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Son of Thanos

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February 19th, 2002
Little Whinging, Surrey, England

Almost no-one took notice of the flying vessel that slowly descended over the small suburb. It was already dark despite the small, yellowish street lights and the illuminated windows of the neat, cookie-cut houses of Little Whinging. The vessel was partly cloaked, but even without that, it would have been only barely noticeable with its dark hull, the metal too rough to reflect much light. The ship was rather bulky and beaten and one would wonder how it was still able to maintain flight, let alone cross the distance between it's home and this little backwater planet. Of course, nobody in Little Whinging would know where the vessel came from. They didn't even know it was there.

The group of bandits manning the vessel was just as rugged and rough as their spaceship. Poverty struck as hard outside of earth as it did on the planet itself, but one of the bandits once belonged to another group - the Ravagers. He had been part of them for long enough to know the way to this backwater planet full of humans; far enough away from Xandar and its ever-watchful eyes to make some decent profit. It was said that The Collector wanted a human ever since meeting young Peter Quill, Yondus Boy. So they followed the dusty memories of the ex-Ravager through unmapped space and found Sol and the planet they called Terra.

There were always some younglings out in the dark. From London, they took a couple of runaways, a girl and her little brother. Their parents would fall into despair afterwards, the loss too hard to cope with. From Wales, they took a toddler out of his cradle and burned the house down. From Hastings they took an older girl with beautiful blonde curls - she couldn't sleep and was only catching a bit of fresh air in the garden when they came. Her father, who raised her all alone, took his life two years later when the police thought that they found her remains in a mass grave next to the house of a serial killer. He had murdered the man before he committed suicide.

In Surrey, they hit the jackpot - three young lads, the youngest no more than five years old. Enough to fill the rest of the cages and not to worry about money for the next couple of months. More than enough for whores and booze and new weapons and maybe a bit of a fresh up for the ship. Who knew - they said The Collector always paid well. So they ascended back into the endless skies. Two pairs of parents would howl and cry later that night. One aunt and one uncle, however, would be glad.

And up in Scotland, an old man would start to worry.

~~~

March 8th, 2002
Far away, Unmapped Space

The younglings dealt with their captivity very differently. The girl and her brother from London mostly cried the first week, until the girl decided to be strong for the small boy. They had been put into the same cage after a quick test showed that they were "from the same stock", with the same nose, the same hazel eyes, the same straight, black hair. She was two years his senior, and after her decision she tried not to show her own very real fear whenever one of the bandits came to feed the prisoners. They would always try to get some fun out of them, banging against the bars of their cages and laughing mockingly. She would try to shield her brother, taking the brunt of the spit and the occasional hit and pinch, and sooth her brother afterwards, making sure he got most of the food offered to them. Her name was Laura, and her brothers' name was Michael.

She made friends with the blonde girl with green eyes like spring leaves. Mostly because the oldest girl had been made to care for the toddler, the youngest of the seven. Her cage was right next to theirs, and they would softly talk to each other when no bandit was nearby, changing stories of their respective homes and their family. She was not as fearless as Laura pretended to be, flinching badly when they came, but she quickly came to deeply care for the little boy in her arms. She was twelve, she said, and tried her best not to cry. On the fifth day, one of the bandits hurt her leg pretty badly, and still she tried. Her name was Rose.

The three boys from Little Whinging, Surrey, were the most diverse. The oldest was seven, a gangly child with dirty blonde hair and a smatter of freckles on his cheeks and his nose. His name was Robin, and his younger brother, Malcolm, looked little different. They both were sometimes very loud, and sometimes very afraid. When the bandits came, they would huddle as far away from the pathway as possible, trying to hide in the shadows. When the bandits were away, they either tried to talk to the girls and their charges or started to intimidate the smallest of the Surrey boys, who often cried when everything was dark and no one could see. He would not speak, regardless of how many times Laura and Rose tried to talk to him. The Surrey brothers called him Freak or Four Eyes or Retard. They too did not know his given name.

Time went by slowly. There was no visible day or night, only the cage and the lights on the ceiling. The rhythm was wrong in which the lights would go dark, not at all like a proper days cycle and enough weirdness to unsettle the kids deeply. Sleep was rare, and the only saving grace between the small cages and the mocking and violence from the bandits was that they were at least fed twice a day. The smallest of the Surrey boys even started to look healthier the longer he was there. He was also the only one who had no problems with the small space he had been given, easily finding a position to sleep in.

In the end, it took nearly ten days for the girls to make him talk. They called him Green Eyes, because his' were almost unnaturally green in colour (the boys still called him Freak or Four Eyes or Scar, because he had a prominent bolt-shaped scar right on his forehead), and even when the boy finally told them that his name was Harry (in a shy whisper and in the middle of the 'night' when the other Surrey boys where fast asleep), they kept on calling him Green Eyes out of habit, which he didn't mind. He only talked when it was dark, never when the lights were on, and whenever the bandits entered the room, he would curl up into a tiny ball until they were gone.

Seventeen days after they were taken the kids woke up not to the bright, yellow-tinted light they were used to. They woke up to a dim red light, a shrill sound echoing through the whole ship. The room in which they had been caged in was empty of any bandits, but even here in the bowels of the vessel, they could hear their screams and the sound of running feet. A metallic taste was in the stale air and Rose had to quickly soothe the toddler before the boy could start crying from the unusual sounds.

"What is happening? Are they shooting?!" That was Malcolm. He was very pale as they all went still to better make out the fizzling sounds that could be heard right before a couple of loud gasps and cries.

"I think they are fighting", Laura whispered, holding Michael close. Her huge, hazel eyes were fixed on the grey door from which the bandits always came to bring them food and sometimes pain and mockery. It had just become harder to keep calm when they visited - each of the children had a new, tiny scar in their neck, where they had put the tiny translator. Now it came in handy as they could hear snippets of words - short, panicked orders and curses. More screams and cries. More metal in the air. When the door slammed open, they all scampered back against the walls. The person standing there was no bandit - at least none of those they knew, with their green jackets and the heavy boots. This one had pale, reddish skin and scales instead of hair on the back of his head. His face was still human enough to notice the visible surprise in his yellow, slanted eyes.

"Boss!" He bellowed. The screams had slowly found their end, but there were still many feet stomping above and around them, and they all stared at the alien they did not know. "Boss, there're younguns!" He held the door open for a heavy set alien, one with a darker tint to his scales, and eyes more orange than yellow. Boss too stared at the human children - Rose was rocking the toddler as if her life depended on it, while Malcolm and Robert shivered uncontrollably. Green Eyes, Harry, had rolled himself up when he noticed the screams and did not move from his position. "Livestock or goods ya reckon?"

"Goods", Boss grunted and started to inspect the children closer. "Relatively healthy, too. This one's damaged, tho." He pointed at Rose and her bandaged leg. It had not quite healed yet. "So they had a buyer, and got some spare ones." He spat on the floor before turning around. "Get them out of 'ere and onto the ship. Got some signals in, we need to get back to port before we end up Chitauri fodder."

Yellow Eyes nodded quickly. The last part made him move quickly as he fiddled with the locks on the cages. "Gotta get ya out, younguns. Dunno if we can bring ya back home, but those suckers're gone now so that's that, eh?" It took a while for the cages to give in and open up, and the children had only been able to crouch in their cages, so their legs were weak and wobbly, but one after the other got out of their cages, uncertain and afraid and so, so tired. A few other Scales soon came down in a hurry to simply carry the kids out of the prisoners' room. It was when Yellow Eyes reached Malcolm's cage when the second alarm sounded.

"Fuck." The word was hissed more than said when he listened to soft words spoken from a communicator in his pointed ear. "Fuck, fuck... dammit!" He stared for a second at the last cage he knew he would not be able to open in time, at the little curled up child, before cursing again and dragging a flinching Malcolm out of the room. The alarms were blaring now, a shrill, piercing sound. More gunfire and a huge sucking sound, like a plug, pulled out from a full bath tube.

~~~

March 14th, 2002
Somewhere Else, Beyond The Void

The Other stared at the human child in front of him. The Chitauri had brought the boy with them from one of their raids. He knew they did this occasionally, but most times said trinkets were random garbage, like pieces of metal and glass. This group, however, brought him a living being, and a young one to boot. He was not too damaged from his time with the Chitauri, who were known for their bloodlust, but obviously still traumatized by the unpleasant experience. Not that it would get any better for him. Maybe he should kill it. Maybe he should give it back to the Chitauri to play with it. He was not quite sure what to do.

Of course he could gift it to Him. He was also known to collect trinkets from His journeys, boys and girls with the potential to become powerful additions to his forces. Sons and daughters, He called them fondly. The Other was still not sure if this one had any potential. It looked weak and damaged, but then it was of no race the Other had yet encountered. At least it was not crying or weeping, but then it could also had suffered damage to its head. The Other circled the boy, tilting his head just a tiny bit, before deciding to simply kill it and be done with it.

He had not expected the flare of magic that attacked him when he tried to touch the boy.

"So you do serve a purpose."

~~~

April 2th, 2002
The Temple

The Titan watched the boy being carried away. He had hoped to gain more information about the boys magic. It tasted wild to him, untamed, but certainly tameable. Unfortunately, he had not been able to get to know from where he came - his Chitauri had found the boy in deep space, but the ship he was in had already been too damaged to recover the flight routes and the boy was too young to remember any valuable information about his cradle planet. The Titan shook his head. He would take the boy in - magic wielders were rare and so very valuable, and the Other would see to it that he was properly trained. The boy had a strong will despite his pitiful body. The Titan hoped he would survive long enough to be of use for him.

At least he had enough tissue and blood samples to search for other abductees from this interesting planet where magic users were born. Another one to destroy after a rich harvest of children, hopefully.

~~~

April 28th, 2007
The Temple

He still remembered the first thing he had lost. It was how it was always done - if something was not good enough, Father would take it and replace it with something better. Father wanted his children to be as strong as He was, but to be strong one had to constantly work for it. They had to force themselves, to apply themselves. Better themselves, and prove to Him that they were better. And if you failed to prove it, He would see what was weak and take it and replace it with something better.

The first thing Harry lost were his eyes.

"Weak", he still heard Father's voice saying when he lost the fight against his bother Azalel. Father had made Azalel watch later on as a gift for his win when they laid Harry down onto the Table and cut out his eyes to be replaced by a pair that would no longer hinder him. That night, Azalel almost cried more than Harry, who was still in pain from the operation. Later, when it was Harry who had won and Father ordered him to stay and watch them work on Azalel, he learned why: Under the effects of the medicine they had given him beforehand, he had not noticed all the blood. Or the screams. That night it was Harry who cried himself hoarse.

They changed who they fought with randomly. To keep them on their toes, Father said. His only rule was that brothers fought only against brothers, and sisters against sisters. His favourite, a green-skinned girl named Gamora, sometimes watched the younger brothers train and fight with a sad expression on her face. His other favourite, the Luphomoid named Nebula, already had that hard, cruel glint in her black eyes that most of the older children and all of the adults had.

With the years came more training. More fighting. More lessons. They learned how to hurt, then how to kill their enemies and occasionally each other - those who were too weak were used for Fathers lessons to never get too attached to something. It worked with most of the brothers and sisters. They stopped to trust each other, and started to work solely for their own needs, tried to win as many fights possible to prove to Him that they were not weak, but worthy. Harry won fights and lost fights. With each fight he won, he lost the love of another brother and gained a new nightmare instead.

Time was worse here than on the bandits' spaceship. The sky was always dark, the place a ruin. Cold, ugly, dead. Sometimes, Harry would remember snippets from home. Little things, like how green the grass was, or how blue the sky. He would remember something nice and compare it with what he had here. He would do that after The Other had come to give him his special training, when he felt too exhausted to eat or drink, but was still unable to sleep.

He lost more things. When his liver acted up, it was especially bad. They cut open his whole left side, where his arm had already been made stronger (because his right arm was too important, it had to stay intact, because that's where his magic came out) and replaced the liver and other things. It would have never acted up had Azalel, who started to hate him with a vengeance when Harry turned eight, not slammed him so very viciously against a pillar. Most of the older brothers hate each other now. But there are always new little children arriving, new fodder to watch when the day grew dull enough.

He was ten when one of the adult brothers came to them. Out of twenty-seven brothers of Harry's group, only five remained. The adult brother, whose name was Khzen, took him and the other four with him. Because they were old enough. Because soon they would go out into the Universe for their first kill. He looked at Harry a lot, like most of the adult brothers would do - there were seven of them, all his brothers. None of them of the Black Order, Harry noticed.

"We all are Sons of Thanos", Khzen said. "Do you love Father?" And Harry, along with his other brothers, nodded. They knew it was a lie. Only the Order loved Father, the Order and The Other, and possibly some sisters as well. He felt uncomfortable, sitting next to Azalel, who always tried to hurt him before a fight.

"We all love him. So much that I must warn you, for there is a way to kill Father, and I wish for you to be wary."

That was the day Harry heard the Prophecy for the first time and swore to always, always be his Fathers son, even if Father himself would deny him in the future. All his brothers did, even Azalel. It was a promise, held by each generation of sons, of those who still lived, to only call Him father.

"It is said that only a Son of Thanos can kill the Titan."

~~~

June 10th, 2008
Office of the Deputy Headmistress, Hogwarts

"I don't understand, Albus..."

The old wizard leaned forward to inspect the letter on the desk. All around them, nearly identical letters fluttered around, folding themselves before slipping into thick parchment envelopes. Those letters dipped down under a small pot with liquid wax in it, which dropped a dollop of wax onto the envelopes before an animated stamp punched them, leaving the Hogwarts crest behind. Next to the three people who were in the office, a magnificent and ancient quill wrote dutifully the names and addresses of the students onto the acceptance letters, one of which was placed between the fretting Minerva and a scowling Severus.

"At least we know that he is alive. Though I am not sure what this means." He sighed and turned around. "I will search my books, but you are free to send an owl with that letter." With a last glance for the envelope he made his way out of the office.

Harry James Potter,
The Temple,
Beyond the Void

~~~

September 12th, 2008
Mining Station 23B-Alpha-066 "The Keep", Outer Ring

"He is ready, Master." With those words, Harry was sent to collect his first kill out of the training grounds. He was eleven, though he didn't know that. Time, as it was measured on Earth, had little value for him. All that was left was surviving and getting stronger and never become cruel in his heart as most of his brothers and sisters became. Even Gamoras eyes were cold now. Harrys, as artificial as they were, had still some warmth in them. He still felt for his brothers when they were cut open and worked on. He cried in silence and silently when one of them died. He mourned the new trinkets, those poor boys and girls, when they arrived.

They had never told their sisters about the promise they had made. Gamora was almost a woman now, and he was deadly afraid of Nebula, who had killed a score of brothers already who got too close to her, but he loved them no less. He even loved Azalel, but he never told him. Maybe he still knew it - after the promise, his brother had started to talk to him again. He still won against the tall, pale boy with his too-white eyes and his wispy grey hair. Had won a couple of times, even when he tried to lose on purpose. Maybe Father knew of his love for his siblings. Maybe watching Azalel scream and bleed (never much anymore - Azalel was as heavily worked on like Nebula) was His way to punish him for his affection.

Now, however, was his first time away from the Temple. A small vessel had taken him here, not manned by Chitauri like most of Father's ships, but by humanoid aliens. The Other had told him that he was to search and kill someone who had interfered with one of Father's plans. A male Kree called El-Shyr. It was all he needed to know, The Other had said, so that he could put his lessons to good use and search for the man himself. This was a tradition for the survivors of The Temple. The first order, the first blood to shed for Father. It would, however, not be the first time Harry had killed someone - Fathers children knew death intimately. His first kill had been some sorry prisoner of Father who had no further use for Him. Others followed. Twice he had killed one of his younger brothers, those too weak to continue fighting and improving. Once, he had killed a brother by winning the fight. He had watched him die while being worked on and had been unable to sleep for many nights afterward.

This, this would be easier, he told himself as he walked through the station. Despite being used as a mining station, The Keep was a known hotspot for a multitude of trading. Far enough away from the Nova Empire to not be on their constant radar, the black market was booming in the public districts of the old station and a meeting point for people that had money on their heads. For Harry, who had never seen a station in person, who had always been a prisoner in one way or another, it was marvellous. He knew most of the races he saw - Father adopted his children for their strengths, not for their race, like he adopted Harry after The Other told him about his magic (he shuddered, thinking back to those days, thinking back to the interrogation, and swiftly pushed it back back back). They had also lessons other than fighting. Lessons about politics, about weapons, about wars and crimes and religions and engineering. About stealth. About torture.

He held his breath for a moment before continuing on his chosen path. No one batted an eye on the child walking amongst them. While most known races were humanoid enough, they did vary in things like skin colour and size, so his childlike appearance did not bother the people on the station one bit. For a moment Harry wondered if they would bother more knowing who he was. Who his Father was.

It took him a couple of hours to find El-Shyr who spent his time celebrating a deal gone well in a shady bar, surrounded by drunkards and whores and alcohol. Killing him was not a problem - he had bought some cheap poison, which would cause most races a headache and a Kree to vomit blood while their guts dissolved in a rather painful, but fast way. Anocadzin was banned under prison time throughout the whole of the Nova Empire and under death in Kree territory, but in the Outer Ring of civilized space, it was easy to produce and a rather cheap sell. It had to be cheap - Harry only had a few units to spent. The Other wanted him to kill either using a blade or his magic. It was the latter that he chose to use, hiding the vial of Anocadzin from the eyes of the mundane and floating it gently towards the table that hosted El-Shyr and his friends. A few drops would suffice. Harry used the whole two drams.

Getting away in the following chaos was easy enough. He had stood there long enough in his corner to watch the Kree spasm and die and knew that The Other had watched the scene through Harrys eyes. When he climbed back into the ship, he closed them, thinking back to all the different shops and services he had seen in The Keeps black market.

Chapter Text

October 31st, 2008
The Temple

Azalel had changed after their elder brothers had told them the secret. He was reckless in his fights now and always angry. Not at Harry, though, like he usually was - he was angry at their minders and the guards and the Other. So, so angry at Father. But his anger only led to punishments and injuries and lost fights, because the younger brothers didn't yet know the secret, have yet to make the promise and were eager to win their fights against their elder siblings.
Harry on the other hand only grew more concentrated and determined, especially after his first mission. The Other was not as pleased with him as he could have been, but Father had given him rare praises and he had not been punished, so all was good. He grew stronger, too, and won most of his fights. He still watched his brother with worry, taking notice of the crazed glint in his eyes. He had seen many brothers and sisters with the cruel, the cold glint (and rarely he saw hidden warmth that was so hard to keep intact here, but some had it, like Gamora), and he avoided them. He only once saw someone with crazy eyes, however - most died before they could possibly reach that state, or died shortly after losing the last bit of sanity they possessed. And now it was forming in Azalels eyes, and Harry didn't know how to make it go away.

And now they were fighting again. Before the secret, they had been an even match whenever they had to face each other. Since then Azalel had lost a lot of matches, however. He reminded Harry of Nebula, who was already a young woman like Gamora and had more metal and wires in her body than actual flesh. He could see all the seams of the plating under the pale, silvery skin of his brother, plating which showed golden on his arms and shins and forehead. His once icy blue eyes were quite an electric blue now, unlike Harrys, which had been made to look like his old pair. Where before white, wispy hair had hung down to his shoulders, Azalel was bald now, and his movements were no longer flowing like a living being, but mechanical like his body. It was scary, how little facial expressions he made nowadays. And scary that Harry could see the crazed glint in the first place in such dead, manmade eyes.

Normaly, he would have already won this match. He could see Azalel struggling to keep up, to access and master every new part of him and use it in combat. Every kid had their own limit how many times they could be worked on before they were too overwhelmed by it all. It was like a clock ticking down your time to live. The Temple didn't promote compassion and friendship - Father wanted his children to always compete for the top spots of his favoured, so that only the strong would serve him in the end. To this end, rework was done until the child died on the Altar, in a fight or in a mission - or until the child was strong enough to always win and reach adulthood without visiting the Altar too much. Nebula was one of the only ones that survived despite the heavy work they had put into her body.

And Nebula was the one person Harry didn't want Azalel to look like.

So he had to lose against Azalel. He still looked mostly intact, with most of his enhancements inside his body where they were hard to see. His left side had been worked on the most due to an organ failure after a vicious fight, and of course his eyes had been replaced, but he could stomach more. Yet Harry hesitated, knowing that after this spar, he was to embark on his second mission (his most important one) and he had to be strong for that. Strong like he was now. He couldn't risk the Altar. Couldn't risk losing and failing afterward because he was still in pain.

Couldn't betray Azalel with his crazy eyes.

Couldn't betray the Promise.

His eyes met his brothers. Artificial emerald green and fake, electric blue, just a fraction of a second. It has been so long since he had seen Azalel smile that it threw Harry completely off guard. That was quite enough for his brother to dive in and close the careful gap Harry had maintained to ponder his problem and come to a decision, and enough time to take the decision out of his hands.

The sound of Azalels flesh (and the scraping of metal against metal) under the blade of his knife was just a bit more sickening than the small amount of blood and the flying sparks that erupted from his brother's chest. The image of Azalel on the Altar, screaming and bleeding and connected to far too many cables and tubes, would be the last memory Harry had of him for a long, long time.

~~~

November 5th, 2008
Colony "Esa", Moon 3-Beta, Asaol, Outer Ring

A few dozen lightyears closer to the Core from The Keep was Esa, one of the last sponsored Colonies in the Outer Ring. Located on a medium-sized moon of the planet Asaol, the Colony held about 13.000 people in one big city and a couple of farms around. Moon 3-Beta (located on the third orbit around Asaol, dwarfed by 3-Alpha, a giant yellowish moon that shares the orbit with 3-Beta) was fertile and tame enough for colonization without depending on costly environmental technology. It had it's own ecosystem already established (a bit barren, but enough for an atmosphere which only needed a bit enrichment), which was the reason for the government on Xandar to spent good money on it despite being so far away. Over the years, however, it proved to be too much of a bother. Patrols lessened until only once every couple of months a ship from Nova Corps would show its presence instead of every couple of weeks, and while long-distance communication was nearly instantaneous, Esa itself was not very keen on reporting every little criminal action that happened here, happy with the amount of freedom they had.

That aside, not too much crime was allowed on 3-Beta. Just that it wasn't Nova Corps you had to deal with.

Harrys second mission didn't quite go as well as his first. The Other had been displeased by the small amount of magic Harry had been willing to use, so he gave him a mission quite harder to complete to force the boy into using the still unstable power. More often than not, the boys magic liked to do what it wanted to do whenever Harry failed to concentrate enough. Small things, like letting objects float or change colour, came naturally. Changing one object to another (as he had done in his early years, changing a knife into a flower in his panic during a fight) was still a gamble, however. Pain and fear seemed to help, but even the most timid boy got used to those during their stay in The Temple (if they survived, that is).

So a mission it was. One that brought Harry into a colony that was known for its own quite impressive security system and brutal law enforcement duo to the welcomed distance between Esa and Xandar. The boy had to keep his wits about him for this one - the person he was to kill was Oren Dalmer, a Xandarian and former Nova Corps officer, who now held the position of Chief Deputy within the much harsher police force on Esa.

Milling around in a small park that bordered on the local police station, Harry almost looked like the other preteens on the moon, with sturdy, dark trousers and bright top and the hair cut short until one could see his translator implant under the little scar on his neck and the faint lines behind his ears that would always remind him of his first enhancement whenever he traced them with his fingers. It was a nervous habit of his, to rub over the small lip of fake skin until it flapped up and exposed the port underneath it, used to adjust the implants. He had another set of three ports on his left side, right under the ribcage - he knew they were not only for adjustment, but also to feed his implants new material when he grew. Like all his siblings with a major internal redesign, he too had to get measured each quarter so that his implants worked properly. The last three times he had been very attentive to the process.

His eyes flickered back to the reinforced door of the sturdy building, pushing the flap back onto the port and swinging his legs in an idle manner. Other kids played around him - the area right around the various police buildings were deemed the safest to be, so the parents would unload their children in the parks that could often be found there to play and relax a bit. It was not overly full, but the atmosphere felt off to Harry, who was not used to so much laughter and banter. So he tried to ignore the playing kids as good as he was able to and concentrated on the three officers exiting the station. One of them had the marks of a Chief Deputy on them. Shaggy, blond hair, a bit on the bigger side for his race (still a bit smaller than galaxy standard for adult males) with obvious muscles under his cyan uniform. Esas officers wore padded ones, obviously armored, and their weapons on open display, both long-range weapons and melee. Chief Deputy Oren Dalmer looked like he knew how to use them, too. With the sound of screams and laughter in his ears, Harry moved from the swing he had seated himself some three hours ago. Only a few adults took notice of the boy who moved through the other children towards the street, but most people took things they assume for granted - like assuming that the boy was walking back to his parents instead following three officers down the street.

