was Shi’ar, with pale skin and a magenta mohawk. “I can’t believe it’s really you!”

“You must be Cerise,” Gamora replied.  “Your companions have told me all about your operation.  It sounds impressive.”

Cerise, who was meticulously painted with makeup, looked ready to burst with joy.  “You think so? Because we did it all in your honor. You’re our hero.”

Gamora motioned to the poster-shrine.  “I can see that.”

“We’ve been wanting to meet you for ages,” Cerise went on.  “Now that you’re here, there’s so many things we want to ask you.”

“That’s good, because I have some questions for you, too.  How old are you all? And what sort of experience do you have?”

“I’m 26.  I’m the oldest,” Cerise replied.  “The rest are all in their early twenties.  And as far as experience goes, we’ve all lived on Knowhere our whole lives.  We know how to fight, if that’s what your asking.”

“Knowing how to fight is one thing.  But if you want to do what we do, you need to know more than that.”

Cerise frowned a little.  “I hope you aren’t going to try to talk us out of anything.”

“On the contrary,” Gamora replied with a smile.  “I’m going to show you how to do it right.”

 

Shortly after this conversation, Gamora found herself being forcibly pulled outside by Drax.  “I understand that hearing news of the Church has been jarring for you,” the man said, “but to throw your lot in with a vigilante group who we’ve just met is reckless.”

Gamora sighed.  “You think you understand,” she said.  “But you don’t know the Church. If we are going to go up against them, then we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Drax stared coolly at her.  “So you are going to go up against them, then?”

“Of course I am.  I don’t have a choice.  I’ll do it by myself if I have to.”

She turned to look over the view of the city that this rooftop commanded.  Knowhere was aglow with both artificial light and the bioluminescence of the great head itself.  As she stared, her vision grew blurry. She realized with horror that her eyes had filled with tears, and quickly blinked them away.  It was dawning on her that she had scarcely felt a thing since Nuki had uttered those words, that name. It was as though her mind had been switched to autopilot.  Numbly she had listened to the fanatical chatter of two girls whose group idolized her, and just as numbly followed them here. The giant poster of herself was still stuck firmly in her mind’s eye.

Drax’s hand came to touch her shoulder, making her start.

“I have waited years ,” she said in a fierce whisper, “to bring justice to the people who destroyed my home.”

“I know,” Drax replied.  “And you can be assured that you have our full support in this.”

Gamora nodded.  “I think you and the others should go home.  I need some time alone.”

“Is that wise?”

“I’ll stay with Nebula.  There are some things that I need to think about before we go any further.  And I need to be alone.”

Drax sighed.  “You must swear not to do anything without us.”

She closed her eyes.  “There is nothing I could do.  Not by myself, anyway. I need to study, to learn whatever I can about them.  That way, when we do make a plan, it will be a plan that works .”

“We will leave you, then.  If you are in need of anything-”

“I know.”  She heaved a sigh.  “Tell Quill that I’m sorry, but don’t tell him where I am.  You know how he gets.”

They headed back inside.  Drax said little more, simply rounding up the Guardians and ushering them towards the door.  Mantis gave Gamora a rather alarmed look. “You are staying?” She asked.

Gamora nodded.  “I’ll be alright.  I just have a lot to think about right now.”

Mantis seemed to want to say more, but Drax was herding her out the door.  When they had gone, Gamora turned her attention to the occupants of the apartment.  Ganymede and Spirit were already going to great lengths to make her comfortable. Spirit had presented her with a mug of tea, and Ganymede was pulling up a chair for her to sit in.

“It’s so weird that you’re here,” Spirit said, looking between Gamora and the giant poster of her.

“Yeah,” Gamora replied.  “You’re going to have to take that down.”