~~~

November 11th, 2008
Colony "Esa", Moon 3-Beta, Asaol, Outer Ring

Chief Deputy Dalmer was not a very strict man, but with a steady job came a somewhat steady daily routine. He woke up around 6 am and spent an hour with his morning business, grooming and breakfast and walked to the station. Work started 7:30 am, but usually Dalmer was a couple of minutes early for coffee and a smoke with his colleagues to catch a bit of gossip. The morning was filled with desk work unless something really bad happened that needed someone of his rank. He took two little 10 minute breaks before lunch break for a smoke and went to grab something to eat at 1 pm. After lunch, from 2 to 5 pm, he was on patrol with two of his officers, one Palm Rakhel, a palm Aerie who was a couple years older than Dalmer but not ambitious enough to rise in rank, and young Cull-Zher, a Kree who was not sold on the whole racist crap a lot of his kind spouted and who still had to learn the ropes from his two seniors. After patrol, Dalmer was fond of doing some odd desk jobs to prepare for the next day while the night shift took over the station.

Harry had been on Esa for a galactic standard week, and most of his time he had spent with stalking his prey. It was easier at daytime - at night, a child was too conspicuous, and he was unable to hide himself with his magic, like he could hide smaller objects. But he was small and trod quietly and managed somehow. It was hard to find set times in which Dalmer was alone on work days, and on his weekly day off that Harry had witnessed, Dalmer had been off with a couple of friends. Both the station and his private home would require Harry to break in, something he had yet to learn properly. He had no interest in attacking the man when he was on patrol either - it was the time he was most heavily armed. His lunchtime, however, showed irregularities.

Dalmer was very fond of a specific restaurant, and his colleagues didn't share this love.

He was currently on his way to the small establishment just two streets away from the station. Risky, but the best place he had seen yet. It was just open enough to hide, and with the rarity of magic users and the high costs of equipment to scan for such things, the chances that someone could pinpoint certain supernatural accidents onto one person was close to nil. That was, if one was subtle in his use of magic. Or chose to use magic at all. It was an important decision to make, although if Harry was quite honest with himself, that decision had been made not by him, but by his brother not two weeks ago. He could not possibly bear to see Azalels sanity wasted on an unused opportunity. His brother had lost for him to be properly prepared for this mission, after all.

Dalmer entered the restaurant first. He would need a couple of minutes to get seated and to order his food, and Harry took this time to suck in deep, calming breaths. He didn't enjoy killing people, but after years of training, it came easily to him to push the disgust down until he only felt a faint dislike and the wish to find a better option. For the boy, however, the options were quite limited, and it was simply not worth it to let Dalmer live. Still, it was not like killing the Kree. This was more like killing the poor prisoners of Father, or killing his own siblings. People that had done nothing too terrible and that still died at the hands of equally desperate children. But the times where he couldn't bear the blood on his hands were gone already. It was something to be accepted, because if he didn't, it would drive him mad.

Touching the piece of dead wood in his pocket, he cautiously entered the restaurant. It was nothing fancy, but the menu was somewhat exotic in nature - the people of Esa were a mix of Xandarians and Aeries, with only a few other races living here. Those only on the visit mingled mostly near the port and didn't venture into city proper too often, but this restaurant catered to Aphilix and thus served hearty meals made up of insect protein. It didn't bother Harry, who was used to plain nutrition cubes that tasted like nothing with a sprinkle of ash, but a lot of people were disgusted by that. His target sat at his favourite table close to the windows, a tucked in a two-seater with a good view of both the entrance and the door to the kitchens. Harry felt Dalmers eyes on him, but soon the Chief Deputy lost his interest in a single boy who was probably here to sate his curiosity.

Not many people were inside either way. With his faked huge eyes and wrinkled nose, Harry took his time to gape around, all the while getting a feel for who sat who, before settling onto Dalmer himself. Playing the curious boy was hard to pull off for him, but he did well enough for the uninterested crowd. Father had his reasons why he trained his children from a young age. People tended to trust kids more than adults. Especially when said kids would show up unarmed on most radars - wood was good like that, fooling the tech that was searching for metals and plastic.

"Excuse me, sir?" His voice was a bit rough from the lack of talking, but he didn't worry. Dalmer was calm when he regarded Harry once again, this time with a tad more interest than before. There was a hint of annoyance, but he didn't send him away when he approached the lone table at the windows. People mingled on the street and Harry felt on display. He knew this was risky. Knew that the Other was watching him, now that he had approached the target. The Other had made it clear that Harry was to use his magic with this kill - preferably without being noticed. He could feel the dead wood heavy in his pockets - he had strengthened the material over the last couple of days, whenever he had sat down to wait for the Chief Deputy, and it was now hard as good steel, and wickedly sharp right at the point.

"How can I help you?" The words sounded friendly enough, but again Harry sensed some annoyance from the man. Not enough that the man wouldn't talk to him for a few minutes. His eyes were fixed on Dalmers, willing the Other to see.

"Oh, I just saw that you were an officer, sir. My mom said that without you Esa would be a really bad place, and she said I should become an officer. Was it very hard?" He put some of his growing worries into his voice and was rewarded with a small smile on the blonde man's face.

"Well, see here..." Chief Deputy Oren Dalmer saw the makeshift knife coming, but he was too close to stop the pointed end to enter the soft flesh of his throat. He had leaned closer to inspect the future officer in front of him, maybe to part with some patronizing words of working hard and doing good in school. Maybe he was more realistic and would actually tell the truth - that only hard people survived this job on this outskirt colony, far away from the proper law. It sounded more like him, and Harry took this thought and put it into his precious corner in his mind. Dalmer earned to be remembered, if only for the fact that his death had helped Harry.

When the flailing body hit the floor, throat a bloody, gurgling mess, he fled from the scene. He had little hope to escape law enforcement for too long - this time, the waiting shuttle would not approach until it was safe to do so to pick Harry up, and in a colony this small it was easy to find a murderer, especially with witnesses. The piece of wood was left in the restaurant. In the end, it took only a couple of hours for the police to find him and take him away into the cells. Harry made sure to run and hide till the end, however, with eyes wide open for the Other to see.

He didn't allow himself to smile until after the officers left him alone in his little cell. He knew that there would be pain waiting for him, but he was used to that. He also knew that Esas law enforcement was known for their harsh punishments - he had made sure to read the laws and listen to the street for what really happened behind closed doors.

And he knew the most important detail: That for the murder of an officer, a Chief Deputy no less, the criminal would be sent to the higher court to receive their penalty. A court far closer to the core region of the galaxy. And far enough away from The Temple to initiate the second part of the plan he made more than a year ago, in a hidden part of The Temple, when he first heard of the secret. Maybe he wasn't so bad at planning after all.

Chapter Text

November 15th, 2008
The Temple

"And he is trying to escape?"

The Other bowed deeply. "Yes, Master. Naturally, the vermin are taking their revenge for the death of one of their own, but the boy is quite resilient and is searching for a way out."

The Titan nodded and started to smile. "Let them have their fun. It will do the boy good. He may even learn his lesson. We will take him when they send him off to court - a ship is easier to handle than a colony, and they are not worth the ammunition to destroy their pitiful little moon."

"Yes, Master." The Other smiled then, too. It was certainly interesting to watch the boy enchant the wood as too fool the scanners, but it was the high of stupidity to kill the target at such an exposed location. It had to be his youth, he mused when he vanished with his Masters' blessing. Certainly an act of arrogance, trying out some showmanship to impress his Master. He was close to that age, after all, and even later on they rarely lost this crave. Even the Black Order, his Masters' most trusted children, were found to put their abilities on display. Yes, he would let the little magician learn his lesson. For his clever use of subtle transformation the Other would later lessen the punishment he would receive in the Temple.

His thoughts were interrupted when he arrived in the medical bay in the blink of an eye. Within the Temple, movement was but a thought for him, and the staff was hardly surprised by his comings and goings anymore. "How is he?"

One of the healers came closer and bowed. "His mind is heavily fractured, but he is useful still." He nodded. That was rare - most broken things tended to be broken all over. But sometimes, insanity did not cripple the body. "Good. Keep him alive then, and see to it that he at least understands his place and his tasks. If he dies anyway, or becomes useless, salvage what you can. His body is a work of art."

~~~

November 18th, 2008
A cell, Colony "Esa"

All in all, it wasn't both as bad as he had thought, and worse than he had hoped for. They had taken their time to question the boy who had killed one of their own in such a brutal fashion, flinging his makeshift dagger in front of his face. Sometimes they tried to play friendly, but most times the officers who handled the prisoner just screamed and threatened and more often than not used their fists to try and get Harry to talk. He was almost glad to have gone through the training at the Temple, for he kept his mouth closed and his eyes open throughout it all. The older Aerie and the young Kree were the worst. The morals of the average Kree were fickle at best, declaring their children to be adults when they were still young, thus making it near impossible for the officer to feel too much empathy with Harry. The Aerie was not as emotionally impaired as officer Cull-Zher, but he had liked the dead Chief Deputy very much and enough to foregoe any sympathy he could have with a child Harrys age. Both used every opportunity to be in charge of the interrogations, and the station gave those rather freely.

Still, it was not as bad as it could have been. They preferred to use their fists and feet, not their weapons. Maybe because it felt better to them, taking their revenge with their bare hands. And while the food was stale and meager, they still fed Harry, if only to make sure he would live until they brought him to court.

Three times the boy had made an attempt to flee. It was convincing enough for his captors, and he hoped it would also convince the Other, who would surely monitor Harry if only to make sure that he knew when they would ship the boy away. Harry relied on this - relied on the cruelty of the man, and the higher convenience of retaking the boy from a ship instead of a whole colony. They would surely wait for Harry to be brought out. They had to. But he wasn't sure of it, and it maddened him not to know. Hated the guessing game.

Some nights, when the lights went out, he remembered the first cage he had sat in. One night, he dreamt of another cage, a dark and cramped place under a set of stairs, of wisps of red and a cruel, green laughter. Some nights, he thought of Azalel and the last time he had seen his brother, bound on the Altar as he was, with wires and cables coming out of his body, and he wondered if this was worth it all.

On his fifth day of interrogations, beatings and long nights alone, another prisoner was brought in and into the cell across the hallway. He was of average high, but his thin, slightly gangly form made him look bigger than he was. He had dark, shortish hair that was buzz trimmed on the sides, grey-green eyes and a rough, stubbly beard and seemed to be at least two decades older than Harry. It was never that easy to really tell how old people were for even if he was a human, actual aging depended pretty much on where you were born just as much as what race you were.

The guy was nice enough despite his own beaten up appearance and called himself Kraglin, the mercenary. He talked a lot for someone who got pretty much no answers back - he was probably nervous, having heard how rough Esa could be with its criminals, but luckily he either didn't want to know why Harry himself was in the cell or was intelligent enough to sense that the boy would not be truthful, even if he answered for a chance. He was persistent, though, and at nighttime finally got Harry to talk to him, asking for his name. It wasn't much in the way of conversation, but Kraglin had an oddly charming way, smiling ever so often and trying to cheer Harry up. "You remind me of one of me mates", he would say ever so often. "Wee Peter, always gets into trouble that one."

It was nice, in a soothing way, and took some of Harrys worries away.

~~~

November 21th, 2008
A cell, Colony "Esa"

"They gonna bring you to court tomorrow, yes?" Kraglin sat with his back against the wall with his knees close to his chest, peering curiously over to the dark haired boy in the other cell. How the kid came to be here, he didn't know, but he was always of the opinion that something was wrong with the universe when children sported black eyes and bruises all over. Most kids doing stupid stuff had some adults behind them urging them on - he would know, what with practically raising one Peter Quill after Yondu decided to keep the lad. A lot of the Ravagers had been hard to the kid, trying to scare him off early on, but Peter grew bouncy under the pressure where others would go hard or break. This one, however, this one was hard all over, but Kraglin was not a stupid man. He could see the softness in his eyes, still lingering. He had yet to make Harry smile, but one time his lips had twitched.

"Yes", the short answer came a few moments later, almost thoughtful. The voice was still high and had not broken yet. He likened the boy with himself when he was young - between ten and twelve years old, maybe? Older than Peter was when they had picked him up from that backwater planet, but not so much older. Kraglin hummed and nodded, closing his eyes again. In a couple of minutes the lights would go out for the night, which he was waiting for. "You reckon what they will do to you?"

There is a soft shuffle. "Prison, most likely. Long term, that's why they are gonna ship me off." Kraglin had already learned what the lad had done. Killing some Deputy guy, in broad daylight. It wasn't that the Ravager was in any way squirmish when it came to killing folks - he had enough blood on his hand, what with being a mercenary. Mostly it bothered him when his mates killed normal people without it being necessary. Luckily enough, the Code forbids any dealings with kids - even exiled, the captain didn't stand for violence against children from his rowdy crew, something that he enforced even harsher since his deal with Ego. Kraglin too hated killing children. And while Harry already had a hard shell, it would not be hard enough for general prison time where he would be dealt with like an adult.

"Sounds like shit. You better run for it, lad."

"I tried, but since I got one of their own they make sure to have three sets of eyes on me. 'sides, the last try got me a nasty beating." Kraglin snorted and opened one eye to look at the boy who had laid himself down on the hard floor. He had dragged the thin excuse of a pillow with him and faced the ceiling. "I may try again later, at the court. Where's the next one?"

"Talladhir, some sixty clicks away. That will be a long trip." Now the boy was humming in agreement. He shouldn't be so calm about this. Shouldn't come back from 'interrogations' with more bruises for show and not even cry a bit. "Should tell'em someone forced you. Like, dunno, your sis' is held hostage. Some sob story. With them eyes on your face they will eat out of your hand." It was not entirely a joke - the boy had a well-formed face, and Talladhirs population was mostly made up by humanoid folk who would notice Harry as the kid he was. "Press out some big ol' tears and all while you're at it." He saw the boy scrunching his nose and shaking his head, remaining silent. While he had started to talk to Kraglin, the Ravager had to do most of the work to keep the conversations alive, but he didn't mind that. With people always telling him to shut the fuck up or else, it was nice to talk as much as he wanted. Especially when he had time to kill, so he tried, again and again, to make Harry smile a bit. He managed a soft snort and congratulated himself.

~~~

November 21th, 2008
A cell, Colony "Esa"

He started to like the man around the third night spent together, when the guy had told him story after story of his captain, young Peter Quill and himself getting into trouble. Mostly it was the boy who started this - Kraglin had admitted that the kind of trouble Yondu got into was mostly quite serious, given that he was the leader of a band of mercenaries. Ravagers, he called his crew, though the clan he belonged to had been exiled from the syndicate some twenty years ago. Harry didn't know much more about this group despite having heard of the name itself in one of his lessons, but the crests (a flame, Kraglin shows him a tattoo on his upper left arm) are new to him. The bandits he had met all these years ago had no crests. Only ragged clothing and a ragged ship.

He often compared Harry to Peter, who was a man now, but had grown up with the crew, practically raised by Captain Yondu and Kraglin, who was the first mate on the Eclector, the flagship of Yondus clan. There was a certain fondness Harry detected in Kraglins voice when he spoke of both of them that endeared the man further to the boy. This, and the obvious attempts to make him laugh.

Laughter was a rare thing in the Temple. The children often were too tired, angry, hurt or afraid to do something as easy as laughing, even if it was not forbidden to express happiness. Harry himself wondered when it was that he laughed the last time or even snickered - a couple of months surely, when one of his older sisters had made a somewhat dark joke. He would have liked to smile for Kraglin, but he decided to play it safe, fearing that the Other was watching. So he replied with safe answers and was glad that Kraglin filled the silence with his charming chatter. It was nice, like a blanket for his frayed nerves, and he felt sad because it would soon be over. It was, after all, his last night on Esa. Tomorrow they would send him away, and then he would make his escape before his dubious 'rescue' the Other surely had planned came to get him.

Both his thoughts and Kraglins chatter ended rather abruptly. The lights had been switched off not even an hour ago when the sound of alarm sirens echoed through the police station. It was like the bandits' ship all over again, but this time Harry was even more afraid of the outcome. It couldn't be the Other, it really couldn't. He was in no danger to die here, or had Father ordered his people to bring him back to the Temple? He could hear Kraglin move between the thunderous sound of his fast beating heart. Maybe he should end it here. He couldn't go back. Couldn't try it again. All that was waiting for him at the Temple was a broken brother and suffering. Harry knew he was going into shock, hands cold and clammy and his breathing way too fast. Should he try to suffocate himself with his magic? Should he...

"...arry! Harry!" Kraglins voice sounded panicked, and that was what forced Harry out of his own thoughts. With huge eyes, he stared a couple of seconds at the man, who was, in turn, staring at the pale boy. "Don't you panic on me now! I need you to concentrate, yes? Get away from the cell door when they come in. They will get us out of 'ere."

The boy blinked a few times as he drew a blank. Kraglin knew? Was he one of Fathers people too, and his stories no more than lies, told to lure him in? Before he could open his mouth, however, the thick metal door was blasted open and Kraglin started to call out to someone. Instinctually Harry took some steps away from the barred door of his cell when two heavy-armed men walked into the cell tract.

"I'm here, go get this fucking door open!" Kraglin hurried back after his call, and not to soon - one of the men, with glossy, blue-green skin and huge, black eyes, pointed his gun at the cell door and shot repeatedly at the lock which simply melted away. It was then that Harry noticed the crest on the dark red leather jackets they both wore. It was the same crest that Kraglin had showed him, a stylised yellow flame above the left chest. After that, time seemed to hurry. Kraglin ran out of his cell, grabbed the gun from Fisheye and blasted Harry's door open without even explaining his mates the situation. "Come on!" The boy scrambled out, still dazed. He felt his hand being taken and himself being pulled towards the former door of the tract and out of the police station. Two M-ships were waiting, hovering above the street while even more red-clad Ravagers fought with police forces. At the moment, the Ravagers had the advantage of a surprise attack, but they were hurrying along - Harry knew that more forces would come soon, but the Ravagers were clearly not planning to stay long enough to let that happen. Already they were retreating back towards the ships who opened up their ramps in welcome. And before Harry could really even think about getting away, he was dragged up one of the ramps and into one of the M-ships.

"Shit, Krags, what's the runt doin' here?" The ramps closed. Harry could hardly feel the ship move, but he could see a small window, and behind it, the world flew away. Suddenly he could breathe again and looked up to his cellmate, who bristled up a bit when Fisheye started with the questions.

"Dunno why that's interesting for ya, Bikkers. Didn't want him to die is all." Fisheye made an irritated noise, eyeing the boy in a skeptical fashion. Other Ravagers did so too, but Harry himself was too busy with calming himself, eyes scrunched shot, to really notice.

"You okay, laddie?" Kraglins question is a soft whisper, as if not to alert his crewmates. Carefully, Harry shook his head, before leaning to his side. "You got a tech guy on your ships that knows his way around visual implants?" Kraglin seemed to be surprised by the counter question but confirmed this while pushing the boy into a seat a bit further away from the bulk of the seven Ravagers that were in the ship besides the two of them. "He might want to take a look at my eyes before I open them again."

"Shit, they monitor you?" He only got a nod out of that, before touching his own neck, where the spine met the skull. "And locator... of course, a locator too. The visor will be easy, but a spine locator will hurt like a bitch... Shit. Okay, I will sort this out, yes? Fuckin' cops."

~~~

November 22th, 2008
The Eclector

"You have what?"

"Well, couldn't have him get killed now, could I?"

"Well, maybe not, but why bring him with you?"

Sometimes, it was hard for Yondu to understand the somewhat simple mind of one Kraglin Obfonteri. Not that the guy was really stupid (though he would never say that aloud, or else Krags would get an overly large head), but he had a simple way of seeing the world. Especially when it came to kids. He had been the first to take a liking towards Peter after that whole Ego debacle. Maybe it would have been better had Yondu stamped that fondness out in the very beginning. "We don't pick up strays left, right and center, Kraglin. We ain't a toddlers care here. We are Ravagers! Peter was hard enough to handle, that dratted boy, and you want to what? Bring in another? Ya ain't a mother, Krags!"

"Never said I was gonna keep him, Captain. But at least get him out of there. Laddie killed some cop, don't ask me how that runt did it, but they wanted to bring him to some big ass court on Talladhir for it, and you know what that means. They even put visors and locators and shit in him! Sal is taking them out right now."

That had Yondu in a bind - he couldn't very well throw a kid out that was, right now, under Sals dubious care. "I don't know, Kraglin. Still fishy, I tell ya."

"You can question him. Promise, Captain, he ain't like Peter." Well, shit. He had hoped not to take one look at the boy before he had him thrown out, somewhere a good bit away from Esa and its wraith. But Kraglin always looked so earnest when he did his promises. He would rather die than tell anyone thought that he was a softie to the core. "Biggest green eyes you ever saw, boss. Bet he can handle every woman from here to Pluvian. Not the greatest talker, too." Fuck Kraglin and his earnest face, that little shithead was manipulating him! He bristled at that and threw a hateful glance towards his shit-eating first mate.

"Fine! But this is your problem from now on! And I will hear no whining when we get rid of him, ya hear me!"

~~~

November 22th, 2008
The Eclector

Kraglin was careful enough not to smile when he watched his captain engaged in a stare down with the rescued boy. Sal had done a thorough scan on him and found another hidden spine locator on his lower back that he removed with the one in the neck. Harry was now sitting upright on a small cot, eyeing the blue-skinned Centaurian with both interest and open distrust. Yondu was mainly oggling at the runt. After having seen the scans of all the implants the little guy had, he had stopped ranting and sulking, marching right into sickbay to take a look for himself.

The first mate silently congratulated himself. He knew quite well (like a few others of the crew and Peter, of course), that the foul-mouthed captain was a closet softie. He wouldn't ignore a prime example of an uncaring universe right in front of him. Whoever had sent the boy to kill the cop had done quite a job on his body.

"Thank you." It was said softly, but also cautious. Harry pointed at his own neck - only a bit of bandage indicated where he had been cut open just a couple of hours ago. "For getting rid of this. I have not much, but I can try to repay you before going?"

Kraglin watched Yondus shoulders stiffen and his face frown. "Oh, you will repay me, lad! And ol' Kraglin will help with that. Ain't you going anywhere before, ya hear?" It was thrown roughly at the boy who blinked in bewilderment but couldn't answer properly for Yondu has already turned around to make a hasty exit.

"What was that?" The boy sounded so confused that Kraglin simply couldn't snicker. "The captain said you can stay. Only he will blame us for it." He patted Harry's hand, taking a seat next to his cot. It told a rather sad tale that this short interaction seemed to rattle the boy more than the beatings on Esa. "Don't worry, I will show you the ropes, laddie."

~~~

November 22th, 2008
The Temple

His Master was livid with rage, and the Other knew that it was his own fault. The pain was both sweet and bitter, a constant reminder that despite his own considerable strength, the Titan would always be his better in all aspects that truly mattered. The Other was on his knees, his dark, viscous blood in a puddle beneath him and his Masters' voice ringing in his ears.

"He was precious to me. And you lost him the night before he was to return to me!" The Other didn't dare to move or even to breath, glad that he had no such strong need for the thin air like other servants of the Titan. He could feel the disappointment that his Master felt and bowed his head further in shame and regret. He had failed to check on the boy on that night, sure in his belief that the child would stay put until he was in space again. Fate mocked him with the loss of the child, one of the very few with a real grasp on magic, innate and inborn and with so much potential. Worse yet was the fact that both the visor and the locators had been destroyed, presumably when the colony had been attacked by other forces unknown to him. Already the Master thought his son dead, and if the Other was not careful enough, he would soon follow that fate.

"We still have a probe of his blood, Master. Not all is lost yet. We will screen every slave ship that crosses through the unmapped regions where we found him. I will find his cradle planet for you, I swear it." It was barely enough to ensure he was still alive after his Master punished him. So sweet, so bitter the taste of his own blood. And so, so earned.

~~~

November 28th, 2008
The Eclector

He could hardly sleep after they had taken his visor and locator out. In his idle time, between dodging an unpleasant lot of the Ravagers, exploring the Eclector and following Kraglin (and Yondu, for Kraglin was mostly with him), he would find himself rubbing and prodding the spots where the ships main techy, Sal, had pulled the spyware out. It was hard to sleep and let himself relax - the ship was still new and frightening to Harry, as well as the whole situation. True, he had planned to get away from the Temple, but he had envisioned himself on a smaller shuttle, getting rid of Esas escort and escaping from anything Father sent for his retrieval. He had envisioned himself dodging Fathers Chitauri until he made his way to some port, getting rid of the spyware by selling the shuttle. He was supposed to do this alone, for this to be so much harder and far riskier.

Instead, he had met Kraglin by chance, who had tried to sell dubious loot to the wrong person and got sacked for it. And Kraglin, for reasons unknown, had taken a liking to him (and wasn't that the weirdest part of it all!). So much indeed that the first mate simply took Harry with him when his crew came to the rescue.

And now he was here, practically free, and didn't quite know what to do. It was frightening and exciting and new.

~~~

December 14th, 2008
Iron Lotus, Contraxia

"Who's the imp?"

Life with the Ravagers had been... weird. Harry really couldn't say if he liked it or not, but it was so much better than the Temple that he had quickly chosen to stay for at least a little while longer. It would also mean to be close to Kraglin, to whom Harry attached himself. For some reasons, the captain, Yondu Udonta, disliked this budding friendship between his first mate and the boy he proclaimed he had saved. The man was seriously irritating.

The guy in front of him was neither Kraglin nor Yondu, though. Thankfully, he didn't look like the other Ravagers he had the misfortune to know. Most of the crew were stupid and dirty and vicious, and while Yondu was not the most pleasant man Harry had seen so far, he had a good grip on his men, which Harry appreciated. He had heard one too many times the threat of featuring the next meal from the crew members of the Eclector and wasn't sure how to handle it. Maybe he should follow Yondus jokes of killing the next foul mouth like he killed the cop. He wasn't sure how to feel about that, too - the captain clearly didn't believe his first mate when he had been told the reason for Harrys imprisonment.

"Shut it, Quill. This is Harry, and already loads better than you ever were." Speaking of the devil... Yondus hand landed heavily on Harrys left shoulder. The boy had to suppress a flinch before gradually relaxing again. His own background and his current location on a planet unknown to him (a planet mostly set up with shady bars and brothels) made him twitchy. He had to be careful - in his short time with the mercenaries, he had already destroyed a couple pieces of equipment when some stupid Ravager thought it funny to scare him. The lack of training from the Other made his magic feel itchy, eager to come out. It was one of the reasons he had agreed to come with Yondu and Kraglin when they talked about spending some time on solid ground - here he was free to let some of his magic loose, making things float or invisible without paying too much attention to the love bots and drunken customers around him. Kraglin had brought him here after a couple of hours, in one of the more friendly bars (which, really, didn't mean much here), to meet with the fabled Peter Quill.

Harry wasn't impressed.

"You were right, Yondu. He isn't very impressive", he declared, tilting his head in thought. Peter actually reminded him a bit of one of his brothers, with his light brown hair and muddy-green eyes. He looked like a cheeky one - he had seen some of that kind back on Esa, when he had stalked Dalmer. Nice enough, but Kraglin had made him always look like more in his stories. Must have exaggerated then. At least it was funny how he started to splutter and bicker with Yondu.

~~~

December 14th, 2008
The Temple

"Have you heard?"
"Heard what?"
"They say Harry's dead. They sent him to Esa and he was caught up in some kind of fight."
"Huh."

The two teenagers continued their walk. They never noticed the pair of electric-blue eyes staring after them in growing despair.

Chapter Text

August 20th, 2014
The Eclector

He should have known better than going away for such a long time, despite the good payment the job had brought him (even after Yondu, great pain that he was, took most of it). Being quite literally on the other side of the galaxy, Harry had heard of the rumours about the Guardians more than a standard week after the whole shebang happened, cruising along the Peredian Nebula with a couple of other crew members to find a stolen artefact and the head of the thief. Luckily he was already on his way home, though the planned vacation on Lem, cradle planet of the same named race, had to be cancelled. Because of course that stupid title 'Star-Lord' came up, and as the groups' leader no less. Guardians of the Galaxy Harrys arse.

So it was quite understandable for the young man to arrive at the Eclector, proud flagship of Yondus Ravager clan, in a rather foul mood. Those members old enough to remember the young, serious boy Kraglin had brought onto the ship some six years ago, took a moment to mourn their leaders' decision to take on the role as foster parent. Other crew members simply stood aside, vividly remembering every time someone thought to mock the pretty boy only to get his arse handed to him. Not that anyone had taken notice of the fighting abilities of the boy any time soon, what with Kraglin and the captain watching the crew members like hawks, making sure that any attempts at seriously harming the boy were smothered right at the beginning. Around two months after Harry's arrival, however, someone thought it funny to threaten the boy in an attempt to frighten him. The unfortunate Jovian succeeded, rattling the youngling bad enough to cause him to use his inner magic, sending the man to the floor only half his size. After his initial shock, the boy had used the opportunity right in front of him and swiftly beaten the now smaller attacker right into the sickbay, where he had to wait for several hours until the bit of accidental magic dissolved completely, making it possible to take care of his wounds. His dignity however never really recovered from it. They still called him Dwarf instead of Big Jim, his hitherto moniker.

The realisation that they now had a potent magic user on the ship not only did wonders to Harry's reputation and value but surprised both Kraglin and Yondu. While the occasional sorcerer was known here and there, who had learned multidimensional energy manipulation, or Eldritch Magic, natural magic users were quite a rarity even in space. There were a lot of theories about the origins of those born mages which contradicted each other more often than not, but most people agreed on the fact that those born with the 'gift' all came from planets with a magical core, the known of those fantastically rare and insanely secure. For an abductee to come from one of those planets was nearly never heard of. And said abductee was right among uncouth mercenaries. Sadly, Harry still didn't know where he came from, and because most pre-contact planets were named after some variation of Dirt or Home, no one was any wiser after him providing the name he knew.

That said, nowadays Harry was even without his magic a formidable fighter, and a dirty one, having learned not only in the Temple, but later also from both Yondu and Peter who knew no shame when it came to the sacred art of fistfights.

It came to no surprise then that the once smallish boy had grown into a well-formed young man. He wore his black, unruly hair cut short, just shy of being a buzz cut, putting on display his strong jaw, high cheekbones, bottle-green eyes and the jagged, lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Despite the lingering gangliness of youth his continued physical training showed in his muscled body which was clad in the typical Ravager fashion - sturdy leather, with the trousers a dark, dirty grey and the jacket the colour of slightly dried, human blood. Proudly displayed on his chest was the yellowish flame of the Ravager syndicate. He knew very well of their status as exiled, but it still got him into places. It was also the crest those precious few crew members he considered friends and family wore, which put the symbol into Harrys favour.

"Why the fuck is everybody and their grandma talking about Peter being some kind of saviour of Xandar?" was his loving greeting when he reached the bridge. He heard a few people snicker but ignored them, concentrating solely on the blue-skinned Centaurian who lounged on his captain seat, playing with an ugly little doll that Harry was sure belonged to Peter, his quite idiotic brother in all but blood.

"Harry! Of course, I'm doing great, thanks for asking!" The reply was no surprise, nor the heavy sarcasm in Yondus voice when he turned around in his seat, waving with the ugly thing. Harry snorted and moved closer to the man. Immediately said mans hand came up and made grabbing motions. The mage rolled his eyes, but gave in and slapped a chip into the hand. "Greedy bastard. Now tell me." There was some lingering fondness in his voice, mixed with unhidden annoyance that made Yondu laugh.

"Sure thing. You remember the deal we had with Broker? Fuckin' Quill got to the orb and made to sell it for himself, but got into loads of trouble while at it. Little shit was caught and made some interesting friends, all the while painting a target the size of a star on his back. Long story short, that orb was some kind of weapon and that Kree pisser Ronan got his hands on it. Attacked Xandar immediately, of course, and Quill got nothing else to do than try and stop him."

For a long moment, Harry could not help himself and stared at Yondu, who was interestingly enough looking quite smug, if not proud. Not that many of the other Ravagers shared that feeling, and Harry could guess why. "Is that the reason why we are missing a third of the M's and a good lot of men?", he asked, rubbing the bridge of his nose and sinking into a seat next to the Centaurian who was busying himself with checking the number of units on the chip Harry had given him.

"'course. Quill couldn't find his own arse with a map and both hands, and I wanted that orb back badly."

"So you sold it?"

The small shift in Yondus posture told Harry all he needed to know and he groaned. "I swear, you are the worst. Both of you. I don't even know why I'm still here, parting with fucking seventy-five per cent of my haul. Am I the only one to actually bring some units back?" The captain narrowed his eyes in a familiar fashion. Peter had the same look when he was about to spout nonsense.

"Don't you talk to me like that, ya hear me? I could have thrown you out all the time, or sell you to the highest bidder, but out of the gracious of my heart I took you in after saving your sorry arse! Show some respect, runt!" It was the same speech he always made when Harry started to talk back to him, which happened quite often. It was the same bickering Yondu did with Peter, with played anger and a lot of exasperated fondness. And like always, Harry was completely and utterly unimpressed - ever since he had heard a similar speech delivered to a drunk 'Star-Lord', he had recognized the words for the token of affection that they were.

"Bullshit. You kept me because you knew that I would have fried your ship had you tried to sell me. Don't even deny that you fear my might as much as you love me, you stupid prig", the young man called him out in his usual manner, feeling his temper about Peters insanity dropping already. Instead his frown he gave the captain a cheeky grin before he pulled out a small token out of his pocket. "And I bring you souvenirs, unlike Mister 'Star-Lord'."

~~~

A snippet from the past (Five and a half years ago)
The Eclector

There had been many fights between himself and his crew when it came to the boy, too, especially after it was clear that he was a mage. Some wanted to kill him, fearing what a kid with unknown powers might be up to. Others wanted to sell him away - the Collector himself paid a high price for a magical specimen, they said. Most of them accused Yondu to be too soft. He had already brought Quill into the fold, and there should be no reason to again raise a kid on the Eclector of all places. Despite all this, Yondu enforced his will, often through sheer volume, but sometimes with his trusty arrow. He knew very well what kind of thugs he had onboard, and that he had to show strength to get them to obey him. It helped that the boy in question was not the useless lump his men accused him of being - someone had trained him well enough to take care of himself. He also knew how to fight well for his age.

It was, to be honest, all kinds of worrying how well the boy could hold himself against a single adult.

Once or twice, he had talked with Kraglin about it. His first mate would always retell him how he had met the boy, and for what crime Harry had been in jail, and over the time Yondu started to believe that the kid had killed a fucking Chief Deputy. Not that Harry would have had that many chances in a fair fight, mind you, but the worlds outside the Core planets were rarely fair at all. No, it had been an assassination, swift and surprising for the poor chap, and someone had trained Harry to do this. And from early on, too, judging the smooth movements of the boy and his good handle on close-combat weapons.

Combat was one of the few things Yondu could use to get Harry interested in him, and so the captain shamelessly used his considerable skill with long-range weapons. He would never say it out loud, but the times when Peter was still a kid, still eager to learn from the Centaurian, where the times he missed the most. Nowadays Peter was too busy playing adult with his first own M-ship, taking on as many odd jobs as he could to get away from the Eclector and explore the galaxy on his own. Thankfully he had Harry now to concentrate on and part his wisdom to, even if the boy failed to be too impressed by the foul-mouthed man. Thank the gods that he knew the magic words no lad could resist, otherwise he would never see even a hair of the boy with the way Kraglin and (if he as there) Peter hogged him. It grated on Yondu greatly that most of the boys' affection was still reserved for Kraglin, despite being on the ship for half a year now. Case in point was a couple of little baubles Harry formed out of pieces and bits of metal and glass, scavenged on the ship and using both his magic and his clever little hands and which he gave to Kraglin every time the idiot came back from a job to the Eclector.

"Go get ready, runt. I'm gonna take ya down for some shooting practice."

With the Eclector in orbit of a relatively small, uninhabited planet, the crew had many opportunities for shore leave, and most used this chance to go on a hunting trip or to practice their weapons on the helpless fauna and flora. Aureon-S-34 was one of many 'wild' planets that lacked any of the more interesting resources for the galaxy to take notice of it. A couple hours later the captain and his charge had left a good chunk of the small, sturdy trees with smoking holes of different sizes in their trunks, and some spots of the musky ground had been torn open by grenades. Yondu was taking a break, watching Harry making stuff float. He often did this when they were off the ship, with both smallish hands up in the air, moving left and right and in circles and burnt chunks of wood following his every movement, face scrunched up in concentration.

He was never really sure what to think of this magic thing. It wasn't anything he had ever seen from Krugarr, the Lem sorcerer from his previous clan. There, every spell was made from burning lines in the air, meticulously drawn. Here he could see nothing but the movement itself. Which the boy only needed if he wanted to make more than one thing float.

"Did they take you because you're a mage?"

He watched the boy flinching a bit, and all but one pieces fell back to the floor with a dull thud. He had a few theories - it's different than with Peter. There he had taken the boy, but the loss of his mother had made it easier to connect with him. Harry was not quite broken, but he had come close to it and that always left its marks. Yondu was not there when Kraglin bonded with the boy and won his trust. The short trips helped a bit, but he wasn't the most patient man. When Harry didn't answer, the captain put away the flask from which he had been drinking and sat up from his lazy position against one of the trees.

"I was a Kree slave when I was a kid. Got treated pretty shitty, but that's what they did back then. I was a bit older than you when someone came to save my sorry arse. Haven't left the Ravagers since, even when I got exiled." Bottle-green eyes moved to look at him, and the last piece of wood landed, albeit far more gentle than his counterparts. He seemed to hesitate a bit, watching Yondu for a long while before looking away again.

"They kept me for my magic. I thought I would die, but they thought me useful." There was this sceptic look again, paired with rigidly crossed arms. "Am I useful to you?"

It pained the soft part of Yondus heart, like it always did when he saw children in situations they had no rights to be in. He still smiled, showing his sharp, crooked teeth and barked out a laugh. "Useful? Fuckin' hell no! Ya eat like an adult without working like one." His answer lacked the sharpness he shows to Peter when they indulge in banter. He did throw the closed flask to Harry all the same though. "Let's see how useful you are when you've grown a bit, half-pint." There was confusion on the little mages face, who had caught the flask with his hands, but then it smoothed out and he gave a tentative smile back. That vanished rather quickly when he took a sip from the alcohol Yondu had given him, making him cough and wheeze while the captain dissolved in raucous laughter.

Later Yondu went out for a week, leaving the Eclector to his first mate while earning some money. When he got back, there was a shiny little bauble waiting for him.

~~~

August 20th, 2014
The Eclector

He was toying with the little, shiny trinket that Harry had brought him this time. It became a tradition of sorts, slightly changed since the young mage had started to work with them, too. Nowadays, whoever was out for a job would bring some kind of souvenir for the others - Harry preferred to work on whatever pretty material he got his hands on, forming small baubles with the help of his magic which he gifted freely to both Yondu and Kraglin, and sometimes to Peter, too. The Centaurian had a whole shelf in his quarters full of these things. The young man lounging on the chair next to him was still pondering about the stupidity his brother displayed on a regular basis, and how he had somehow managed to get known throughout xandarian governed space as a hero.

"He could have chosen any other name. And now it's too damn late. Star-Lord. Who the fuck calls himself Star-Lord?"

"Because Warlock is so much better?"

He guffawed when Harry stretched his body to kick Yondus shin, flipping him off. "What about those friends of him that he made through the whole stint? You have met them, you said?" The young man crossed his ankles and tilted his head in a curious manner. There was still a hint of annoyance in his voice, though. For a moment, Yondu wondered what the boy would have done had he been there during the mess. Probably helped Quill before kicking him in the balls.

"Just as messed up as Peter, I swear. There was this Drax guy, stupid as they come but ridiculously strong, and some rodent named Rocket. He was actually not as bad. Then there was this tree, but he got blown up or something when Ronan's ship crashed, and this green chick named Gamora, feisty girl that..." Harry gasped at that point, sitting up straight, causing his sturdy boots to scrape over the metal floor of the bridge. Yondu narrowed his eyes a bit when he saw how pale he had become.

"Did you say Gamora? Green skin, red hair, black eyes?" Yes, the boy definitely knew her. Yondu cocked his head to the side when he remembered some rumours he had heard about her. Then his eyes widened and he sat up to, casting a glance around.

"Yes. It's that Gamora, isn't it?"

He hadn't remembered back when he had met the girl, but with Harry's reaction it was clear that she was the same one from the boys vague stories. Almost two years ago, he had approached Yondu to talk about his childhood - really talk, not just hinting at things. Of course Kraglin had already known most of the stuff back then, but he understood why Harry wanted to play safe with the captain of a Ravager clan. At first he had had a hard time believing the boy. His time at the place he called the Temple, the training and the things he had to do...

The Titan was somewhat of a fairy tale gone wrong in most parts of this galaxy. Though most historians treated his name as a common fact, he lived just far enough outside of the Core and the Edge that he is believed to be a front for some other kind of organisation, dealing mostly with assassinations and terrorists. The Black Order was well known, of course - a group of overpowered individuals, reigning war on whole planets, talking about their Master and Father as if he was a god. Thanos Children, on the other hand, were more obscure. Right now, only a handful of assassins were known under that name, and Gamora was one of them, also known as the deadliest woman as she was not only a skilled assassin, but also a formidable fighter.

After Harry had told him nearly everything (for he could tell there were still a few things unsaid), Yondu had sat there for a while. It had been a difficult decision to make - keep Harry, and he would have to deal with people who were known to be absolutely deadly. Throw him out, and he would never forgive himself.

Looking back at the pale young man, he couldn't quite bring himself to regret his decision. More than twenty years ago he couldn't bring himself to hand out Peter, and two years ago he made the same call with Harry. It was his soft heart, wanting to keep both his boys safe. "You look like a fish out of water. Go get yourself something to drink, laddie - I happen to know that Krags is in the mess hall right now." He hoped that his first mate would be able to calm the boy down before he fried his ship. Watching Harry walking away, still slightly shaken, he shook his head, quietly cursing his oldest, because of course out of all the galaxies people, Peter would find someone linked to Harrys not so rosy past.

Chapter Text

January 12th, 2015
Sokovia, Europe, Earth

The room was located underground, as was a big part of the facility. It was brightly lit and comfortable enough for the two people living here for the last year. They were both young adults, one man and one woman, similar in both age and looks and yet with striking differences. The woman had long, curly brown hair and dark grey eyes that sometimes flashed in an ominous red. The man had silver hair and a short beard, and his eyes were of a lighter grey with a silver edge.

"Are you ready?"

Wanda Maximoff looked up into her brothers - Pietro's - eyes. They sat in the middle of the room on the tiled floor, their hands intertwined between them. She nods, watching the silver in her brother's eyes with a worried frown before her own eyes changed their colour, concentration chasing the worry away. She felt herself falling into the depths of his mind, scarlet streaks dancing from her fingertips and curling around his wrists. Deeper and deeper, watching well-known memories and thoughts and fears racing each other in his head, and she gently took hold of them, slowing them down, prying the fears away until they were not as prominent anymore.

It took some time, this practice of theirs. It helped, but it was always unclear (and really not important) who helped whom the most. The silver edge in Pietro's eyes slowly melted away and it both relieved her and broke her heart. His hands clenched around her fingers when she let go of his mind. It had taken only half an hour this time, and she smiled about that. "How does it feel?" Her voice was soft as she stroked his hands that had stopped shaking a couple minutes ago.

"Like everything is normal again," he said. His thumb brushed over her wrist, anchoring. "Thank you." They smiled slightly, hands tight around one another's hands. She could do it, She had no other choice - it was, after all, for Pietro. She would keep him here with her, no matter what was to come.

~~~

February 3rd, 2015
The Milano

The lights were dimmed on the small bridge of the Milano. His crewmates, his friends, were already asleep in their respective quarters, so the music he listened to (Moonage Daydream by David Bowie) played quietly in the background instead of the loud holler he prefered and which sometimes made it difficult to understand each other. In front of him, just behind the reinforced transparent aluminium plates, was the endless universe like an explosion of vibrant colours, bright stars and velvet black. He had never been too much of an artistic soul himself, but this he loved dearly about his life in space. Everywhere you looked was beauty and life and adventure. And money, too.

A small beeping noise caught his intention, and with a smile he touched the screen left from him after the caller had been identified. In front of him a bigger screen flickered on, showing another person who was dear to him but currently not on the Milano.

"Hey, imp."

Harrys scowl, three times the usual size and in high definition, was a sight to behold. Despite the lack of crooked teeth, red eyes, blue skin and general ugliness, the young man looked just like Yondu when he did that. "Fuck you, Quill. No presents for Star-Lords." Peters smile grew into a full grin and he winked at the boy, lounging back into his seat and propping up his feet onto the consoles.

"You would have to actually meet up with me to bring me any presents, short stuff. How's it going?"

"As usual, though money is a bit hard to come by nowadays. You ruined our stellar reputation." It was delivered with a wink and a not-so-serious voice, so Peter was relatively sure that Harry joked. The first couple of months after Ronan and the Orb had been rather awkward between the two men - Harry had been upset with him, especially when it became clear that Peter would not come back or even so much as talk to anyone besides the mage. Funny enough, the young man vehemently refused to do the same with his teammates, which in turn had angered Peter. The few calls between them had involved a lot of shouting and Harry cutting off the video feed the moment someone else would enter the bridge, so that only his scathing remarks had been heard.

It had taken both of them time to calm down afterwards. Harry had taken to call him whenever he was out of the Eclector, doing a job. He was working hard now, to get his own ship (and that was so unfair, Peter only got his ship when he was close to thirty!). The young man also became more lax when it came to avoiding his teammates - with the very obvious exception of Gamora. Peter wasn't sure how the mage did this - twice already, Rocket had managed to crash a call, joining their conversation. Drax too had the chance to greet Peters brother in all but blood, but wasn't too interested in the end. Groot had a sixth sense, really - five times the little guy ran into a call when he was supposed to sleep. Since he had outgrown his pot he had enjoyed his independent mobility a bit too much.

Gamora however never managed to catch Peter and Harry. And she was trying, Peter knew. It drove her mad, which was kind of hilarious - one of the reasons Peter did as Harry had asked him and deleted his ID after every call, just to make it harder for Gamora to investigate the mysterious Ravager brother everyone was talking about. It wasn't even very important stuff they would discuss. It was always a how do you do first, an exchange of what had happened since the last call, funny stories worth telling the other, curious rumours they had heard, mixed deliberately with little quips and fond insults after the anger and frustration had been cleared. The only thing that still hung between them (not that Peter would mention it again, not yet anyway) was Gamora. It really vexed him, because she was also the reason why he had yet to make Harry visit him.

"Come on, imp. I know you want it. I know it. It's awesome here, and the guys want to meet you too." He knew his voice sounded whiny, but if that was what it took to make Harry say yes, then he would do it. His pride was flexible like that. It was all for nothing though, as Harry was shaking his head as usual.

"One day you really ought to tell me what it is about Gamora that has you running. She's lovely, Harry. In a really deadly way, but lovely." A snort was at first the only answer he got, paired with a roll of bottle-green eyes.

"Every person with tits is lovely for you, Quill, that's no argument. And sure that she can be really nice, but it's personal. You know her background." Of course he knew. It has never been a secret that Gamora had been part of these Children of Thanos group. He had even seen one of her 'sisters', Nebula. Peter shook his head and cleared his throat.

"She won't kill you. I mean, she hadn't killed me yet, right?" He smiled winningly at an unimpressed looking Harry. "And if I was to visit you? Not on the Eclector", he hurried to add. He had seen the eager look on his brothers face. Just like Peter, Harry was always trying to bait him back to the flagship, promising to blackmail Yondu into not only allowing this, but also not to kill Peter. "Just me and you, somewhere neutral, and a few drinks. I miss you, you know?"

Something changed on Harry's face, and Peter got the impression that his words had hit home for the mage. The young man shifted a bit in his position, before he leaned forward, eyes wide open. "And the others? Don't you miss the Ravagers, too?" Peter faltered for a moment. Harry's eyes had always been a mystery for him - they looked real enough, but how implants could convey thoughts and emotions so good, he would never know. It made him feel that there was more to this question than he could perceive. He wouldn't be able to lie to Harry.

"Just the family."

It was the right thing to say. Harry smiled and the sight made Peter grin in response. "It's a date then, Quill. Oh, you are paying, by the way."

"Hell no!"

~~~

April 17th, 2015
The Downfall

"...and then he basically jumped the guy and punched him square in the face. He then got beaten by the friends of the dude, so I had to help him a bit. It got only worse from there, because some drunken bastards thought it funny to join in. And Peter was horrible, I tried to pull him out but he wanted to 'finish' it. Can't go out for a drink, that one. Oh, but he sends his regards. He won't remember probably, but he was so drunk that he spilt some beans."

Kraglin laughed and tried to lean forward. He and Harry were sitting in the small bridge of a M-ship - a gift from Yondu. Well, mostly a gift. Turned out that the captain had saved a bit from each job Harry had done to get him his ship a bit early. The boy still had to pay a huge chunk himself, but the ship was as good as new, with sharp paintings in a bright yellow and a deep turquoise. The inside was still a bit bare (Harry was poor enough as it was after buying the ship and had to save up some units for custom leather seats and interior), but it was nice enough. Kraglin could see how proud Harry was to own the 'Downfall'. Most Ravagers were when they got their own ship. Harry was a proper adult now. "Don't be a tease, laddie, what did he say?"

"That he really misses us both, but mostly the old man." Harry's smile was sharp and full of mirth and both took their time to snicker. While most of their crewmates were still furious about Quills 'treachery', they knew exactly that the Centaurian was not nearly as put out as he looked. Yondu was very fond of those he considered family, the big softie, and Kraglin knew that the captain would be insufferable when Harry, too, would flee the nest.

"Nothing I didn't know before. Tho', hearing it out of his mouth must've had been nice." He shook his head while typing in some coordinates into the system. They had somewhat of a journey ahead of them. Some people to catch, some bounties to earn. Yondu wanted to go back to the Iron Lotus, but Harry was loathe to visit that planet again, and Kraglin didn't feel like it, so they had opted out of the visit. "Who would you miss the most?", Kraglin suddenly wanted to know and he squinted slyly towards the young man next to him, who snorted.

"Gee, Krags, no worries. I was always a mamas boy, Yondu has no chance." His laughter didn't stop when Kraglin slapped his head.

~~~

April 23th, 2015
Sokovia, Europe, Earth

The moment the bullets hit Pietro, Wanda knew. It was like a light flickering inside of her which had, until now, always been bright and warm and steady. She hesitated, bewildered and frightened, but then the light, small now and vulnerable, flickered again and she knew something is wrong, wrong, wrong. She began to run, following the suddenly brittle connection she shared with her brother, until she skittered around the edge of a building and saw his silver hair and his prone body, tinted with red. Barton kneeled beside him, holding a little boy in one arm and trying to stem the flow of the blood that exited Pietro's chest.

She felt like she had been the one getting shot, with too little air in her lungs, hands balled into tight fists. The Red surged forward, eager to come out and play, and she let go of it, already searching for the one who had hurt the only person she had left in the world. It has always been just Pietro and her - back when her family got killed in a war she had nothing to do with, later when Hydra had them in their clutches and they had been given their new powers. She couldn't remember how often she had been in Pietro's head, both for her own practice and to ground him in a world that moved to slow for him ever since he first ran at speeds that seemed so impossible. He was her anchor when she thought she would get lost in the Red, and she was his anchor, slowing him down until he could bear living again. She would not lose him today and whoever had tried to take him would die.

It was almost easy, destroying Ultron's main body. She wanted to destroy all of him, but she was far too aware of Pietros flickering light. This, the others had to finish. She was needed at her brother's side, whose wounds had been dressed as well as the archer had been able to. Not too much time has gone by, and she was there when Barton tried to carry his brother towards the waiting Helicarrier. "Don't," she said. To his credit the archer seemed to understand, letting go of Pietro to focus on the boy. The Red's anger had been spent on Ultron and now it was gentle, calm, and carried her brother to the safety of the sickbay of SHIELD's Helicarrier. She knew that, outside, her hometown was rising higher and higher, that there was still a fight going on, but she couldn't bring herself to stop. He was her brother. She had to see to it he got the help he needed before she could go back outside.

When it was over and Ultron dead (always, always reaching out for the trembling connection that had always been so strong and now was so fickle), Wanda went back to the sickbay. She sat in front of the operating room on one of the uncomfortable benches and waited, her whole body rigid. It felt like hours until the light finally stabilised, slowly growing stronger again. It was then the first tears started to fall, the first choking cries gripping her hands as tightly as she would her brother's in relief. Pietro would live. They would not lose each other. She would not lose herself.

When Vision came and offered to stay until she could go in and see Pietro, she hesitated before accepting. She didn't quite know what would happen next - for such a long time, she had thrown herself into the hatred and desire for vengeance, Pietro right beside her. It had been the only way to survive.

But now.... vengeance meant less, now. Tony Stark knew his errors. She had made her own. Pietro - her brother - had almost been torn from her. But this was a start, with her brother alive and she not alone.

It was better than any revenge she could get.

~~~

April 27th, 2015
The Eclector

"I got it. Let's hurry."

He would never let any of his family members out of his eyes, Harry thought idly while making his way from the captains quarters towards the cell block. On his shoulder sat, of all people, Groot, clad in a tiny Ravagers overall. They had found him in front of the quarters, trying to steal Yondus new fin.

Not only had there been a mutiny led by no other than fucking Taserface, it had been successful no less. And now everyone was dead. Fisheye, ol' Dunken, even that stupid fuck Dwarfy. Nearly half the crew had been killed, thrown out of the Eclector. A light bulb exploded next to him, making Kraglin flinch a bit.

"Won't help no one when you fry the ship before we make it, laddie", he hissed and Harry tried to relax a bit. He had toyed around with his magic during his trip with Kraglin, so he was not too much on edge. But anger and fright and frustration still made it risky for him to be on a ship. Especially light fixtures and terminals tended to break when that happened.

They made it quickly back to the cells. Groot hopped down from Harry's shoulder, eager to get back to, of course, Rocket. Who sat in the same cell as Yondu. Because the mutineers were fucking idiots and they still succeeded, because he had been away. "I will scream at you all when this is all over", he declared. Yondu oggled at him, then at Kraglin. The first mate had his plasma rifle in his hands. Harry himself had a pistol on him, but also his trusty spear unit and blood splatter running up his left arm. When Krags and he had arrived, they had been noticed by a few and hoped that the bodies had not been found by now.

"That's nice and all, but the important question is if you have copies of Quills music?" Three pairs of eyes settled on the rodent of the group who was already fiddling with the fin Harry had squeezed through the bars.

Not half an hour later, still jamming to 'Come a Little Bit Closer' on repeat, they were all watching the remnants of the Eclector exploding to smithereens. Only the Quadrant was left, piloted by Yondu, Rocket and Kraglin. For some reasons, Groot had clung to Harry when the young man hurried to the Downfall to save at least his own M-ship. "Fuckin' Taserface", he could hear Yondus voice through the comms. "Most of me trinkets were still in the quarters. I would kill him again alone for that."

Harry couldn't help himself and snorted. "I can always make new ones. A whole mountain of trinkets."

"Deal."

~~~

April 30th, 2015
Ego

Gamora glanced at the young man beside her. A sleek helmet that covered his head and eyes with dark metal and shadowed glass only let her see his strong jaw and the slightly chapped lips, but she knew who he was. Rocket had already told her that this was the famous Harry, with whom Peter not only chattered on a regular basis, but who had also met up with her captain. And grew up, from some of the stories Peter had told his friends, before Harry decided to become a secret that she was not privy to. The helmet grated on her - the moment Rocket had called out to her the young man had put the helmet on as if to hide his face. He had looked quite shaken at first seeing her, but a lot of people still reacted this way. She had killed too many in Father's name, and as far as she knew, he too was an orphan.

"So, how are we gonna blow this thing up then?" They were all seated inside the laser drill unit of the Quadrant, everything that had remained from the once proud Eclector. It was a rather tight fit, with Peter and Yondu at the flight console and the others cramped behind them. After Rocket, Groot, Harry and Yondu had crashed into the palace just in time to rescue Peter and the other Guardians from Egos wrath, they had quickly descended into the heart of the planet, where Egos brain rested. The mining lasers currently focussed on the hard rocks of the core however where clearly not strong enough to put more than a few scratches on it. Harry leant forward, his arms playfully thrown around Yondu's shoulders, and peered onto the target - or at least Gamora thought he did that. The tinted glass pane of his helmet didn't allow to look too closely at his eyes or other features.

"Rocket, you still got these Anulax Batteries you nicked from the Sovereigns?" Peters' voice sounded... almost happy, despite what had happened just a couple of minutes before in the palace. It might have been the talk he had with Yondu, and which everyone besides the two pretended had never happened, but Gamora bet that the presence of his brother also played a big part in his current mood. Egos part in his mothers' death had been a hard pill to swallow, but she was glad that those Ravagers soothed the pain somewhat for her captain and denied any kind of jealousy she felt. Again her eyes fell onto the mysterious Harry, who was now talking shop with Rocket who showed him the batteries. He had been careful, when they had piled into the drill unit, not to stand too close to her or Nebula, but when he was forced to speak directly to either of the women, there was no hatred or obvious fear in his voice.

Which meant she still couldn't decide why he never showed his face in front of her when he had done so with all the other Guardians.

Her thoughts were disrupted when a voice came from the comm. "Boss, Sovereigns incoming!" The voice (another Ravager, who had stayed at the Quadrant) barely finished his warning when the drone fleet descended onto them, already locked onto their target. Chaos broke out, but through the shouting and movement of bodies Gamora saw Peter climbing out of his seat just when one of the heavier shots hit the scuttle of the small ship, blasting away the hinges. When Peter jumped out, his blasters in his hands and the helmet arranging around his face, she didn't hesitate but jumped after him.

Down on the rough surface of the jagged rocks around the core she could see that most of the group had followed Peter, who was already shooting back at the golden drones with Harry on his side. Rocket and Groot were hurrying towards the core, and Drax and Mantis, the young empathic woman who had until recently lived and worked for Ego, where taking shelter, with Mantis trying to sooth the planets wrath. Her main focus, however, was on Peter and his brother and the way they fought together. Peter was obviously the better shooter, and had, with his rocket boots, more mobility than his brother. Harry seemed more inclined to Melee, but bound to the ground there was not much to do against the drones. Instead, he decided to shield Peter, following him swiftly and occasionally pointing his palms at the firing drones. She was too far away to make out what kind of weapon he used to produce these shockwaves, but it proved to be effective against the Sovereigns.

It was when Gamora tried to make her way towards them that she saw a couple of drones turning around to shoot the two from behind. Where before the Zehoberei had tried to carefully avoid the many, many shots the Sovereign where peppering them in, she now started to run straight towards her goal, screaming a warning and hoping that her voice would be heard. And then there was light and a blast that threw her off her feet when hundreds of small lasers focussed onto the drones and overloaded. And with them, the drill unit.

Everything happened so fast afterwards. She saw Nebula landing somewhere above and Yondu more slowly to where Peter and Harry where, gripping hard on his weapon of choice, his famous arrow. But she also saw Drax clinging to Mantis, who had been thrown around so hard that she was bleeding now. Rocket and Groot were nowhere to be seen, and while the golden drones of the Sovereigns dropped dead like flies, the planet itself awoke from the slumber Mantis had put it in, a mass of pure, terrible energy screaming in rage and betrayal.

Somehow, they got out of that nightmare cave, towards where the Quadrant was waiting for them. She almost stayed behind, to help Peter, but the man had told her to go. More so, he had told Harry to force her if necessary. His brother had been so rigid as if he was fighting his own urge to stay, but complied. They made it just in time, the ground already crumbling beneath them when the ship took off.

"Where the fuck is Yondu?"

~~~

April 30th, 2015
The Quadrant

"Harry, don't!" If it hadn't been Kraglin holding him back when he was just about to jump off the ship and back onto the collapsing planet, he would have lashed out. Even now he was clinging onto the edge of the still open bay port, watching the explosions and giant shockwaves wreaking havoc through the yellowish tint of the energy field that protected the atmosphere of the cargo bay, leaning forward as far as he could with the restraining hands on his shoulders. His gaze was fixed onto the spot where just a minute ago there had been the opening to Egos core. Where Yondu and Peter should have been coming out, like they promised.

"Yondu! Yondu! Peter!" His screams were hoarse in his panic, his heart beating too fast. He ripped off his helmet, uncaring of who would see his bottle-green eyes or his short black hair or his jagged scar on his forehead. There were other voices in the background, but they were not important right now. Nothing was except the hands on his shoulders and his remaining family dying right below him. His magic acted up, but he didn't react to the scared screams when light bulbs exploded and wires started to smoke - he hastily took the swirling, raging energy inside of him and pulled as hard as he could between his erratic breaths. It hurt badly it was so heavy. Kraglins hands grounded him, but it still hurt so, so much, and yet he pulled again, harder this time. A deep, burning ache filled his body and for a moment, everything went dark for him. Then there was a deafening crack ringing through the air of the cargo bay, and the ache dwindled down into a hurt so small it could be ignored. And ignoring it was what he did, because there was the sound of two bodies landing harshly onto the floor of the bay right behind him.

"Fuck", he said, in chorus with Kraglin. And then he was right next to them, Yondu hardly breathing at all and Peter crying and panicking but alive and healthy. He didn't notice the way that the other Guardians looked at him in obvious shock and fear, or how Nebula perched up, black gaze calculating. The only thing he did was clinging onto the man who had raised him after he had been almost broken, chanting his pleads for Yondu to survive, to please breath, to not die and feeling Peter doing just the same right next to him and Kraglin shouting at Rocket to go get the emergency med pack asap.

He didn't notice a lot of things in the next hours. Only the warmth of Peter beside him, the slightly shaking hand of Kraglin on his shoulder, and the steady breathing of a man he would never call his father, but wished with all his heart that he could one day. Alive. They were all alive.

His sisters questions could wait until tomorrow.

Chapter Text

May 1st, 2015
Sickbay, The Quadrant

He woke up to the soft humming of a ship in motion and the feeling of a hard mattress under his aching body. Filtered air, heavy with the scent of sweat and burn hair, filled his lungs. For a moment he was back above that thrice-damned planet, cradling Peters face between his hands and knowing that both his boys would live, yet sure that he wouldn't.

He had been wrong.

Eyes closed for a second, he was taking in a deep breath to get a feel for his body. He was in the sickbay of what was left of his ship. Had they reached them in time? A damn risky thing to do, coming back into the danger zone of an imploding planet just to save his hide. Yet he was here, and for that, Yondu felt thankful. A sound of rustling clothing made him look to his left and the Centaurian had to bite back a snort. Lying on the dirty floor, limbs haphazardly entangled, were his boys. A few blankets had been thrown on the floor, though Harry had been smart enough to use his brother as an additional mattress, his face pressed into the nook of Peters neck.

"Idiots", he croaked fondly, leaning back again into his own pillow.

"I couldn't agree more." The voice was not unknown, but neither was it overly familiar. Female, smooth, a bit tired. It lacked the singular anger of the blue chick, and when he looked to his right it was indeed Gamora. He tensed when he noticed her eyes on Harry. "Do you remember what had happened then?" He shook his head and tried for a crooked smile.

"Nah. Passed out before ya got to me. How did ya get the ship out of the event zone?" He was curious about that - while a small body like Peter would have no problems to escape, what with his jetpack, the Quadrant was a big ship, a full third of the size of the destroyed Eclector. Gamoras gaze locked onto him, a serious frown on her pretty face, before she sighed. It made him feel nervous, this sigh, because she didn't look like that was what had happened. Sure enough, she was yet again looking straight at the two men on the floor. Especially on Harry.

"We didn't came for you. There was no time for that. He brought you back." She nodded towards the dark haired man who was curled up half on top of Peter. Yondus' stomach sunk - he knew that Harry had never wanted Gamora to know about him. He was not stupid - it was no secret to him that the mage had called Peter several times after the idiot had joined his new friends, and that the young man had always been careful to avoid his sister.

"Did he now, huh." It was a somewhat lame try, but he was still feeling a bit out of it. Probably some medicine pumped into his system to patch up his lungs.

"Yes, he did." The green skinned woman crossed her long legs, watching him intently. "And I think you know how. Burnt a few things while he was at it. Light fixtures. Wires. Programs. It would be rather hard to miss that one of the crew is a true born mage."

"So what about it? It's none of your business, that's what it is. Didn't hurt ya or the others, now did he?" The memory of nearly losing Peter came to his mind when he struggled to sit himself up. His red eyes flashed, piercing Gamora with a stare. "Now drop the act and tell me what ya want."

To her credit, she didn't even bat her eyes at his hissed words. Her frown became thoughtful, before she shook her head. "I don't want anything from you, Yondu Udonta. And I don't want to harm him. I am sorry if I made that impression." He did notice the softer look in her eyes, the same kernel of warmth that he had seen in Harry's face when he had still been a young boy. It had grown over the years under the dubious care of the Ravagers. Breathing in, he finally managed to sit straight up, leaning against the wall. She continued a couple of moments later, hesitating now. "He somehow teleported both you and Peter back into the cargo bay. He blacked out for a moment afterwards, and since then he mostly slept. That is, after it was clear that you would make it. It was a very close call."

Immediately, Yondu looked back towards his boys. As if sensing his gaze, Harry moved a bit from his current position, allowing the Centaurian to get a proper look on the far too pale face of the young man. He looked sickly, with shadows under his closed eyes and a stressed frown on his brow. "He never did that before. I am surprised he didn't blow up the ship. Idiot boy."

"He did damage the ship. At least everything in his vicinity that runs on electricity. The main engines are fine, as well as life support. Rocket and Nebula both think that whatever energy he gives off doesn't harm plasma powered tech. We are lucky that our implants have standard radiation shielding." Gamora shuddered a bit, grasping her left wrist with her right hand. Yondu nodded, feeling quite stunted. He remembered how, just a couple of years ago, Kraglin had voted for the update to the plasma engines. It hadn't been necessary - since most parts of the known universe were connected through affixed wormholes, also known as jump points, the main engine of spaceships only had to be strong enough for comfortable travel between planets. Plasma-based engines were certainly faster than the more common pulse engines, which were run on both electricity and fuel, but they were expensive. Same went with life support. But it made special shielding against space radiation unnecessary and hunting down targets easier, which was why Yondu had approved the update.

He was suddenly feeling very grateful towards Kraglin.

The awkward silence was broken by a soft curse, and both Yondu and Gamora looked to where Harry and Peter were sleeping. The latter had woken and was trying to move from under his still sleeping burden without waking Harry up. It took some time and effort, but he stood up at least, looking a bit ruffled and groggy. It soon turned into a brilliant smile when he saw that Yondu was awake. Gamora let out a small sigh and stood up, but she smiled too, touching Peters arm when she walked by.

"I will let you two alone for a bit. But we will talk later, Peter."

"Uh... sure thing." He sounded uncertain and a bit worried while looking after the woman as she left the room, but he shook it off and seated himself on the chair Gamora had abandoned. When the door closed behind her, he leaned back, breathed out a huff and focussed on Yondu, who was watching him with a raised eyebrow.

"She's your girl then?" He didn't like the look on Peters' face. It was entirely too sappy, a mix of goofy happiness and anger, of all things. His little attempt of distracting the man sadly didn't work - he only got a shrug before the Guardian crossed his arms and got all serious looking, all traces of sleepiness gone.

"Not important right now. What the hell were you thinking?" It was not quite a hiss, but he was trying to keep it down. Down on the floor, Harry shifted again, searching for the lost warmth of his brother. That helped to calm Peter down. Far too emotional, the boy. "Sacrificing yourself like that. Of all the stupid things..."

"It worked, didn't it?" The Centaurian was quick to interrupt what was becoming a rant, leaning back into the pillows. He was feeling annoyed and touched and embarrassed. Mostly the latter. He hadn't thought about the consequences of surviving the stunt, but now he had to face an irritated young man. Two, he feared, when Harry woke up. "Sure, couldn't have known about the boy learning some new skill that quick. Still, it worked. No need to get worked up so much." His dismissive tone only fueled the frustration of his eldest, who scooted closer to the bed on his chair. The happiness was gone now. In this, Peter was like Harry - both tried to play it cool most of the times, but the moment that mask broke down, their emotions went wild. Yondu refused to compare them to himself or the way Peters irritation quickly made him snappish. That he blamed on the medicine.

"You tried to die on me, Yondu."
"Well, I only had one suit on me."
"And I was supposed to just watch you kick it?"
"There wasn't anything else I could have done!"
"You could have saved yourself!"
"That's so not right!"

It was not like most of their arguments, where a lot was easy banter. This was heating up all too quickly, with Peter leaning forward, stupidly stubborn like always, and Yondu himself sitting rigidly on his bed, red eyes narrowed. "Listen to me, now!", he says, voice louder than intended. He didn't notice Harry stirring again, nor did Peter. "'tis not right, me savin' myself when you are in trouble! I'm not like Ego, sacrificing my children left, right and centre, ya hear me? You and Harry are mine, whatever you runts call me, and there ain't no decent parent who wants their children to drop dead before 'em!" At the end, he was nearly screaming it, feeling out of his depth and frustrated with this confrontation. When he had given Peter his space suit component, he had prepared himself to die there and then, and he had been glad not to deal with the fallout. It got his hackles up, making him feel all defensive, and somewhere deep down he knew Peter was the same. While both boys had ever-changing emotions, at least Harry had learnt from Kraglin that it was good and healthy to deal with them. Peter, on the other hand, had taken more after the captain himself.

And because he knew this, that he and Peter were so similar when it came to emotional baggage, it came as a big surprise when the Guardian faltered visibly when Yondu laid open claim to him. He shook his head, almost as in denial, but in the end took a deep breath. No, that wasn't how Yondu would have reacted. How a year in a different company could change a man. It made the captain both proud and sad, watching his adoptive son struggle with his words.

"And no kid wants to see his parents die. I already lost my mom, Yondu. How am I supposed to deal with this, almost losing my dad, too?" It was like a punch to the gut, only nicer. And warmer. But shocking all the same. Just like Yondu had never really laid any verbal claim to his boys, both Peter and Harry had never laid any claim to him. And while Harry had tried to show his affection to Kraglin, Yondu and Peter, the latter had, for years now, concentrated all of his affections on Harry. Yondu knew that was because the Ravagers had been the ones to kidnap him from his home planet, forcing him to a live in space. It was easier to love ones saviours, after all.

This, however, was real. And it felt good. It felt right. It felt ten different kinds of embarrassing, and the red tinge on Peters' cheeks showed that the Terran felt the same.

"You are an idiot, Peter." He said it roughly, but not without affection, and when Peter looked up, he smiled a bit. He knew that they wouldn't talk about this again any time soon. Later, maybe, in a couple of weeks or months or, hopefully, never. But they didn't have to talk about these things twice. Once was bad enough in Yondus books, despite the cosy warm feelings in his guts. He watched Peter and saw the affectionate spark in his eyes before his face morphed from sadness into a playful scowl.

"Don't call me an idiot, geezer. Or you won't get any presents." It sounded so like Harry that Yondu couldn't help but laugh at this. Thankfully, neither their previous shouting match nor their banter woke up the young male. "I mean it. I have something for you. Rocket brought it with him."

"Will it get the Sovereigns on our asses again?" Yondu was quick to respond, arching an eyebrow, but feeling relieved all the same. They were both not made for serious talks, after all. He craned his neck a bit when Peter started rummaging through his pockets until he retrieved something long, thin and golden in colour. It was his Yaka Arrow, with burn marks on the thicker end, the diodes burnt out. The tip, however, was still intact, and he was quick to grab it.

"I thought it was buried where the damn planet fell on us." Damaged, but not fully broken. He would be able to repair it. Just like himself, Yondu thought with a quick grin.

"He grabbed it when you got out from under the rubble, but he had forgotten to give it back to you before they evacuated. Had to nick it from him, he loves stuff like that." Peter snickered and stood up, throwing another glance at his still sleeping brother. "I'm glad he did what he did to us. Felt like being squeezed in half, but..." Yondu was glad when Peter cut himself off. He put the Arrow away, under his pillow, and nodded once.

"Me too." Peter hesitated and looked long and hard at the Centaurian.

"You can stay, you know that, right? All three of you. Kraglin told us a bit about what happened when they worked on you here. With the clan. My team won't mind. As long as you need and all."

The captain couldn't help himself and felt touched by the offer. For the last year, Peter had done everything to avoid Yondu and his crew members, mostly because of the way they had parted even before Xandar. He hummed and gave Peter a nod. "I will think about it. Might be better for our Harry here."

The smile on Peters' face was totally worth it.

~~~

May 1st , 2015
Cargo Bay, The Quadrant

She walked the whole length of the damaged cargo bay, feeling like a caged animal. She wanted to go - the company on the ship was too stressful for the Luphomoid woman, with her sister and him being here. Him, the mage, the young man who had such a likeness to one of her many brothers. One that had been lost. Many years ago, she hadn't really cared. Her hatred for the Titan was a recent one, when she had truly understood what has been done to her and to many others. Back then, when the revelation had come to her, she found herself being glad about each and every potential assassin that had ended up dead. One less to kill.

Gamora and Harry and her, they were one of the very few that had made it out of that hell still alive.

She stopped, again, in the middle of the bay, starring at the ship that was mocking her. The last of the M-ships of this Ravager clan, the Downfall refused to open for her. Such a simple thing, a DNA lock. It was bound to the plasma engines the ship had, and had been changed into a device that did not open with the right DNA (she had snatched some samples, hair and blood, from the sleeping young man the prior day), but with something else. The Milano, Quill's ship (and Gamora's, who had chosen to live with the half Terran and his ragtag team of former thieves and criminals, and she didn't feel betrayed by that, she didn't), has been lost when the planet imploded. Same with the drill unit, which she could have used, but she herself had helped to blow it up, overriding the system to get rid of the Sovereigns. No, there was no way out as long as she was unable to hack the Downfalls system.

"Nebula." It came to no surprise that her sister called out to her. Gamora was, if anything, a bit late to search Nebula out - the Quadrant was big, sure, but not too big for the former assassin to find her target fast enough. "You should rest."

The woman gave a short snort, finally turning around to meet Gamoras worried face. She had always been too soft - but then most of them had been, and Gamora had hardened herself enough to survive. "I should already be gone. And yet here I am." Nebula didn't need to force the snark into her voice. The stress and the anger always came easy, as if her mostly fabricated body could no longer handle the emotions properly. The thought made her want to laugh and cry and scream, but she swallowed her urges down, balling her hands into tight, strong fists.

"You know you can stay, right?" The soft tones of her sister's voice didn't help her restless mind. She shook her head, turning away again to look at the Downfall. There had to be a way to take the ship, to hack into its systems and claim it as her own.

"I can't, and you know it. I don't fit in, I helped with the mutiny of your captains' former crew, and now he's here? And even if I am as welcome as you think, I do not wish to throw away valuable time!" The ship is closer now - she hadn't realised that she had walked towards it with every hissed word. It seemed to taunt her, reminding her of the man just a couple of rooms away. The mage with the bottle-green eyes and the scar on his forehead. She remembered him, of course - his status alone had drawn many of the siblings towards the boy, watching him fight. Average, at most - good in contrast to his other surviving age peers. He had been... no, he was a son of the Titan. The thought was like a persistent itch right under her artificial skin. "I have to go. You may have carved yourself a pretty little life here, but I only have one goal."

"And what will that be? Revenge?"

"It's all I have left, isn't it?" Finally - Gamora hesitated, and Nebula felt a quiet triumph in her chest. The burning guilt and loneliness right beside it were squashed down and ignored. She had always been alone. She would manage a few months more until she could fight the monster that had unmade her with delight. When the hand touched her shoulder, she flinched back, nearly hitting Gamora in her surprise, but the green-skinned woman was just as strong and fast as her sister, dodging the fist and holding onto her.

"That is not true, and you know it well enough, Nebula! You still have me, you still have a sister!" Her mouth went dry when she looked gaze with the dark, burning eyes of the last Zehoberei. She had never quite forgotten the warm spark that her sister has kept alive through their tortuous youth, but to see that the spark had grown into this passionate fire, a fire warm enough to share it... She shuddered, closing her eyes, trying to deny the longing in her for the company. For anything. But most of all, for her sister she had pretended to hate for far too long. "And now we have one of our brothers back." Gamoras voice is soft again, a mere whisper. Her thumbs pressed into Nebulas shoulders.

"What do you want me to do then? Just let Thanos live?"

"I want you to wait until we both can speak to Harry. I want you to at least try and join us, even if it is only for a little while. You need to rest, to gather your strength. When we reach the port and you still want to go your way, I will give you my blessing, I promise." Nebula shook her head, but it was a weak gesture. She was tired and restless and frustrated, and while half of her wanted to snap Gamoras neck, the other half felt ready to weep under her touch and gentle words. For now, the latter won out. She didn't weep, nodded with a weary sigh.

"Until the next port then. But do not hope like a fool, Gamora. You picked that up from your Terran." Now the strength to push Gamora away from her came. One, two steps away from her sister followed before Nebula could breathe again. She didn't dare hope for herself. This warmth would kill her, or worse: Could make her give up on her goal.

She tried to ignore Gamoras smile. Later, when her sister is gone again, she even tried to believe all was well.

Chapter Text

May 2nd, 2015
Sickbay, The Quadrant

He woke with a small gasp on his lips - it had been years since his nightmares had been vivid enough to interrupt his sleep. He felt dizzy and disoriented and the image of Yondus lifeless corpse lying on the cold floor of the cargo bay was still lingering behind his eyelids. He didn't dare close his eyes, even though they were aching fiercely in the dim lights of what had to be the emergency medbay of the Quadrant. It didn't matter that much to him, anyway - his whole body ached, yet it was a far cry from the burning sensation he had felt right after he had summoned Yondu and Peter. For a moment he had hopes that the pain would help distract him from the terrible feeling of dread and the taste of fear that his dream had evoked in him, but even after sucking in some dry air his hands still shook and his forehead was clammy with cold, sticky sweat. Him forcing his eyes to stay open, trying to breathe in slowly... it didn't help at all to calm his erratic heart.

It wasn't until Harry heard the rustle of fabric next and slightly above to him that he became more aware of his surroundings - namely that he was lying on the hard floor of the room, and that he was not alone. It took him another couple of seconds to register the blue skin and the vivid red eyes sleepily blinking down at him, so very much alive.

He forgot about his aches or the way his limbs felt weak and exhausted when he struggled to get up and onto the cot. The bed was much too small and he much too old, really, but right now all he wanted was to be close to Yondu, to touch him and make sure that his dream had only been a dream, that the Centaurian was truly alright and wasn't dying on him. The captain let him; he merely opened his own arms when the younger man scooted close and laid down his head on the broad chest to listen to the sound of the man breathing and to feel his warmth. Yondu didn't even complain as he was wont to do, back when Harry had been younger and the nightmares frequent and horrible, making him search for the comfort and safety of Yondu or Kraglin. The captain only grunted softly when Harry hugged him a bit too tightly, but even then he didn't chastise him for doing so.

"Nightmare?" His voice is husky, even more so than it normally was, and the man sounded sleepy but content. It was a good sound for Yondu, Harry mused, relaxing his grip.

"Yeah. About you dying." He saw no reason to lie to his captain, who commented this with a low grunt. A hand came up, curling around the back of Harry's head, carding through the short, black hair before coming to a halt on his neck. Yondu was waiting for Harry to continue - he was nice like that, sometimes. When it was important, when Harry needed him to be. "I was too late, and I brought you up with Peter, but you were already dead. Suffocation." The fingers on the back of his neck pressed into his skin - Centaurians had a slightly higher body temperature, so they felt hot against Harrys own, chilled skin. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the sensation, reminding himself that Yondu was alive and well and holding him, going nowhere. It helped to chase the images away, but it was slow, hard work.

"Shitty dreams, I reckon. You should know that I'm kinda hard to get rid off." There was a rumble in Yondus chest, like a laughter that was trapped inside. The young mage shifted slightly in his position to squint upwards at Yondus face - the man was grinning, showing off his crooked and sharp teeth. Somewhat in that smile and the worry in Yondus bloody red eyes put Harry in ease and a tense knot undid itself in his chest.

"Gee, of course you are, like those really tenacious stains on Peters ship...", Harry drawled as an answer in good humour. The scandalized frown on the Captain's face, mixed with the feelings of relief, was enough to make him laugh. Not just a snort, but outright laughter. He threw his head back and clung to Yondu. Harry was not sure when his laughter turned into sobs, his face pressed into the side of Yondu's neck, or when the Centaurian had the time to wrap both his arms around his charge.

"Now, 's alright, yeah? I'm here and you're here and Peter is here and Krags' here." It was a mantra for him, a low murmur that repeated itself ever so often. He was good like that, knowing what the ball of dread had been made of that Harry was now releasing. The tiredness and exhaustion he felt made this even harder for both of them - it made Harry into a messy cryer, with plenty of tears and snot, trembling and gasping for air. His eyes soon were red and swollen, but he didn't care how ugly he was right now. He just wanted to get it out of his system, all the fear and worry and dread and downright panic, and bask in the feeling of his family being close and whole again.

It took a couple of minutes for the storm to blew over, and when it did, he finally stopped crying like a baby or a damsel would do. "Shit, sorry", he said hoarsely before trying to rub the snot away that still clung to Yondu's skin. Both men winced a bit.

"Had to come out at some time, eh? And here I was thinkin' you were already too old for that, kiddo." That earned Yondu a half-hearted slap, and even that one was far too weak. The little outburst had drained him more than Harry had thought possible, but his energy levels had been low since he woke up. The drowsiness that came with the exhaustion made it hard for him, but Harry wiggled and struggled until he found a seating position on the small cot, without either him or Yondu falling out. The next couple of seconds where filled with eye rubbing and yawning and trying to shake himself awake again. It was an impossible endeavour and had the captain shake his head at him.

"You better sleep again, Har. Tomorrow's bound to be stressful for you." He lightly slapped Harry's hand when the young man was again rubbing his swollen eyes. "I mean it. We have time, Harry. Peter wants us to stay. And I am content with healing up for the next couple of days, as long as he feels guilty enough to bring me food."

It took him a couple of moments to work through the words - already he felt himself slipping away. Yondu wasn't helping him, the bastard, pulling him close again. He couldn't do more than blink a few times, though, peering up to the blue-skinned man that tried to find a comfortable spot on the narrow cot that was much too small for two grown men. "Can't", he huffed and gave up on staying awake, closing his eyes in defeat. "Y'know, what with Gamora and all..."

"Fuck Gamora", came the cheerful response, just as a calloused hand started to ruffle his short hair. "She already knows. I think you threw away your helmet when you pulled me onto the ship." Had Harry been fully awake, he would have panicked. Even now, he was vaguely aware that this wasn't good news for him, but he was already half asleep and honestly, he couldn't care less. "And if she wants to give you grief, I'm gonna kill her myself, so don't worry 'bout it, kiddo."

~~~

May 4th, 2015
Bridge, The Quadrant

The flight towards the next port that would accept a ship from the Ravagers (especially the exiled clan that they were, decimated in numbers or not) was a long and tedious one. Egos planet had been somewhat removed from the popular places Kraglin prefered, so they had to travel a lot of clicks, and the Quadrant itself was just broken enough to make things difficult. As if that wasn't enough, Peter and his ilk wasn't sure if the Sovereigns had given up on their hunt for the Guardians, so they had kept their eyes peeled for them, too.

They had already travelled for almost three standard days, and while both Peter and Yondu were already up and about, Harry kept on sleeping. According to the captain, who had to extract himself from the clinging mage just a day ago to take a piss and get himself something to eat, the kid had woken up during the night cycle of the Quadrant to take over the cot and terrorize the poor Centaurian. Kraglin knew from experience that that had meant nightmares, but when he had checked on Harry, he had looked rather peaceful, drooling all over the small pillow and sprawled across the cot.

Peter was steering the Quadrant right now, chatting to one of his friends, the little furry one named Rocket. He was easy to talk to, at least for Kraglin who was used to volatile men since joining the Ravagers, so he sat nearby in the bridge, his feet kicked up and enjoying both the conversation about advanced weaponry and the fact that he wouldn't be sitting in Peters place for the next couple of hours. He roughly knew where the other crew members were - Mantis, the empathic female, was bound to be in one of the quarters with Groot. The young Flora Colossus demanded a lot of attention as far as Kraglin knew. And where Mantis went, Drax was likely to go with her. Nebula, creep that she was, mostly stayed in the cargo bay, eying Harry's Downfall and sulking. Gamora was always walking around, though, harder to pinpoint her location. Sometimes she was with Gamora, checking on her sister. Sometimes, she would sit down with Peter on the bridge or take over for a couple of hours before growing restless again and visiting Harry. She had been to see him just half an hour ago - a quick check of the monitoring cameras showed her talking to Mantis and Drax, cradling baby Groot in her hands. The little tyke was often a great help for the Guardian crew to relieve stress. Kraglin had asked Peter about it, but the brat had just shrugged.

Like Gamora, his captain was hard to track, too. One would think that the guy will stay in his cot, but from the moment he was able to walk again without keeling over, Yondu was prowling the ship like a wheezing old cat - Peters words, not his. He was nearly back to normal health, too - only his lungs still gave him problems, but a quick visit to one of the medic stations at the port would help with that, too.

All in all, they were in pretty good shape. The ship needed quite a few repairs (and some updates, too - Kraglin was keen on getting a plasma tech overhaul for the minor systems for the Quadrant) and most of the crew nursed a couple injuries that needed more treatment than painkillers and the liberal use of mending spray, but they were alive and able to move around and on their way to friendlier places...

His musings were interrupted quite rudely when the door to the bridge opened up. Before Kraglin could check who it was - he hoped for Gamora, only to have something nice to look at -, Peter practically jumped out of his seat. Rocket cursed and grabbed the steering rod - there was not a lot of steering to do when going through wormholes, but between the jumps, it was better to keep the right direction, lest you ended up somewhere else than planned. "For fuck's sake, Quill!", the racoon shouted, his whiskers vibrating in shock, beady eyes widened. The former Ravager ignored him - he was grinning rather stupidly, and when Kraglin finally turned around, he too felt his mouth forming into a smile.

"Harry!" The name rings loudly through the bridge, and with just a few steps Peter is right next to the young, green-eyed man who still looked rather drowsy, yet a lot better than two days ago. His skin had a healthy colour to it, the dark bags under his eyes returned to their natural hue (a light shadow, indicating a less than healthy lifestyle) and his posture is relaxed and happy, as far as Kraglin can tell. And the smile is alright, too - a cocky smirk, the left side of his mouth slightly higher than the right.

"Peter." He returns the hug eagerly and maybe a bit longer than was normal, but Kraglin couldn't begrudge them the contact. He himself felt the itch to gather Harry in his arms and hold him close, lest the stupid boy finds more trouble. "Worried much?"

"Of course I did, idiot." Harry snorted, but there was a smile on his lips as he pushed past Peter and made his way towards Kraglin, greeting the still ruffled Rocket as he did so. The weapon specialist snarled at Peter when he went back to his seat, which caused the mage to laugh merciless at his brother's expense.

"Hey, Krags." The young man throws himself into an unoccupied seat close to his friend and somewhat-parent, the crooked smile morphing into something warm and fond. The Ravager responded with a smile of his own before he reached forward and patted a leather-clad knee.

"You doing okay?" He didn't bother to hide the lingering worry in his voice. The sleep had been unnatural in its length, and even after Mantis' declaration that it was caused by exhaustion only it had been somewhat stressful. Now that he saw the mage awake again he felt himself relax further into his seat.

"Uh-hu. Quite good even." Kraglin noticed how Harry's jaw tightened for a second, but he didn't comment on it. It was not a full lie, more a half-truth, and the quick look towards Peter told the Ravager more than enough. Peter had caught it too, and both he and Kraglin shared a knowing glance. They knew something was up, but while Peter could only make some educated guesses, Kraglin knew without a doubt what this was about. He cleared his throat and gave Peter another look, this time a prompting one. It wasn't something Harry would miss - the young man tensed a bit, narrowing his eyes. "What? What did I miss?"

"Hey, I don't even know what this is about!" Peter blurted out, fast to push the blame away from himself, and pointed towards Kraglin, who refused to look apologetic. "Just that Gamora wants to talk to you, and that Krags here and Yondu are very weird about it." He hesitated for a moment, confused about the face Harry was making. Both relieved, probably because neither Ravager had talked to Peter about this matter, and irritated. There was also annoyance, panic and anticipation mixed in his expression, and like a thousand times before Kraglin asked himself how artificial eyes could ever be so expressive.

"Should be alright", he said hurriedly when the annoyance started to win out on his charges face. He held his hands up before reaching out again, this time to place a hand on Harry's shoulder. The young man was tense, but Kraglin had anticipated that. "She was lookin' very eager, see, and Yondu said that she visited you when you were asleep. They talked a bit, those two, and he hasn't killed her yet, right?"

"And why should he want to kill her?" Of course, Peter was fast to defend his teammate. Rocket, too, was looking up from the consoles with a scowl on his furry face.

"I ain't sayin' that he wants to kill her, Pete. Relax, would ya?", Kraglin snapped. He didn't stop watching Harry, who looked troubled now before sighing.

"You sure?" His voice was smaller than he was used to. Kraglin was sure that that shut Peter up more efficiently than his own warning.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm sure. I can see where she's at, if you want."

Harry hesitated for a long moment. And then... "Fuck it." He breathed out, still annoyed and worried, but he sounded determined. "Call her up, would you? And... and Nebula, too. We do it right here and right now. I'm tired of this shit, and she's Peters girl now." He sank back into his seat, shrugging off Kraglins hand but not without a small smile. The Ravager nodded once and turned around towards his screens, tipping away. "You can stay too. Kraglin and Yondu already know about this, so you ought to hear it too."

"Hear what? The reason why you hid from Gamora?" Rocket was still concentrating on navigating the ship towards the next jump point. It was a small jump, ending in a solar system that was void of civilization, and the racoon quickly steered the Quadrant out of the path leading towards the next fixed wormhole before turning around. It was clear that he was more than just curious as his ears twitched eagerly towards Harry and Kraglin. "Because that drove us all crazy, to be honest. She tried more than once to catch our captain's mysterious brother after I told her 'bout you."

"It's... related." It was easy to see how uncomfortable Harry was with the topic, and Kraglin almost pitied the boy. Almost. He was rather glad that Harry had decided to play with open cards, especially because the three Ravagers had been invited to travel with the Guardians. And Kraglin was very keen to spend more time with both of his boys. He was also little surprised about the fact that he had quickly started to trust Peters crew, but there were only a few things in the universe that could bind people together as fast saving the galaxy together.

~~~

May 4th, 2015
Bridge, The Quadrant

Despite his previously shown bravado he felt himself becoming increasingly nervous. It had been a short-lived thing, his courage to finally meet Gamora again. Since contacting Peter after he had run away from the Ravagers, Harry had done his best to avoid his sister out of suspicion and fear, but also because he felt a lingering guilt for running away himself, all those years ago. He never regretted his decision to join the Ravagers, yet he never truly forgave himself for leaving his other siblings alone in the Temple while he was living and thriving with his new family.

But Peters tense confusion, as well as Rockets curious looks and above all Kraglins steadfast presence kept him from running away like a coward. It would have been useless, too - she had already seen him without a mask, and without doubt talked with Yondu about him. He was thankful that Kraglin had told him as much - he trusted his makeshift family more than he had ever thought, trusted them with his life and welfare. They wouldn't let her hurt him should she turn out to be still loyal towards father, to still serve the cause.

When the door to the bridge opened again, he grasped for his fleeting courage and turned around in his seat to face the two women who entered the room, and for a short moment, he couldn't breathe. Oh, he had already seen both of them during the fight against Ego, but his mask had been firmly in place, shielding him from most of his anxiety. Now his face was on display and nothing hindered Gamora to lock eyes with him. She looked surprised, and as nervous as he felt, which did a lot to calm his own nerves. Nebula, on the other hand, took on a hostile expression. If it hadn't been for a kernel of insecurity in her big, black eyes, he would have bolted out. Luckily, most of her hostility was directed towards Peter, Rocket and Kraglin, the latter who simply raised his eyebrows while lounging in his own seat next to the security feeds.

"I told them to stay." He was proud of himself, for keeping his voice steady. He couldn't hope to fix his own expression, but at least he was able to control his voice. "Peter and Kraglin are family for me, and Rocket is for you, isn't he?" He had decided to concentrate on Gamora for the time being, who nodded in acceptance despite the scoff from Nebula. But she, too, did not complain about it beyond a fierce scowl and the folding of her arms.

They looked so different, despite leading such similar lives. But they already had been different back in the temple. Gamora, as beautiful as she was deadly, with the hidden warmth in her eyes, and Nebula, cold and cruel and yet rebellious in the end. He had never thought that either would ever fail father, yet here they were, three traitorous siblings far away from a place that has never been home.

"Their presence will not be a problem. And depending on how this talk will end, my other teammates will likely be informed, too." She, too, sounded calm despite the circumstances. She took one of the remaining seats that were dotted around the bridges different terminals, a tad awkward for a proper conversation as they were arranged in a loose U-formation. It would have to do, though, as Harry felt no inclination to further delay his confrontation with his sisters. He corrected his own posture to face her proper, noticing that Nebula too shifted to stand next to Gamora without taking a seat. Of all the people on the bridge, she was the most anxious, he realized. And felt instantly calmer. "So it's true then. You are family, yes?"

And there it was. She was quite blunt with her question, but Harry couldn't be angry with it. He actually felt himself approving of this direct question - no useless chit-chat, no talking around the topic. He still flinched a little bit, like Nebula did, but he forced himself to breathe in and out and nodded slowly, his eyes firmly fixed on both his sisters to gauge their reaction. Next to him, he heard Peter sputter in confusion.

"Wait, what? What is going on, guys?" He sounded so confused and out of his depth that Harry took pity on him, leaning forward a bit to catch his eyes.

"They are my sisters, Pete", he said, voice quiet and serious, trying to explain without too many words. Peter looked startled and raised his eyebrows. A silent question for more information that made Harry sigh. "You remember when we met?" Here, Peter nodded, movements still slow as he tried to understand. Interestingly, it was Rocket who got it first and who looked sharply at Harry, who smiled painfully.

"I was already with the Ravagers for a couple of weeks. Kraglin told you, Peter, how he busted me out of jail back then... actually, he didn't know anything about this until far later. Yondu only knows for about two years." He stopped there, grimacing a bit, but kept on talking before someone else could. "Years before that, I was abducted from my home planet. I was maybe five years old when that happened. On the way through the Edge, towards some kind of slave port, the smugglers got attacked. By Chitauri."

Both Gamora and Nebula had their faces carefully under control - Nebula better than her sister, who showed a touch of pity right before her face smoothed out. Kraglin, too, was relatively calm, while Rocket only nodded to himself, as if his guess had been confirmed. Peter, however, was aghast, sucking in a sharp breath, and finally, finally he made the connection. "You are a Child, too?"

"Yes." Harry leaned back again, his jaw set and his eyes hard. "Yes, I am. I ran away when I had the chance, and Kraglin helped me. Which was why I decided to stay with the Ravagers who busted me out. I couldn't risk for Gamora to see me." He didn't apologize, but he did look at Gamora then and was relieved when he only found acceptance in her eyes. "When I left, she was still in Father's service, as was Nebula. So I avoided her whenever we talked to each other. I would still avoid both of you." This was addressed at both women - Nebula looked rather grim, but not hostile anymore. "But you saw me and asked about me. And you both risked your life on that planet."

"I am not blaming you for your suspicion, Harry. And I am glad that you fled from Father when you had the chance. Be sure that I will not betray your trust, no matter how reluctant it is given. I have long kept my distance from Fathers ideals, but I only found the strength to cut my ties when I met my friends." And there was the warmth in her eyes, growing from a small kernel into a bright flame when she laid her eyes on Harry's brother. The shocked expression melted away from his face and he smiled at her. Harry knew, then, that his brother had truly found somewhere to belong. Deciding to trust his sister, the mage turned towards the other one, meeting her black eyes with new found courage. He was surprised to find acknowledgement there, even though she visibly hesitated before speaking up.

"I have sworn to kill him. As long as you will not get in the way of my revenge, I will tell no one that Father's precious mage is not yet dead, but alive and well." Her words are clipped and sharp and her eyes held their own kind of fire in them. It was not warm, but cold and fierce and true, and Harry remembered the days in which he had pitied her the most from all his siblings, because she had endured the most, had survived so much. Her vow, however, startled him, for it was so very similar to his own, the secret and promise of the brothers. For a just a moment he had the sudden urge to tell her about his own vow, about the secret he had been given, but he fought it down. Nebula, he knew, would not react well to know that she had the wrong gender to kill the Titan.

Nonetheless, Harry nodded his acceptance and felt a wry smile forming on his lips. He suddenly felt hysterically giddy and he had to keep his arms in check, lest he started hugging himself. The smile stretched into a big grin, however, and with a new gleam in his eyes he looked from Gamora to Nebula to Peter. "You know that this makes Gamora your sister too, yes?" The affronted and panicked look on Peters' face was so much better than the contemplating, shocked one, that Harry gave a bark of laughter. And if it was a bit too sharp and breathless, no one pointed it out. And with Nebula in the room, that was a lot of kindness.

"I have sisters again." The grin was still not gone, and after a moment, Gamora smiled too, gentle and warm and with the same insecurities that he felt. Nebula was scowling, but there, too, was insecurity in it. Peter, blessed idiot that he was, was still sputtering about Harrys joke and made use of the moment of happy reunion by reaching across Kraglin to smack Harry's head soundly.

~~~

May 5th, 2015
Cargo Bay, The Quadrant

"Say, sister, you won't happen to know about some of my age peers?"

It was a weird feeling, to be accepted not only by her sister, but also by a young man that she had only known as a boy. Back at the Temple, there were a lot of Children that had envied him for his magic and the attention he drew from Father because of it, but Nebula himself had only felt loathing for another potent weapon, for another boy who would become loyal to Fathers cause. She, too, had been surprised by his mission failure. She, too, had thought him dead. And she had been glad for it, had celebrated the loss of another mindless minion. That he had rejected the Titan even then was a shock for the woman. How many others were traitors, brothers and sisters she had never thought much about? How many others had thought the same about her, had thought her loyal? Gamora had proven to be a traitor too, and so had Harry.

"Most of them died in the years following your escape. The one called Azalel survived, and the one called Nuri." Were those two traitors too? It was hard to trust any of them. The Temple caused them all to be careful, to hide emotions and thoughts within the own mind. From the corner of her eye she saw Harry working on one of the repulsors of his ship. Tomorrow they would finally reach the port to repair the Quadrant, and she still had to decide whether to leave or to stay. The port would hold many private ships, it would be easy to steal any of them and make her way towards revenge. Maybe it was for the best - she didn't trust the warm, fuzzy feeling in her gut when she thought of her siblings, nor the offer Gamora had made her a couple of days ago.

"Nuri went on to follow Gamoras footsteps when I last saw her about two years ago. Quite skilled, but not the talent that our sister is. Your brother Azalel however..." Ah. She hadn't imagined the tense shoulders or the guilty look on Harry's face. The tells were visible for the trained eye, and he showed them whenever she mentioned his brother.

"What happened to Azalel?" What he lacked in control of his body, he had mastered with his voice, which was steady and only hinted at curiosity. Maybe Gamora would train him better, now that the Ravagers were staying with the Guardians.

"They made him a weapon after he broke." She didn't care to banish the anger from her voice. It was better than showing sadness. He had always reminded her of herself - too weak to avoid the Table, too strong to break under the strain. She knew she was fractured, so much that she wondered what hold her sanity together. Azalel had been the same for so long, but then he had been broken just a day before Harry had been sent to Esa. She eyed her brother speculatively and saw grief and more guilt and anger. So much anger. "But even with his mind shattered, they still found a use for his body. He is worse than me in that department, more metal than flesh, and sent him to kill. He was good, as long as he had a handler. You can imagine our surprise when he managed to escape for himself."

The mage snapped back to attention, turning his head so fast it had to be unhealthy. His eyes were wide, and there was a vicious hope in them. "He fled?", he asked, the tool in his hand as forgotten as his work on the wing.

"Oh, yes. Killed more than a dozen guards and four other children. Father had been occupied with some other plan, and a large part of his Chitauri army had been sent away to attack some backwater planet called Terra. Azalel used that distraction for his escape and stole a ship. He was fast and precise, like it was planned, and he got rid of his locators and the ship before the Other could catch him again."

"So he is out there." It was little more than a breath, but the smile he sent her was wide and gleeful and so, so brilliant. The warm, fuzzy feeling came back with a vengeance and she shuddered in disgust about herself, turning away. Still, she could not withhold the last tidbit of information she had to offer.

"Have I told you about how the Other got killed last year?"

When Gamora came to look for them, she was surprised to hear raucous laughter from the Bay.

Chapter Text

February 19th, 2002
Headmasters Office, Hogwarts

It was already dark in the north of the isle, the vast grounds surrounding the ancient castle only illuminated by the warm light of the hundreds of windows that dotted the grey stone walls. Dinner has been served already, and the Headmaster of the school sat contently behind his large, claw-footed desk working on a small pile of paperwork. There were always many things to do - letters had to be read and answered, budgets had to be approved of, reports from his Head of Houses and other teachers waited for him.

Still, he was content with his work. Since the war ended some four years ago (not counting the many trials which lasted another one and a half year after Voldemorts 'death'), the Headmaster had allowed himself to mellow out, to once again be the grandfatherly old men that doted on his students. His teachers too had settled into a more peaceful life. Even young Severus had healed a good measure and would soon be ready to take over as Head of House Slytherin. Already Horace was planning his retired life, animatedly talking about whom to visit and what to do. The responsibility of taking care of a House would do wonders with Severus, Albus was sure of it.

He had just finished an answer for the Minister - he would have to remind Cornelius that he should make his own decisions again - when a soft tinkling noise caught his attention. With barely a thought the many candles and lamps of his office brightened up until he could see a spindly, silver device right next to the entrance. It was of an intricate design, the material stretched thinly in elegant loops and knots, surrounding a small, rose gold globe that shivered and bobbed seemingly without any support in its silvery cage. The surface of the globe rippled like liquid water, and with each movement, it tinkled a bit more.

Albus frowned, watching the device carefully. He was used to a little tinkling of it, and in the beginning he was quite worried about it until Arabella, bless her, told him that the cousin was a strong-willed lad. Alas, little boys were known for roughhousing, and he put his worry aside. Only once had the device tinkled eagerly like that. Last year, when little Harry had fallen down the stairs and broken his arm. He suppressed the urge to check on him as he had done before. Instead, he stood up to floo Arabella. It was not too late of a day for her to see if Harry needed any help beyond what the muggle healers could provide.

Before he made it to the brightly lit fireplace, a sharp, metallic screech filled the room, and the rose gold globe rippled so strongly that it deformed into various distressing shapes. Sudden dread filled his mind, but he did not bother panicking. Whipping his wand out, Albus flicked it two times, and each time an ethereal, silver mist came out, forming into a lustrous, magnificent bird. "Minerva, Severus, I need your aid. Privet Drive Number 4, Little Whinging, Surrey. Come as fast as you can!" They both knew this address and should be able to reach it within minutes. Albus himself had a faster way, however, and he turned towards Fawkes who hopped from his perch and onto his outstretched arm. The last thing he noticed in his office was the device stopping any movement and noise altogether before a golden red flame consumed him.

~~~

May 5th, 2015
Cargo Bay, The Quadrant

"Just a moment, sister. I need to memorize this moment."

Gamora felt a touch confused when Harry interrupted her in her greeting, but she did give him the moment he desired, watching with interest the glee on his young face. He had been working on his M-ship, but he had no tools in his hand and had turned his body to face Nebula, who appeared to be just watching their younger brother with a more mellow scowl on her face. A good sign.

"What is going on?", she finally asked when Harry made no move to actually greet her. She took it with amusement, though, seeing that something funny had happened, and she was curious what this was about.

"I only told him about the death of the Other at Ronan's hands. He is unreasonable ever since." Nebula sounded annoyed, but not overly so.

"Understandable. As a mage, you had many private lessons with him, I imagine?" It would explain Harry's palpable happiness, despite how vindictive said happiness felt. She didn't begrudge him such a small victory like outlasting an enemy. It made her wonder, however, if she had felt just as gleeful as her brother about the Others death had she not been a fighter, an assassin. Those with powers beyond the physical, like psychics and sorcerers, had always been closer to the Other than she had ever been.

"Oh, a lot, actually. Shit, even one lesson with him had been one too many. Fuckin' asshole." He was still grinning brightly. Smiles and grins suited him handsomely, Gamora noticed. She would have to learn how to cause them more often. Peter had no problems with that, maybe he would teach her. "Oh, and you know what? Remember Azalel? Apparently, he made it out of there, too!" These news were even more exciting for the young mage - he jumped from the scaffolding he had perched on to reach the wing of his M-class, repulsor long forgotten.

"Oh, yes. I remember this. I myself was away from the Temple when it happened." She smiled openly and even caught a somewhat content look on Nebulas face. "He did cause a lot of chaos. More than your defection."

"I can live with that. Good for him, anyway. I do have to tell Peter about this whole failed Terra invasion though. How funny is that!"

~~~

February 19th, 2002
Little Whinging, Surrey, England

Just a couple of minutes after an unknown craft had taken to the skies, three strange people stood in front of a neatly kept house. The street lamps illuminated the meticulously arranged flowers - the snow had already given way to the early bloomers in this part of Britain, and the occupants of Number 4, Privet Drive had wasted no time to clean up the front garden. A car was parked in front of the house and the windows were lit, indicating that the family was at home.

Severus pulled his thick, black cloak tight around his towering yet thin frame, scowling darkly at the house in front of him. The whole neighbourhood was tidy and neat, with little white fences and carefully carved hedges and white laced curtains. It was the neighbourhood of the well-off, the place where poverty was looked upon with a frown. In Little Whinging, there were no beggars. There wasn't even litter on the street. The perfect childhood home, one would say. It was obvious now why the Potter spawn had been brought here, and he dreaded the day he would have to teach the spoiled brat.

His gaze lingered on Number 4 for another moment and wandered over towards the Headmaster, schooling his own face into his custom expression of indifference and slight annoyance. "What now, Albus? There is no sign of an emergency. Surely these people have already tended to precious Potters needs."

"Honestly, Severus!" And there was Minerva, jumping in to defend the Potter. Their relationship since his employment had healed slowly - it helped that she had apologized for her blatant favouritism, even though he thought that the incarceration of Black had forced her to finally see some sense. It certainly didn't help him anymore, but it had been gratifying. Still, it didn't surprise him anymore that she would be on the side of the next generation of Potter. "Albus wouldn't have called us for anything less than serious." She frowned at his scowl and turned around, starring at the Headmaster with narrowed eyes. "Though it would help to know what has happened, Albus."

It was then that Severus noticed how strangely quiet the old man was. They had arrived after him, as it took longer to walk outside of the wards for them to apparate while the Headmaster could simply use his Phoenix for fast travel, and Albus had merely greeted them before facing the innocent looking house. The Headmaster shook his head after another couple of moments.

"I don't understand... The wards are in perfect condition." It wasn't an answer to Minerva's question, but the words caused Severus spine to prickle. So there was something wrong. Albus flicked his wand, murmuring in a strange language unknown to the Potions Master and moving the tip of his wand in complex figures. The heavy taste of magic assaulted the younger man and he blinked when he saw a trickle of colour swirling around the edge of the property. Soon a thin strand of the reddish light extended from what had to be the actual blood wards, stretching along the street, away from the house.

"I have placed several wards and charms onto this property, as well as on Harry himself. Today, the apparatus connected to the charms monitoring his health activated strong enough to indicate serious injury or distress. It seems that Harry has yet to return home, however. Come along."

Severus kept his mask firmly on. Next to him, Minerva showed a disgusting amount of emotion on her naturally stern face as they hurried along and away from the house. The trail of reddish tinted magic danced in front of them like the steps of a little child going out to play. The prickle wandered up his spine and settled at the nape of his neck. It was already dark outside, yet there was no sign of distress at Number 4. He also couldn't sense dark magic in the neighbourhood - only the strong flavour of the blood wards that felt far too similar to Lily's magic to be comfortable for him. Everything indicated that Potter had simply injured himself somewhere far enough away to not be found yet, but it didn't feel alright. And if Severus had learned one thing during the war, it was that he had to trust the feel of things just as much as his own, cold logic.

It took some time to follow the trail. They walked unseen through the neighbourhood, passing more houses and small, public lawns. Once the trail entered a playground, but it didn't stay there long - with sudden haste the reddish light left the place, and the three Professors hurried to follow.

And then, just a couple dozen meters away from the playground, where a meadow stretched between it and another row of houses, the trail flickered into the sky. It was then that Severus felt himself worrying.

~~~

May 5th, 2015
Mess Hall, The Quadrant

Watching Gamoras face while she put two and two together was oddly entertaining. Of course, she was more worried about the fact that Thanos had wanted something from Terra than Harry, who thought that it was hilarious that Peters backwater home planet had been able to deflect one of the most feared armies of their time, especially when that army was, in fact, the one Thanos loved to make use of. She did, however, agree that they should let Peter know, which was why Harry was sprinting down the hallway towards the mess hall, where he was quite sure to find Peter.

"Peter! You won't believe what I just found out!", he shouted upon entering the room, still panting slightly from the run. There he sat, trying to feed Groot, squashed between Drax and Rocket. Yondu was seated vis-á-vis from them, trying very hard not to coo at the adorable little tree person. Kraglin and Mantis were missing, probably on the bridge, but they could wait. He had news to tell.

"Shit... no, Groot! Sit still!" The Terran held a small spoon aloft, while Groot tried to stand up and wave at Harry. Since he woke up and made peace to his sisters Harry had taken the chance to properly meet and greet his brother's friends. Groot had immediately taken a shine to him, much to Rockets amusement. Mantis, too, proved to be quite interesting, while Drax was simply hilarious. It was easy to imagine why Peter had decided to group up with them instead of coming back to the Ravagers, and he knew that despite losing their home, Yondu and Kraglin enjoyed the new company. All three of them had lost quite a few friends during Taserface's mutiny and the fact that these were Peters friends made it easy for them to bond quickly. "Just... a moment. Good boy!"

Groot had finally deigned to eat his little sugary kibbles and Peter had the opportunity to look up, throwing an easy smile towards Harry. Yondu took his chance and made a grab for both Groot and the bowl of kibbles, causing Groot to sing and sway and Rocket to laugh raucously. Harry quickly greeted the others, planting his bum firmly next to Yondu and stared at Peter, an answering smile on his lips.

"Did you know that, like, three years ago, your Terra had first contact?" The question blurted out of his mouth, and boy, was it worth it to run the whole way.

~~~

February 20th, 2002
Headmasters Office, Hogwarts

"No signs of magic anywhere, two other boys missing, and those... those people!" The fury was the only thing that held her together at the moment, and Minerva was well aware of that. So she fed it with more and more indignation. Just a little bit longer. She was still needed. "Have you seen their disgustingly happy faces, Albus? Have you seen?!"

She already knew that Albus had, indeed, seen it. He had been just as angry as her when they had informed them of poor Harry's disappearance this morning. They had searched nearly the whole night for any traces, but had found nothing. Just three missing boys and the most horrible muggles she had ever had the misfortune to meet. But his anger did nothing to placate the witch. Not yet, anyway. Neither did the guilt she has planted in his eyes with her sharp words. She would have felt smug had the situation not been so dire - Albus finally believed her many complaints she had made about the Dursleys after placing Harry in their dubious care, and even Severus seemed thoroughly disillusioned of his twisted image of James and Lilys son after they had questioned the muggles.

"I am well aware of my mistakes, Minerva. I should have monitored the situation more closely, but I felt secure with Arabella there. How she could have missed it, I am not sure, but now we have to concentrate on finding Harry."

Before she could answer, the door to the office opened, causing both of the Professors to turn around. It was Severus. His sallow face was even more serious than normal for the young man. Dark shadows clung under his eyes, matching her own.

"I found four more cases of missing kids from all over Britain. They all went missing yesterday, between five and seven pm. All were muggles and the boys from Surrey were the last one to be taken. I have visited those places I had easy access to, and neither showed any sign of magic. Headmaster?"

"The Office of Improper Use of Magic has messaged me. There is no evidence of accidental magic since January." Albus sighed. The man certainly looked his age as he shook his head. Minerva pursed her lips and turned to watch the numerous devices dotting the Headmaster's office. A bowl-like contraption was spinning slowly - soon, it would start to fail. Albus had explained to her how it was bonded to the blood wards of Number 4. Without Harry there, the wards would disintegrate. Even so, should Harry be found she would never allow the boy to return to that wretched place.

"Have you informed the Ministry yet about the reasons you asked?" Her eyes wandered further down the row. A tall, fragile looking apparatus was merrily puffing wispy smoke into the air and she knew that both Albus and Severus were watching it too. This device was directly connected to Harry's life force, and it had yet to fail.

"Not yet, but I will have to inform Cornelius soon. A couple of days more, maybe, before the whole world will know of the kidnapping."

Severus sneered, but it looked like a half-hearted attempt. "No magic was used. The trail just goes on and on into the sky, higher than any broom could. I bet that whoever kidnapped the boy, they were using some muggle contraption, and with those, the Ministry won't be able to help our search at all."

He was right, Minerva was sure. The Ministry would not be able to help them, but they could not keep this from them. And when the Ministry was in the know, other people would be too. It was only a matter of time until those loyal to the Dark Lord would know that the Wizarding Worlds hero was missing. And vulnerable.

~~~

May 6th, 2015
Bridge, The Quadrant

"I still can't believe that Terra handed the Chitauri their asses. Did we got the lamest of the bunch?"

Rocket swivelled around in his seat, helping Kraglin to navigate through the mess that was the semi-legal port of Jaune IV. They had finally arrived at their destination only to find the port packed to the brim, but thanks to Yondus connections, they had bribed their way to admittance. They followed the coordinates towards the newly freed repair lot that was just big enough to fit the Quadrant, while Peter was at the communications station to make preparations for the various repairs and updates they wanted on the Quadrant. He was scowling at Rocket, sporting his middle finger, and Rocket laughed at him.

"Didn't they shoot a nuclear weapon at them?" Kraglin spotted their lot and cut through a flock of smaller ships to carefully park the Quadrant. It was a tight fit, but better than nothing.

"Yeah, exactly. And who uses nuclear weapons anymore? That's old school!"

"It's a contact, that's what it is. And who knows who had heard about it." Of course Peter had to be a spoilsport. But then again, it was his home planet that was in danger. Rocket, who didn't know where he came from (and denied any possibility that he, too had been taken from Terra. He was not a damn racoon!), was in no position to know how his captain must feel right now. So he stuck to making jokes, because sometimes that helped.

Kraglin rolled his eyes and slapped Peter lightly on his arm. "We could go there for a quick visit if you are so worried. It's not that hard a route. We just have to wait 'till they are finished with the ship." With a loud rumble, the Quadrant latched into the large holding claws and the hatch closed behind them. A soft hiss was the only indication that there would be breathable air in their lot now and with a low cheer Rocket powered off the ship's engines.

"Yeah, Quill, we could do that. Then you can show us all the cool stuff you are constantly bragging about."

Peter huffed, but he did cheer up a bit. Rocket knew him well enough though to know that the Terran would soon feel worse - in the one and a half years they had known each other, his captain had expressed his wish to visit Terra more than a dozen times only to get cold feed soon after. He snickered into his paws as he slipped off of his seat.

"Oh, shut up!"

That only made him laugh out loud again.

~~~

February 24th, 2002
Excerp of the Daily Prophet, Morning Edition

HARRY POTTER KIDNAPPED - BOY-WHO-LIVED-NO-MORE?
by Roland Evergreen

Over four years ago, a tragedy saved our world. Over four years ago, Harry Potter, beloved hero and the only known survivor of the Killing Curse, defeated You-Know-Who and single-handedly ended the war many of our Readers can still remember. But during that Halloween night Harry Potter was also orphaned.
Like us, our Readers remember the days following You-Know-Who's death and the many families that were willing to take in our saviour. And like us, our Readers remember how all of those upstanding families had been denied their heartfelt wish to offer our saviour safety and a new home.

For years, we had been told that our hero has found a safe haven. We had been told that, for his own security, his place of residence and the name of the family should remain unknown. We were content with the firm belief that Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, was as save as he could be. But was that true?

Yesterday evening this reporter has been present when no other than Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin (first class), Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, reported the disappearance of Harry Potter at the Ministry! According to Mrs Amelia Bones, rising star at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, the pieces of evidence point towards an abduction by muggle means on February 19th, together with another couple of Muggle boys. Yet the DMLE does not exclude the participation of Dark Wizards, she said. Our questions regarding the place of the crime were not answered, due to the confidential information of young Harry Potter's place of residence. His guardians, however, will be brought in for further questioning.

How could this happen? The most well-known boy in Britain, a victim of muggle kidnappers? His unknown guardians neglecting their duty of keeping our saviour safe? Neither Dumbledore nor the employees of the DMLE's Children's Welfare Office were forthcoming with interviews, but the situation seems dire indeed. Have we lost our hero due to lacking security measures? All this reporter can say, dear Readers, is that the Prophet will watch the proceedings closely, and hope that Harry Potter is safe, wherever he is.

Chapter Text

May 8th, 2015
Orbital Space Port "Hovare", Jaune IV

They had all settled into their stay at the port - with the repairs and the updates they needed, Gamora was sure that they would stay roughly a fortnight here. The crew had rented a couple of rooms in one of the few inns that were not as dingy as the rest. The Ravagers, along with Rocket and Drax, were already eagerly exploring Hovare - which happened to be large enough to offer not just fuel, but beds and a multitude of shops and bars to choose from, with a good amount of them selling illegal items for the less than civilized crowd that mingled here.

Gamora hesitated to venture too far from the inn, noticing how restless Nebula had become since arriving. Yesterday, her sister had visited the parking lots set aside for visitors that did not need repairs, and Gamora knew that Nebula still thought about leaving them. It pained her, but she had promised Nebula that she would give her her blessing should she decide to go.

On the evening of the second day it became perfectly clear to her that this was what would happen. Nebula was noticeably anxious, something that Harry too observed - when Yondu and Peter wanted him to join them in drinking, he had declined and stuck close to his two sisters, eying Nebula in a wary and worried manner which in turn made her even more twitchy.

All in all, Gamora was not surprised when Nebula finally snapped.

"I am going to leave today." Her words are cold and sharp, but the fact that she wouldn't meet their eyes was belying her attitude. There was a multitude of emotions swirling in those black eyes, more than Gamora could sort through in the short amount of time it took her sister to regain her bearings. In the space of a blink Nebula's eyes were once again empty, her face blank. The Zehoberei threw a quick glance in Harry's direction, who was frowning slightly, but didn't appear to be offended by Nebulas demeanour. He cocked his head to the left, narrowing his eyes.

"You will stay in contact, yes?" The question came quickly before Gamora had any chance to respond to Nebulas statement, and the blue-skinned woman seemed startled by his reaction. That, too, was nothing Gamora would be surprised about. Nebula was, under all the harshness and deadly skills, a very insecure person. She didn't have a team of friends to help to ground her, and was less stable because of it. She seemed so very unsure of how to react to someone trusting her enough to let her go.

"I... can do that", she finally conceded, staring at her brother. "As long as you remember to not keep me from my path, or try to hinder me otherwise." And there was the sneer again, the anger that was her preferred shield against the unknown. Gamora found herself smiling sadly before she reached out and squeezed Nebulas shoulder in an affectionate manner. It pained her to feel her sister stiffen uncomfortably under her hand.

"It is what you have chosen for yourself, sister. As much as I wish for you to stay with us I cannot keep you from seeking your own way. Just... promise me that you will stay safe as much as you can. We have all lost so much already. I don't want to lose you as well, now that we finally have each other." Her words were heartfelt. She had never hated her sister, for she knew who was to be blamed for this hateful creature in front of her. She knew that it wasn't Nebulas fault, or hers, or Harrys. Not even that of her other siblings. Next to her, Harry nodded vehemently at Gamoras words.

"Same goes for me. Shit, if you find a way to kill that asshole, you better message me asap. I bet we all want to get a good swing in before you off him." His smile was vicious, his bottle-green eyes flashing with troubling emotions. There was a good measure of fondness there, and it was directed towards Nebula. His smile became softer and a mischievous glint could be seen in his eyes as he quickly stepped forward and threw his arms around the Luphomoid.

His laughter and Nebulas startled curses when she threw him onto the ground made the farewell not less sad, but it dulled the ache for Gamora as she watched her sister go.

~~~

"You are brooding." She had found him a couple hours after Nebulas departure, lying flat on his back on his bed in the inn. The others had yet to return from their trip to the bar - according to Rocket, whom she had called, Drax was trying to coax Mantis into reading the emotions of the drunk patrons and it was hilarious. Like her, Harry had not felt like joining the group after they had said their goodbyes to Nebula. Unlike her, however, Harry had opted to go to his room he shared with Yondu and Kraglin. The room was a stinky mess after just two days at the port, but she had lived with Rocket and Groot in close quarters for a long time now and was used to the disorganization. Sidestepping discarded clothing her eyes were fixed on the young mage who opened an eye and appraised her for a moment.

"Yes." The answer was quite simple, but he at least did not deny his feelings. Both eyes were open now, and he made to sit up. "I tend to do that when I think of the past."

Gamora nodded and sat at the edge of one of the empty beds. They'd been shoved closely together, and with wry amusement she noticed that Harry's bed was right in the middle of the three. There was a close bond between them, and between the three and Peter, one that spoke of family. She knew that the Guardians were a mix of family and friends and that her own bond with Peter was something else entirely, but both groups mixed well together. They were not shining heroes, innocent and pure. They had all been criminals, some were still, and they all knew how hard life was. It grounded them, pulled them together and she found herself content with it.

"You can talk to me about anything worrying you, Harry,", she offers him after a couple minutes of comfortable silence. A soft, troubled look entered his eyes as he shifted his weight a bit, before he nodded while arranging his long legs under him.

"It's just, she reminds me of Azalel. It was pretty shitty for all of us, but they got the worst end of the bargain." There was more to that he was not yet sharing with her, but she could understand his hesitance when it came to this topic. The constant fights and punishments dished out at the Temple had destroyed most budding friendships in short order. Rivalries were fostered and those who had managed to retain their softer emotions had to keep them hidden at all times. She knew that, for a long time, Nebula had hated her with a passion, thinking Gamora to be loyal while she had been in so much pain. Truth had been rare and hard to come by in an environment where you were punished severely for going against the will of Father. Trust was almost nonexistent, at least from what she knew from of sisters. They had been separated early, the boys and the girls, and while they still fought each other in the pit, they had never socialized outside of it and she found herself wondering how it had been between the brothers. If trust had been so sparse there, too.

"Both are free, however. And while Nebula is searching for her revenge, it could very well be that Azalel will try to find a more relaxed life for himself." Her calming words were met with scepticism, but Harry nodded after a while and slowly breathed out as if he had an answer on his tongue but decided not to voice it.

"We may even meet him someday. I mean, what were the chances for you to meet my brother of all people? And joining him in his madness, too? We were able to pull that off once, we sure can do it twice." He managed an easy grin which she replied with a small smile and a more relaxed posture.

"I would be happy to reacquaint myself with another sibling. In the meantime, we will keep our eyes open for any signs."

~~~

May 10th, 2015
New Avengers Facility, New York

Pietro recovered from his injuries enough for transport a week after the Sokovia fight. They had been given accommodations at the New Avengers Facility, and with it came Passports, new clothing, daily check-ups for her brother and a vicious lawyer to make their stay legal as fast as possible. It was unnerving just how much was done for them, most of the time before Wanda could think of it herself. So she did what she could. She helped Pietro recover.

When Barton visited them the morning after Pietro had been released from the hospital she did her best to remain calm and friendly. It was true that Pietro had been shot while saving the man, but she told herself firmly that she had no reason to hate Barton for it. It had been her brother's decision after all, and that she would respect. Besides, Barton was very nice to them - a friendly face, easy jokes, a charming nature. Not too overbearing either - he went his way after half an hour and kept visiting the twins every morning after breakfast until Pietro was well enough to leave his bed.

The others kept their distance as well, giving the twins the opportunity to socialize with the Avengers at their own (slow) pace. Her brother was agreeable enough when it came to Barton, but there was still a deep distrust for the others despite the fight against Ultron. It was hard for them both to be under the same roof as the man who orphaned them, but neither of them was about to discard the chance to put their powers to better use. So, when Pietro took his afternoon nap - a thing he resented, but knew he had to put up with - she went and spent time with the other Avengers, or at least explored the facility. Once she even had the dubious pleasure to encounter Stark again (who avoided her as much as she avoided him). She managed to keep her tone civil and was surprised when he did the same. The talk was stiff and awkward - how was the apartment, was her brother feeling better, did they need anything - and left her with convoluted feelings of lingering anger, a bit of animosity and something that felt almost like guilt.

The moment Pietro was allowed to leave the bed she took him with her for short walks and later to join the Avengers who were on site for dinner. Thankfully, Stark only joined every now and then, pleading work as a reason to stay away most times. He did bring gifts with him when he made it to the dining room, little gadgets for the team or updates of their weapons, which was likely the reason why Rogers never demanded Stark to appear more often.

Though it was not without protest that Pietro came with her. Tonight was no exception, especially when they walked into the dining room and saw that Stark was already seated at the heavily loaded table, entertaining Rogers and his friend Wilson with a story about his college days. Wanda felt Pietro stiffen beside her and instinctively reached out through their connection. It was less telling than a comforting hand on his shoulder, yet more effective to help him with his anxiety. Especially when it came to Stark. The small touch of their minds took less than a second until she let go and walked forward. Her brother followed her hesitantly as she took a seat, mindful to keep her distance from Stark so as not to endanger their awkward truce.

"Good evening", she greeted the whole table. Her brothers own greeting was a lower echo of her words. The cheery reply came swiftly enough to sound genuine and it prompted a small smile of Wanda. She could feel Pietros searching gaze on her own face, followed by him relaxing a bit. Baby steps.

After a few awkward moments, Wilson asked Stark for details of his story, and the man quickly complied, taking away the attention from the twins. And soon after that, the door to the room opened again for Barton, his friend Romanoff and Vision. Next to her Pietros mood brightened quite a bit for which she was glad. She gave his knee a small squeeze under the table before eyeing both Romanov and Vision. The redhead gave both of them a nod before taking her seat next to Stark, while Barton joined Pietros other side. Vision floated over and took the seat across from Wanda, and like always, the young woman could not quite look away from the being.

They had spoken just a few times, and while it never was quite as awkward as with the rest of the team, she still cut their talks short and kept on safe topics like the Facility and the team and how Pietro was doing whenever Vision asked about him. Never once did she mention the gem on his forehead or the things that they could do because of its powers. She was tempted, however, especially because he was never afraid or nervous or even shy around her. His mind, whenever she brushed it, was calm and soothing and so very different from those around her. Even Thor, who had gone back to Asgard a week after Sokovia, had not felt as alien as Vision. He was powerful and yet gentle, and she was intrigued by it.

She managed a stiff smile and was rewarded with one in return. That left her quite pleased - to become allies, if not friends, with the Avengers was, after all, her plan for a better future for both her brother and herself. The last one to join them at the table was Banner, who showed up a couple of minutes later, with a ruffled grey shirt and dishevelled hair, a Stark Pad still in his hand. He smiled tiredly when he sat down, taking up one of the few empty spaces with a murmured apology on his lips which was swiftly drowned out by Stark, who clapped his hands and peered up and down the table.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Dig in!"

She felt Pietro bristling and again squeezed his knee under the table, this time not quite as weak, making a point to carefully free her face from any resentment she still felt for the man. Instead, she followed Starks lead and pulled over one of the many bowls on the table. They were filled with various Indian dishes, rice and flatbreads. Most times, she knew, the food was prepared by one of the chefs that worked on the Compound, employed to feed the various workers and scientists of the Facility. Once, Banner had cooked them up a meal, exotic Brazilian dishes she had quite enjoyed. A quick glance to her left had her smiling softly again. Pietro was scowling, but he was not glaring directly at Stark, which was a big improvement over the first time she had asked him to come to eat with the others when Stark had been there. He looked up at her and wrinkled his nose, to which she responded with a smile and an elbow jab to his ribs, scooping a spoonful of rice onto his plate with her free hand.

Soon enough low conversations where held over the meal after the first minutes of silent, appreciative eating. The food was, as always, of good quality, and Wanda enjoyed the spicy dishes well enough. And although she was ever so often checking on Pietro (who was talking with Barton about his family, and the soon to be born son) she found herself watching the man - being? - in front of her dissecting his green curry, as if he wanted to try and taste the different ingredients on their own.

"Do you need the food?" The question came with the hint of hesitation - this was something a bit more personal than the topics she usually used around him, but Vision didn't seem to mind. He just stopped pulling apart a piece of vegetable to meet her eyes before shaking his head.

"Not like you do, Miss Maximoff. But I do enjoy the act of eating." He smiled at her, his tone like always perfectly polite. She had heard that his voice stemmed from Starks late AI Jarvis and for a moment she wondered if the AI had also been so very pleasant. The one operating now, Friday, was friendly enough but didn't sound quite as human as Vision did. But then again he was alive now. Or at least enough to count. "It is the same as sleeping, another thing I have no need for." But yet something he did on occasion? It was heavily implied in that sentence. She held back the question if he dreamt like a human and instead simply nodded while searching for another topic she could go for. It was harder than she thought, talking so casually with people other than Pietro. A bit uncomfortable, but also very interesting.

It was Romanoff who saved her as if sensing her trouble. She smoothly inserted herself into the conversation and steered it into a discussion about different cuisines - like Wanda, she knew quite a lot of eastern European dishes and the two women tried to explain them to Vision who paid close attention. It was enough to temporarily draw her attention away from Pietro (after a final checkup to see if he was still happily engaged with Barton).

~~~

She was alone in their rooms after dinner, reading a novel she had found in the library of the Facility. It was a whimsical tale about four kids getting lost in a magical place, ruled by a witch and full of wonders and danger. Sitting like this on the padded window sill while the sun was setting, was relaxing. She was still not fully happy, but she was content and felt confirmed in her decision to join the Avengers. Especially when Barton had asked them if they wanted to join him for a walk outside after the meal and Pietro had actually joined him, even without her. Which was why she was sitting not on the couch, but at the window, to watch her brother run circles around the Archer despite his still weakened state. They had just stopped with their antics and headed back to the building. Wanda smirked - soon, Pietro would be back and, knowing him, ready to boast a bit. He always did when he was in a good mood, and the tether that connected the twins was glowing right now.

As she predicted, it didn't take long for her brother to arrive at their quarters. His clothing looked a bit the worse for wear, his hair was windswept, his cheeks flushed and his eyes... his eyes were huge with wonder and as bright as his disbelieving smile. Something definitely happened, and Wanda was quick to discard her book and welcome her brother.

"Wanda, you will never guess!" He was a bit breathless, but not from his running. The smile did not disappear when he reached for her hands, holding them tightly in his own. They felt warm and safe and she couldn't help but match his smile.

"Well, tell me then." And when he did, it confirmed her decision just so much more.

~~~

May 17th, 2015
Orbital Spaceport "Hovare", Jaune IV

It was the day before the Quadrant would be ready for flight once more. It had taken the mechanics and engineers quite some time for the various upgrades the team had wished for; the full change to plasma powered internal systems had cost them a pretty penny, but according to Kraglin it would be well worth it in the long run.

Harry was walking through the nearly finished Ravager ship, eying the various light fixtures and new terminals. It still felt like home since most of the changes were internal, meaning the overall appearance of the ship was still the same. The quarters had been reworked - Yondu, Kraglin and he still stuck together and in time Groot would need his own cabin, too. He snorted a bit, thinking back to when Peter had asked Gamora to share accommodations. Her refusal had stung the older man, but not too much after it became clear that Gamora mostly needed her own room for her rigorous training. Something in which Harry would join her to polish his own skills.

He checked his communicator and grinned before entering the bridge. There were still some workers running around in other parts of the ship, not only from the repair shop working on their ship, but also from various merchants delivering food, drinks, and weapons. Tonight they would go and purchase the less legal necessities. It was always best to leave that for the last couple of hours. Snitches weren’t common in these regions, but one could never be too careful. Most of the team had also used their long stay to buy privately needed items, like clothing and toiletries, tidbits and, in Rocket’s case, even more weapons.

"First!" His cheer went unnoticed as he swiftly took Yondu’s usual seat. The Ravager wouldn't need it for the next couple of hours anyway - he had promised to distract Peter for some time, giving the others some privacy without the man storming in. Soon enough, the others trickled in. He was somewhat glad that Kraglin immediately took the seat next to him, while Rocket took the other side, cradling Groot in his arms.

"Is he gone?" Mantis daintily crossed her legs at her ankles, tilting her head to the left. Her big, glossy eyes looked around in a curious manner, a small smile tugging at the corners of her lips. To no one’s surprise, Drax planted himself at her side. Next to him was Gamora, who looked equally serious and amused.

"Yep." Harry popped his 'p' and leaned forward. "We have at least two hours. I promised him to meet up later, but that should be enough time."

"Hopefully. If he whines one more time, I'm gonna throw him out of an air lock." Rocket’s comment gained a few snickers from the gathered bunch. "Now, the question is: How are we gonna pull it off? He's far too nosy and not as stupid as he looks, he will notice where we're heading."

"Shouldn't be surprised, the kid had it coming", Kraglin murmured with a nasty grin. Harry barked out a low laugh.

"I do not understand his indecisiveness. He wishes to visit his home planet, yet he makes such a fuss out of it." Drax shook his large head with a drawn expression on it, as if he could not believe that he had sworn to follow Peter as his captain. Harry could very well understand the feeling - he was still quite bemused by Peter’s twitchy behaviour. He wouldn't mind visiting his own planet, after all. There were bound to be more mages there. People to learn from. He could already feel the warmth rising up in his belly the moment he thought about his magic, but he quashed the sudden urge to use it. The work on the Quadrant was not yet finished, and to handle his magic so close to the port was too high a risk. He pushed the prickly sensation down, waving a hand.

"Yondu gave Krags the coordinates to Terra, let's see which colonized systems are nearby. Pretend that we got a job - or better yet, get a job and earn some money back - then do our best to keep him from steering the Quadrant and we should be fine." His eyes flickered towards Drax, who was once again not listening. The warrior was a formidable ally, but he tended to get distracted every so often, mostly by food and Mantis. Of all the Guardians, Harry had yet to properly talk to him. Both tried often enough, but there were only so many topics that interested Drax, something that quickly exhausted the young Ravager. He was nice enough, hilariously direct and as physically strong as they came, but while he wouldn't call Drax an idiot, the man’s intellect was very alien to the sneaky mage. "You with us, big guy?"

It took a not-so-subtle nudge from Mantis for Drax to look up. He frowned, looking like he was thinking Harry to be the idiot in the room. Like he said - hilarious. "Of course I am. Do you not see me?"

Next to him he heard Kraglin’s soft snort. Rocket was not so polite and cackled loudly. Harry fought to keep his face amiable, throwing Drax a wide smile. "Good. Just to make sure, we won't tell Peter about our destination, yes?" This time Drax listened and nodded, which was enough for Harry.

"Good. Let's get to the details. I want to finish this before Harry meets up with Quill, there was a weapons dealer I have to visit." Rocket let the squirming Groot run to Mantis and cracked his tiny knuckles.

Chapter Text

May 19th, 2015
Bridge, The Quadrant

“Okay, guys, we’re in.”

This, Peter thought, was one of the more bizarre things you could possibly experience in the universe. The jump between two galaxies was massive without a stop between and the scenery was… to be honest, quite disturbing. Like the flickering grey interference screen of his grandfather’s old television set, back when there was a storm brewing in Missouri. It was a mass of grey and black and white and he felt like the ship was not moving forward, not even an inch. There was no sense of movement at all like there was with the regular jump points, just the soft hum of the ship’s engine and the flickering mess outside the windows. At least there were no additional sounds, no static hiss to further disturb him. It would take them three days to make the jump, give or take a couple of hours, and he already hated it.

“Hope this job is worth it”, he muttered and averted his gaze from the unsettling scene.

“It definitely will be. Sure, it’s just some barmy serial killer, but he butchered up an Ambassador and they still messed up catching him, so they are willing to pay good money.” Harry was fiddling with his monitor, bringing up the file of the wanted criminal. There was no picture included, only a very vague description - Male, around 6’3’’, bald, blue eyes - and a list of his offences, most of them being murder, some of them just theft of spaceships. Next to it was a rough map of the western quadrant of the Milky Way galaxy. A string of highlighted star systems indicated the gruesome route the murderer had taken.

“Maybe the price will even go up over time until someone stops him, huh?” Peter leaned forward, one hand on Harry’s shoulder, and revelled in doing so. During his time away from the Ravagers he had missed his brother, his whole family, more than he would ever dare to articulate and the fact that Harry, Yondu, and even Kraglin were here with him, together with his friends, made him very happy.

“You wanna let him kill some more people to get more money? Why, Pete, I never!” Harry turned his head and winked at him, a big grin on his face. It made him smile in response but didn’t stop the small slap he gave him.

“Don’t be daft. But look at his pace, see?” He pointed at the list of dates next to the highlighted systems, tapping against the monitor. “He’s pretty fast. I’m just being realistic here.”

“Well, I won’t complain if the price rises while we are in the jump.” Harry shrugged and swatted Peter’s hand away before closing the screen. “Let’s get out of here, intergalactic jumps always give me headaches. Fancy some Yaro stew?”

~~~

May 20th, 2015
Quarters, The Quadrant

If you ever change your mind
About leaving, leaving me behind…

Gamora hummed softly to the song. She was very fond of Peter’s Terran music, and though he still hesitated to play the second tape through the ship’s speakers, she was allowed to play both of them in their room for herself. Slowly swaying from side to side to the rhythm as Peter had taught her, she sorted through her clothes. Most of them were new, bought on Hovare to compensate for those lost after the destruction of the Milano, but she never had been overly attached to these kinds of things. The items she really cared for where always on her body, safe and just a touch away.

She rubbed a thumb over a small stain on one of her combat trousers before tossing it on the pile on the floor. Those she would wash. A shirt, clean and crisp, was folded and placed more carefully in one of the compartments on the wall. A dress, a present from Peter, startled her into a soft laugh and she pulled it close. It was a nice, deep blue. Form-fitting on the top and with a skirt that flared out when she turned around to a soft Yeah, yeah, yeah…

I know I laughed when you left
But now I know I only hurt myself…

“Are you dancing?”

Again she spun around, again the skirt flared out rather dramatically. Harry smiled at her from the door, amused and with bright eyes. There was no malice in them, only curiosity, which was why she nodded instead of berating him for entering her room uninvited like she had done to Rocket the one time he had caught her dancing alone.

“Peter taught me, shortly after we met.” The dress was not easily folded, but she managed. “Did he teach you, too?”

“He wanted to. But I never saw any merit in learning it.” Finally, he took another step, leaving the doorway behind and allowing the automatic system to kick in, which closed the door with a soft hiss.

“You can try it if you want. Come, dance with me.” She took his hand after putting away a pair of sturdy boots and relished in his laugh. It took a few moments until their hands were positioned just right, and then they swayed together to the slow, calming song. Harry was not half bad and avoided stepping on her feet. The pile of dirty clothes was not as lucky, however, and soon were trampled all over.

I'll give you jewellery and money too
That ain't all, that ain't all I'll do for you…

“You know, this sounds awfully familiar…” She held his hand up, prodding him to spin once, twice before they came together again. He nearly tripped over a shirt in the process. “What’s the story with this tape, anyway? He only ever played one, back on the Eclector.”

“It was a present from his mother, one he had not opened until after… after Ego.” She could feel how Harry tensed up, but she wouldn’t let go of him. She kept swaying to the soothing sound, pulling him with her until he relaxed again. “After nearly losing Yondu, and you not waking up, he finally opened the package. He showed me the tape a couple of days after we arrived at Hovare.”

He hummed and didn’t comment further on it. It was easy to trust him not to pick on Peter for this - her captain had always been very sensitive when it came to his mother. And sensitivity was often mocked by their kind, by those who lived between the stars.

You know I'll always be your slave
'Till I'm buried, buried in my grave
Oh, honey bring it to me
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me…”

As the song came to an end, the two former assassins stopped their impromptu dance. Harry gave a laugh when he looked around the renovated room - he had dragged quite a number of clothes across the floor, but at least he was decent enough that he immediately started to pile them together again.

“I might have heard it through his headphones. Sometimes the music is really loud”, he mused, eyeing an empty basket next to the cabinet before dragging it next to the pile. Gamora watched him for a moment before she, too, continued her work and folded another clean garment.

~~~

May 22th, 2015
Harthak City, Polnuna

The first planet they visited upon reaching the Milky Way galaxy was mostly covered in water, with three small continents and an unknown number of islands providing the necessary land mass for non-aquatic life forms to dwell on. The Polnik were small people, with dark grey, rubber-like skin and two sets of large, pitch-black eyes, that had evolved both gills and lungs. They weren’t the weirdest race Harry had seen since travelling through space (he was, after all, living with a talking rodent and a walking tree), but they came close.

Fortunately, the crime had not taken place in one of the vast underwater cities of the Polnik, but in one of the cities above. Harthak was a big, sprawling mass of buildings, a conglomerate of dozens of different architectural styles, built by the galactic neighbours of the planet. It was also the centre of diplomacy and trade of the local star cluster, and thus highly guarded by the government.

This had not, however, stopped the wanted criminal from killing more than a dozen people, half of them members of the police.

“So, he started here?” Rocket was fiddling with his Black Book, a small monitor often used by headhunters to check the warrant lists from the governments. The file of the killer had been updated during their jump and Harry saw that the public had dubbed him “Blinder” for his tendency to gouge and cut out the eyes of his victims. It was still missing a picture, which was quite a feat. The young mage counted at least seven different security cameras near the plaza where the first recorded crime had happened.

“Yep.” The racoon popped the p with relish before closing the holo-screen. “According to the file he didn’t use any visible device to corrupt the footage, but all the recordings were pretty messed up when they checked them. Forced a group of maintenance workers into this alley and shot them down without much resistance. When the police came, he killed them too, and just as easy, before making a run.”

They were alone at the plaza, standing right in front of the entrance to the alley which led to several backdoor-entrances of some shops and a number of dumpsters. The rest of the crew was walking about the city - especially Peter had been keen to escape the Quadrant after the three-day long jump between galaxies. With most of the evidence long cleaned up, they had only planned to stay long enough to get a good look at the crime scene and to fill up on some essentials like food and fuel.

“Kind of a shitty place to stay hidden”, Harry remarked. “You can see right into it and the dumpsters are all bolted to the ground.”

“Well, they say he’s crazy. Let’s hope he doesn’t screw up until we can cash in, eh?”

~~~

May 25th, 2015
Phershakan, Pherth II

On the fifth planet (rather tropical, the same-named native race were furred despite the high temperatures) they met with another group of headhunters who were trying for the bounty. They weren’t Ravagers but from another small Syndicate that only operated in the Milky Way. They did, however, have a lot to say about the Ravagers. A lot of nasty things, to be specific. Which was not at all a good thing when you had four more or less active members of said Syndicate with you. Harry didn’t mind the ensuing fight - he was, after all, one of those members, and very proud of the flame on his jacket.

They had to leave the planet earlier than anticipated, after that fight. Which was, in the end, quite fortunate when the file updated mid-jump. Two people dead, fresh in the news. They changed course and made their way to the most recent crime scene.

~~~

May 25th, 2015
Ivi Gardens, Stravitov

They arrived before the authorities were finished cleaning up. Stravitov was not used to such slaughter, which delayed things. On busy planets, the mess would have been gone mere hours after the first investigation. On Stravitov, a lush and peaceful garden colony, it took almost two days.

The native race was long-limbed and oddly beautiful, with heart-shaped faces and reddish skin. They were also at a loss on what to do, and thus granted the Guardians entry to the small house. There were no grand skyscrapers in Stravitov, not even here, at the capital. The highest building only had a couple of stories and housed the private star cruisers of the more well-off individuals. The dead owners of the house had been such individuals.

“Oh, fuck me”, Peter cursed, looking around. The blood had already dried up, but the heavy coppery scent had not aired out. The bodies had been taken away, but bits and pieces of skin and tissue were still laying around. It was him and Gamora looking around this time, while Groot enjoyed being treated like royalty - the Strata were exceptionally fond of plants, and the small Flora colossus had received a very warm welcome -, the others tagging along. He envied them for a brief but fierce moment. “This is disgusting… there were two victims?”

Gamora, who looked way calmer than Peter felt, checked a small file that had been brought together by the local peacekeepers. “Wife and Husband. The husband’s eyes had been gouged out, apparently with bare hands. Nothing except the ship was stolen.”

“If all he wants is a good ship, why does he stop so often? And if it’s just about killing people, he could have easily stayed on one of the busier planets. He’s searching for something.”

He was very careful with crossing the room, avoiding all the bits and pieces the Peacekeepers had yet to scrub away and peered through another door. “Is there anything about a kid in the file they gave us?” Peter entered the room, switching on the lights and took a few moments to look around. The walls were painted in bright, cheery colours and a number of toys cluttered the floor. The bed looked too small for an adult Strata and there were childish paintings hung on the wall across from the entrance.

Gamora made a soft, startled noise, followed by a relieved sigh. “A daughter, yes. She was unharmed. It says that she had been in her room when our target broke in. Apparently, he had locked the door, but she was able to escape through the window to get help.”

“So he spared a child. Again. Do you think we can talk to her? Or at least ask the Peacekeepers for a transcript of the interview?”

“The latter should be doable. She may have been able to hear something before she ran. Give me a moment, I will try to contact the Keepers office.”

They made their way out of the house. Gamora was talking into her communication unit, her voice kept low. It was a beautiful day, with a clear, lavender sky and a bright, blue-ish sun adorning it. The exact opposite of the gruesome scene indoors. Peter took a moment to gather himself while waiting for his girlfriend to finish the call.

“They will send us the transcript. It will be rather short. The daughter is still at the hospital.”

“I will call the others, then. We should get ready to depart, I have a feeling that there will be an update soon.”

~~~

May 27th, 2015
Orbital Space Station “Kanope”, Xetuna

The update came two days later, one day after they had departed from Stravitov. The interview hadn’t been very helpful - the victims’ daughter had still been in shock when the Peacekeepers tried to talk to her, and the only useful information the crew had gathered was that the Blinder was searching for something - or someone. It matched Peter’s assumptions and the fact that the killer was travelling in an almost linear route. Which was, by itself, quite disturbing, given that this route was directly headed towards a set of coordinates that the whole crew were very familiar with.

Harry could only hope that they would be able to catch the madman before he reached Terra. Preferably without Peter taking notice of their proximity to his cradle planet. Otherwise, he would never hear the end of it.

Thanks to their early departure they were the first to arrive at the small station, not even a full day after the file had been updated. The authorities were far more used to such a gruesome scene than the gentle Strata, which was why the storage room, the crime scene of the latest murder of two mechanics, was already free of any blood and gore. The third mechanic, a young humanoid teen and nephew of one of the victims who had been spared just like the girl on Stravitov, was luckily in a far better mental state.

Antar Kanmerey was only a couple of years younger than Harry and had a set of bright brown eyes with the slightest hint of green in them. He was tall and gangly, with a shock of dirty blonde curls and a gap between his upper front teeth. He did not cry or rant or shout. Instead, his voice was low, his words stilted and every syllable soaked in a cold, vengeful fury.

“I could hear them. I was searching for Uncle Riek, we had to check one of the hangar doors and he said he wanted to do an inventory. Something smelled off, I think it was blood, and I heard a voice asking about some stone. It was hard to understand… It was muffled, the sound, you see? But he asked about the stone, and Uncle Riek said he didn’t know no stone, and then the other voice got louder. Said that Uncle Riek’s eyes were wrong, and then… Then I heard the scream and I pushed my alarm, the emergency one we have to wear and opened the door and…”

Harry watched Antar. Noticed his laboured breath, how his eyes moved from one point to the other. Never looking up. They were fixed on the slightly dirty floor of the interrogation room, on the table between them, on his own hands, balled into fists. He remembered his own fears when he had thought Yondu dead, when he had thought Peter dead, but he didn’t reach out for the teen. It would hardly help, coming from a stranger.

“You have seen him, yes?” It was Gamora who asked the questions with a gentle, yet firm voice. She was here with Harry and Peter. Mantis had offered, but despite her abilities, she was lacking the necessary tact. Not that Harry thought he had much more. He knew, however, when to hold his tongue.

“He ran out. Right past me. I can’t tell you his race, but he had lots of implants and really pale skin and the bluest eyes. I didn’t really look at him, see, because behind him was…” He stopped again, shaking his head. “He had squeezed his eyes out. With his hands. Uncle’s coworker, ol’ Sal, he was on the floor, and there was blood everywhere.”

He finally looked up and there was a fierce, burning hatred in those eyes. Harry, however, didn’t feel the burning heat of them. He suddenly felt numb and cold, yet he couldn’t quite discern why. He exchanged a startled look with his sister before he pushed back both the ominous feeling and the shudder that wanted to ride up his spine and settle in the nape of his neck.

~~~

May 27th, 2015
Unknown Location

It hurt. It hurt. It hurt. But it always hurt, an ache too deep to ignore, to persistent to ride out. It hid in his joints when he moved, his lungs when he breathed and in his head when he thought. But he was always hurting, since he was little, no more than a faun, taken from his mother and father and siblings. But maybe, maybe they had been taken from him. It was hard to remember what came before, but he would always remember the screams and the blood and the smell of burnt flesh, and Father's hand on his shoulder and his voice in his ears. The memories were hard to grasp and soon it was someone else's screams and blood and burnt flesh and then it was his screams and blood and burnt flesh.

He remembered the Sharp Place. The smells and voices, the feeling of hard, unforgiving stone under his naked feet, small, frightened faces around him turning into paranoid grimaces into hostile glares into cold, dead eyes. And he remembered a pair of green ones. They never turned hostile or dead, but guilty and full of pity. Once he had known the name and the face of those eyes. Once, before he had been broken so completely that it had taken him years to gather enough pieces of his former sanity to understand what they had done to him, what he had turned into. That moment of clarity had brought forth another kind of pain, one of loss and grieving and anger and hate, hate, hate, and with the new pain had come plan and the urge and the execution.

The eyes in front of him were green, too, but they held neither guilt nor pity. He searched and searched, confused and angry (always angry) for the hint of warmth and recognition. He was sure, as sure as he could be nowadays, that his pair of green eyes would show all this, that his pair of green eyes would be happy to see him. But those in front of him didn't, and so he killed them and heard screams and felt blood and smelled burnt flesh. It left a familiar taste in his mouth and for a moment, he stood still, watching the fragmented memories from before he had been broken.

Chapter Text

May 28th, 2015
State-of-the-art hospital, Somewhere

It was a small building Stark’s driver had brought them to. Barton had already been gone for a week, and at the end of it, Wanda was relieved when the call finally came for them to join him. Only Romanoff, Pietro and herself were here - the others had decided to give the Bartons some space and had planned their visit for the next day.

It was a private clinic. As far as Wanda knew, Stark had personally prepared for this when Barton told him about his wife. With the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. a year ago, the former assassin had been thankful for the help of his friend and had gladly accepted the provided facilities, and, after a long talk with his wife, the offer to move his family to the Compound afterwards for better protection. And even though Wanda felt a spark of anger at the blatant show of money and influence, she was also pleasantly surprised how genuine the billionaire had sounded when he had made the offer. And how much Barton had to trust him for accepting it.

So she had gone along with the other two when Barton had called and was now sitting in the small but tasteful family waiting room, drinking jasmine tea and occasionally glancing towards the door that led towards the delivery room. Her brother was trying to act calm and collected, an image she was more successful at projecting. Across fromthem sat Romanoff, a book in her hands and a cup of coffee in front of her. Wanda couldn’t see if she was nervous or not but she didn’t use her powers to find out. It would be easy, to just brush over another's mind, not more than a gentle touch. Still, she wanted to give them some space, if only to learn to trust the Avengers. And the less she slipped, the more she had to put her trust in them. With some Avengers it was… not easy, but not as hard as she had thought. With others, not so much.

The door opened just moments after she had finished her tea. Predictably, Pietro jumped up and hurried towards Barton who held onto a small, soft bundle. The blanket was baby-blue, with small, white dots stitched around the edge, and surrounded the baby inside almost entirely. “May I present: Nathaniel Pietro Barton!”

“He’s so tiny”, Pietro breathed, not daring to touch the red, wrinkly skin of the tiny face. The eyes were scrunched closed, the teeny lips parted just so, and the smallest tuft of blonde hair sat on the scalp.

“He is, isn’t he?” There was a gentle wonder in Barton’s eyes. He was in love with this child, just as much as he was in love with each of the other two children he had with his wife, and it showed in the careful and protective way he held his son and the warm smile that tugged on his lips. “He has his mommy’s eyes even.”

“And his father’s nose”, Romanoff commented. She, too, had made her way to Barton to inspect her godchild. Immediately, Barton’s face lit up and without a moment’s hesitation, he presented his son to her to take. And she did, with an ease that spoke of practice and that surprised Wanda quite a bit. But then, she mused, these two were close. A long, shared history, perhaps, and the ease came from holding Barton’s other children back when they had been babes.

Hello, darling Nathaniel”, the redheaded assassin murmured, stroking one plump cheek with the back of a finger. Pietro was trying not to look too eager (and she couldn’t say why he tried - he had already explained in great detail to her how much he looked forward to holding the baby), but Wanda saw his fingers twitching. She smiled, hovering behind her brother. This would only strengthen the forming friendship between him and Barton, something Pietro desperately needed in the future. He needed more than just herself, and while she truly believed that the siblings belonged together, that there was nothing who could replace either of them, she was also determined to gather friends they could not only like, but also trust.

A soft, whining sound escaped the blue folds of the blanket, and Wanda couldn’t help but smile. At least she wasn’t the only one. Romanoff gently rocked the baby and placed a kiss on his forehead before surrendering the small being back into Barton’s arms who then presented Nathaniel to Pietro.

“One arm here, to support the head, and close to your chest. I promised his mother to bring him back in one piece.” Barton grinned like a loon, but that was expected. What was not expected was the look of near panic on Pietro’s face when Barton arranged little Nathaniel in his arms. “Just so. You’re a natural, kiddo!”

And with that, Wanda watched her brother fall in love. She would thank Bar… Clint for that after he came back to the Compound.

~~~

May 28th, 2015
Orbital Space Station “Kanope”, Xetuna

He had a talent for deceit and was clearly cunning enough to act on it. But he lacked a touch of subtlety - why else would he suddenly decide to accompany her for restocking when before he had always, and with astonishing ease, found an excuse to avoid the task? She did humour him, though, because a second pair of arms were always handy when it came to shopping. Which was why, after a hurried breakfast, Harry and she were busy browsing the labels of different nutrition bars, trying to find those that Drax was inexplicably fond of. Time was short - the crew had decided to leave after just one night’s sleep, lest they lose their advantage in the hunt. Whatever it was that Harry wanted to talk about, he would have to find the words in the next half-hour or on the Quadrant, and the Quadrant was, while spacious, not the best place for secret meetings. A quick glance told her that he would spill the beans (she still had not asked Peter about the history of that particular saying) soon enough. He was already chewing on his lip, a nervous tell that she had quickly caught on to.

“Say, sister…” She smiled but was careful not to gloat. It wouldn’t do for him to know how easy she could read him. Not that his eyes were dull - she was sure that he had no problems reading her, too. But sometimes blindness came in many facets, and he might not have noticed yet.

“Yes, brother?” She paid for a couple of boxes and Harry dutifully carried them out of the dingy store. He gave her a troubled look - he was so very expressive whenever he felt no need to hide his feelings.

“I was just thinking. ‘Bout the boy from yesterday, and what he was sayin’. It’s the most information we’ve got on the Blinder, but…”

Ah, thought Gamora. She should have known that Harry’s thoughts were, in some fashion, quite similar to her own. He had escaped the hell a lot earlier than she had, but it always left an imprint that stayed the same on one’s soul regardless of the length of time you had to spend there. In that, neither she nor he had changed that much since leaving the Temple. Leaving Him.

“But the description sounds similar to another”, she finished for him just as they entered another store, just as dirty as the other. There was not much money between the Guardians anymore after Hovare, but with the right mind, set to the task, even a little amount of Units could be stretched a long way. And Gamora, ever the survivor, had the right mind for haggling. It helped when you were a known, albeit repentant and pardoned, assassin still feared by a lot of people in the universe.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Harry flinch ever so slightly. Turning around to face him, she took a couple of seconds to properly look at him. There was guilt in his eyes and denial in the way his jaw was set and another multitude of troubling emotions surrounding him that it was almost palpable. She sighed before dragging the young man between two shelves, placing both her hands on his stiff shoulders.

“It doesn’t have to be him, you know, and even if it’s him, there is nothing you have yourself to blame for. We have been over this, Harry, but I will tell you again and again if I must.” She kept her voice low and firm, but not accusing. The young mage was a lot like Peter and just slightly easier to talk to when it came to troubling topics. But he was also actively searching her out when he needed to talk, and that was something that Peter had yet to learn. “For now, we can’t be sure yet. There are many people out there and they come in all forms and colours. So don’t fear what has yet to be proven true.”

“But when it’s proven, it will be on us to take him down. Us, Gamora! It was bad enough when we had been forced to do so. You know what he had done for me. And it ain’t a coincidence that he’s on his way to Peter’s planet, either. You know that. Not with how he had escaped the Temple just when Father wages war against Terra!”

His voice rose slightly higher at the end, enough that she shushed him. A stubborn look passed his artificial eyes before closing his mouth, jaw set in a very different way than before. It was defiance, and Gamora knew that she had to tread carefully now.

“I never said it was impossible. And I agree with you - I don’t think that you could or even should fight against him when the time comes.” She cupped his face in her hands and he lowered his eyes, slightly relaxing his stance. It was a good sign that she knew from Peter. “I will not allow it. But there will be a reason for this madness. If there is no other way, you can count on me.”

The promise did not weight her down - she would rather kill a dozen more of her brothers and sisters than see either Nebula nor Harry forced to do so. Not as long as she was still drawing breath.

~~~

May 29th, 2015
Bridge, The Quadrant

The time between jumps stretched the longest. Not every jump point was close to the next, especially not this far away from the main hubbub, as Yondu once pointed out. One exited the jump, the computers would search for the next couple of jump points available, one set the coordinates right and waited until they were close enough to start the jump procedure anew. In busy (and rich) quadrants of the universe, it was almost instantaneous. Here, in the suburbs of the Milky Way, it sometimes took hours to reach your next point.

That created a lot of waiting time, and despite what some people said, one could not always eat, sleep or take a dump to spend your time. Groot was, mostly, not touched by that sentiment. He simply fell asleep if there wasn’t anything shiny or colourful to play with. Drax was likewise easily occupied, and could sit for hours at one spot polishing his knives, with Mantis chatting away.

The rest was not so lucky, and while Gamora had headed down to the Cargo Bay with Harry to beat the shit out of him and call it training, the rest of the crew lazed around on the Bridge. It was Rocket’s shift to keep an eye on the flight route and the overall performance of the Quadrant, a task he spiced up by trying to calculate a decent prognosis on where the Blinder would end up next. Not that there were a lot of choices left - they were fast approaching Asgardian Territory, which meant that between Delta Leonis and Terra there would be neither jump points nor civilizations. With only a handful of possible destinations left until they reached that dreadful point they had decided to visit those colonized planets that were more or less directly between Kanope and Delta Leonis, all the while scanning for the stolen ship from Strata. This had been Rocket’s own idea - a man who stole ships without bothering to be stealthy about it could very well forget to disrupt the short-range transmissions most every (legal) ship constantly sent out. The device was most times hidden somewhere in the bowels of the engines and as such quite hard to find. Once you found it, however, you could easily ‘upgrade’ it by connecting it to the main computer so that the owner could cut off those transmissions. Such things were, of course, highly illegal, as those transmissions were used by police forces to identify the ship, but they were also not very well known, so naturally, Rocket had done said upgrade almost immediately on the Quadrant.

Of course, he hadn’t told anyone about that last part.

Laughter drifted over from where Peter and Yondu sat. Some snippets of their conversation reached his sensitive ears, and he snorted softly while fiddling with some parameters of an equation that the board computer would solve for him. It was not very hard to do such calculations, but it was dull work to do. Two seats down the row, Kraglin was leaning back in his seat, a bowl of spicy snacks on his lap, and watched some funky space show on his left monitor while his second one had the file of the murderer open, in case that it was updated.

With a swift motion, he typed in the last numbers into the equation and let the computer do the rest of the work. The moment his shift was over, he would go take a nap. Or better, take something apart to build something awesome. Preferably something that could explode or make other things explode. Or maybe he could go down to the Cargo Bay and watch Gamora kicking Harry’s arse.

With a soft beep, his monitor expanded slightly. A map of their surroundings flickered on the screen, with a bright, yellow line trailing after the blinking dot that was their ship, and a couple of more muted coloured lines going forward. Three lines were taking the route towards Delta Leonis, where they split up into more or less likely directions the Blinder could take. One forest green line made a U-turn, which he dismissed, but the others were more promising.

“Hey, what’s that?” A hand appeared in his line of sight, tapping on the map, specifically a dark red line that crossed Delta Leonis and disappeared on the right-hand side of the monitor. Rocket knew where it was headed - while Terra was certainly a backwater planet, it was getting a more and more popular name out there in the dingy bars and seedy places. The rumour of a failed invasion, a part of Asgardian Territory, and, last but not least, one Peter Quill, captain of the crew that saved Xandar and a known Terran. This all led to the fact that some eyes were now on that planet, and they were certainly not the kind sort.

“Just some prognosis. It’s math, Quill, don’t try to wrap your thick head ‘round it.” He tried to swat away the hand as if it was an annoying fly, and just like a fly it came back just as fast, tapping and prodding.

“I know math”, Peter sounded petulant now and he leaned over, squinting his eyes a bit. “Can you zoom out?”

“How about you just sod off?!” He felt quite nervous, and he hated feeling that way. But with Peter fumbling with the program, it was only a matter of time until he found out how to properly navigate the map, and they were too close to Terra to risk the damn planet to pop up on the monitor now. “Listen, if you’re bored, why don’t you go be helpful somewhere else? I said don’t touch!”

One of the lines was gone now, though thankfully not the red one. Peter had followed the now non-existent blue line right across the monitor and was now staring confused and curious at a particular star with its name shown above it. “Sirius. Sounds similar.” And to Rocket’s horror, the stupid Terran tried to once again touch and prod.

“For fuck's sake, Quill!”, he blurted out before catching himself again. “Don’t you have other things to do other than messing up my work? Like, have you talked to your brother yet?” Seriously, his captain was far too easy to lie to. Especially when you knew what kind of bait to throw him.

“What’s with him? You know something?”, Peter stopped fiddling with the monitor in an instant and looked part worried, part excited. Rocket blamed the boredom - the half-Terran never faired well when there was nothing to do for him.

“You don’t know? Your brother was searching for you, right before Gamora snatched him up. They are down in the Cargo. Dunno if it’s important, but hey, better safe than sorry, yeah?” It was, of course, a big fat lie, but desperate times called for desperate needs, and it definitely worked with the sometimes painfully gullible man whose face visibly lit up.

“Shit, I better get going! Who knows how sore he will be when Gamora’s finished with him!”

Rocket’s knowledge of Terran fauna was quite limited. But had he known about dogs, he would have undoubtedly described Quill as a giant labrador pup. He watched his captain walk through the door, counted to five and flicked on his comm. “Harry, Quill’s on his way. He was way too nosy and I had to distract him before he found out about Terra. Yeah, he will come down to you, so you better find something you wanted to tell him about, bye!”

He flipped both the laughing Yondu and Kraglin off while ending the call.

~~~

June 2nd, 2015
Sarkan, Bigutar (Delta Leonis)

Despite the recent (and fairly expensive) overhaul of the Quadrant, Harry had been very reluctant to actually use his magic onboard, fearful that it would still find some obscure, yet very important operation system sensitive to his powers by accidentally destroying it. Sure, he had levitated some smaller objects here and there or fiddled with some pieces of scrap metal into usable meeples after discovering an old game of Jakz that was short on them, but he had abstained from using his more impressive (and often explosive) skills.

Naturally, after a couple of days travelling the boring space between locations (and missing his chances to properly exhaust himself on the last one), he was not only bored out of his mind but also literally itching due to the pent-up energy churning inside him. Which was why he demanded one last shore leave before they plunged into the vast area of unmapped space they were about to enter in pursuit of their target.

“I mean, seriously. They have one movable wormhole. That’s no excuse to forgo fixed jump points. It’s not like they don’t know about them, I heard they have some points close to Nid-something for trading purposes. It’s like they don’t want any visitors.”

The mage snickered while preparing the Downfall for take-off. Bigutar, a little backwater moon orbiting a pretty, yet quite a barren planet in the Delta Leonis system, only had a tiny mining colony, a few bigger forests and a lot of shallow oceans. That also meant that the colony was lacking the necessary facilities to accommodate a ship as big as the Quadrant, which was why they would take the Downfall. Kraglin was helping him with the M-ship, softly ranting about all the hardships they had to go through just to make Peter happy. Both knew from experience that unmapped space was a right pain to travel, as their speed was limited by their engine.

“That’s probably because they don’t want any visitors”, was his cheeky answer, followed by a soft “Ouch!” after which he chose to keep his mouth shut lest he received another whack across the back of his head.

Not even an hour later the whole crew minus Mantis and Rocket, who both had decided to stay on the Quadrant as guards, received permission to land on a large clearing a couple of miles away from the mining colony Sarkan. The air was a bit thin but breathable enough for them, and the forest surrounding the clearing was just dense enough to hide them from curious eyes. The sky was dominated by the reddish-grey glow of the planet, a colour that was dully copied by most of the vegetation of the small moon. Even the soil was more of a dark grey than brown, covered by a meagre dusting of sickly grass and dead leaves. They were quick to set up some chairs, a table and plenty of food and drinks next to the Downfall while Harry stalked the clearing for a good place to work out the annoying itch his unused magic caused inside of him, Groot hot on his heels examining the local flora.

~~~

“I am Groot!” The excited shout was nearly drowned out by Drax’ booming laughter. Up in the air, Groot danced between dead branches and several smaller rocks to the movements of Harry’s hands, waving madly at his friends far down below and without an ounce of fear visible. They had been on the planet for nearly four hours now, with the blueish sun reaching its peak, and Harry felt comfortable once again. He had worked through his usual exercises, lifting and spinning and breaking various trees and rocks before enjoying lunch with his spectators. The warm tingle of his magic surging up and bending to his will was one of the best feelings he had yet to experience and he had soon given in to the demands of his friends, lifting them up into the air or fashioning items out of the debris that now littered the far end of the clearing. He had even performed what he called his “failed attempt at Sorcery, but with precision, honest!”, which was just as potent at blowing up the landscape as his very own blasting hex without the drain on himself.

“So, can you teleport others again, or do you think that you will end up in a coma, like last time?” Kraglin was lounging on his chair, an empty bowl in front of him and a not so empty cup in his hand. He and Yondu, as well as Peter, were already accustomed to the colourful display of Harry’s special training and had thoroughly enjoyed the awed faces of the other Guardians.

“Well, I did it with rocks and it worked with them, didn’t I?” Harry flicked his wrist and Groot separated from the flying debris towards the table. Wriggling his fingers he let him down quite gently before dispelling his connection to the other flying objects which fell onto the ground. “Though I didn’t try with people. Why, Krags, are you offering?”

He threw him his most charming smile, but he had long lost any power of manipulation over the Ravager after misusing it one too many times in the past for his mischief.

“‘Course not, but you ought to train it. Could be useful, that one.”

“I am Groot. I am Groot?” The small sentient tree was looking up in a hopeful manner, but Gamora was quick to react and snatched him up.

“No, Groot, you better not volunteer for that one.”

“I heard Quill talk about the experience. He described it as very awful,” Drax pitched in, peeling the wrapping off of another nutrition bar.

“Like getting sucked through a rubber pipe several numbers too small.” Yondu nodded sagely.

“You know, you already lived through it, so you could just as well do it again. For the team and all.” Peter snickered but went silent real quick when Yondu glared at him.

“I am Groot!”

No!

Both Harry’s laugh and the goofy mood were cut off sharply when their comms activated and Mantis frantic voice filled their ears. “You need to come back. Rocket says that he has tracked the ship that the Blinder has stolen!”

Chapter Text

June 2nd, 2015
Avengers Compound

It was a warm and sunny day, with not a single cloud marring the bright blue sky. Which was why Steve was instantly alerted when he heard the rumbling thunder on his way to the kitchen to see if breakfast was ready. He hurried towards the next window and peeked up to the sky which quickly filled with dark clouds, but he had to avert his eyes when a bright, colourful light beam shot out of the whirling mass and touched the formerly pristine lawn of the Avengers Compound. After a moment the light dimmed and the rumbling fell silent, and when Steve opened his eyes the sky was once again blue and spotless, Thor standing on the now ruined piece of lawn, basked in sun.

“Friday, can you alert the others that Thor is here?” It was weird to talk to the new AI that had taken JARVIS’ spot. Steve often found himself missing the deeply sarcastic, yet polite AI. The fact that Vision had been gifted with the same voice was not helping, and he knew that others, most of all Tony, missed JARVIS even more. He did, however, like the chipper female voice that nowadays would answer him whenever he talked to the ceiling.

“Already done, Mr Rogers! Miss Romanoff and Mr Barton are currently preparing Mr Barton’s new rooms and Boss and Mr Banner are in Boss’ private laboratory. They will join you later. As it is, Mr Wilson is on his way to the entrance. Miss and Mr Maximoff are already in training room 3 for Mr Maximoff’s daily exercises as prescribed by his physicians.”

He couldn’t help but smile hearing the eager Irish voice and thanked Friday before turning around and jogging towards the main entrance of the Compound to greet his friend.

~~~

“I fear I can only stay for a short time, my friends. A week at most before I have to go, and I wish to visit my Jane during my stay.”

Thor sat at the kitchen table in front of a plate almost full of steaming hot Pop Tarts. Crumbs littered the table between himself and said plate and he licked his fingers with obvious joy. Steve and Sam were sitting across from him, each with a bowl of cereals, Sam with a cup of coffee and Steve with a cup of tea.

“I should not be too surprised by that. As a prince, you must be very busy in Asgard.”

Thor hesitated for a second before grabbing another Pop Tart. Steve, who himself had to eat a good amount more than your average human, was still wondering how the Asgardian could possibly enjoy the sticky sweet treats who provided next to no nourishment except a lot of sugar and fat. Tony, of course, loved it and had bought tons of the stuff for their resident god.

“I am not returning to Asgard.” Both Steve and Sam looked up so fast that at least one neck made a popping sound. It was not Steve’s. “There are more dire things that need my attention, friends. I need to travel both the Nine Realms as well as other planets outside of this galaxy to find answers to troubling questions. I have recurring dreams that are most likely prophetic in nature, but those shouldn’t be worrying you. But there had been strange occurrences on Midgard itself and I wish to inquire about them.”

Steve blinked once before leaning back, staring at Thor. “You’re going to space travel? Because of… wait, is this about the Chitauri?” This was the only space-related incident troubling enough that came to Steve’s mind. Well, except the Dark Elves incident in Britain, but that had been dealt with already.

“Partly, yes, but more about the Tesseract and the Staff. And, of course, the Aether. The last three years have seen three of the Infinity Stones on Midgard after thousands of years of obscurity. I am deeply troubled by this and what it could mean for your realm. After all, the universe takes notice of such occurrences.”

A short silence fell between the three men, filled with forbidding anxiety and, in two cases, memories of a fight three years ago in a city not too far away. Steve shuddered before shoving said memory away from him. “I think it’s safe to trust you with this galaxy-spanning stuff, Thor.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “But what are these… Infinity Stones?”

“They are artefacts of great power. It is said that they existed even before the universe itself.”

“And who says this, Point Break?”

The door to the community kitchen opened up with this question. Tony stood at the entrance, dressed in a low riding blue-jeans and an old, grubby t-shirt. He looked greasy and sweaty, a stark contrast to Bruce, who stood behind him in slightly crumpled, but clean, blue dress shirt and black trousers. Steve smiled and greeted them, but his “Hello” was drowned in the loud and enthusiastic call of Thor, who stood up to welcome the two scientists.

“Good to see you, too, Thor.” Bruce was his usual mild self, relaxed and at peace with himself like every time when he emerged from the labs or Tony’s workshop. As much as Steve had, at first, wondered about Bruce’s and Tony’s close friendship and the wonders it did to Bruce’s self-esteem, he now understood how much Bruce appreciated the nonchalant treatment and total trust Tony showed him.

“Yes, yes, everyone’s happy. Now back to your story. I want to hear everything about your space mumbo jumbo before you take off to see your girlfriend.” Grabbing a cup of black coffee and one of Thor’s Pop Tarts, Tony plopped down next to Steve. Bruce grinned and shook his head, but his eyes were just as eager as Tony’s as he sat down next to Thor with a tablet in his hands.

“Then I will do my best to retell the story with as much detail as I can!” And after that proclamation, Thor did just that. For Steve it was like a wonderful and terrible fairy tale - six stones, each with the power to bend the laws of the universe to their wielder’s will, older than the universe itself and for most beings too powerful to even safely hold. But it wasn’t just a tale, it was the reality. Already, three of these stones had appeared on Earth. Because the Tesseract and Vision’s Mind Stone, as well as the Aether which had nested inside Jane Foster, were Infinity Stones.

“They need to be wielded by beings of great power to ever unleash their full potential. Our friend Vision might one day be able to access every mind in existence as he wishes, and, should he ever happen upon the Power Stone, even access these minds simultaneously, thus gaining untold knowledge. It is good that the Mind Stone is wielded by him then, as I trust him not to misuse it.”

Tony had choked on that - compared to that, the Tesseract didn’t seem like such a great threat. And then Thor told them about the Aether - the Reality Stone - and that the others held power over the Souls, over Time and over Power. Suddenly Steve was a lot more understanding why Thor could not possibly wait any longer before starting his quest.

“Just… don’t bring any more with you when you come back, yeah?”, Tony tried to lighten up the mood with a joke, his third cup of coffee long gone.

“What are the chances of another alien army attacking? You said that the universe takes notice of these things, but what exactly are we talking about? How many other races are out there?”

It was Sam who said this. Steve rubbed the bridge of his nose and stood up to refill his bowl. Another army like the Chitauri? He hoped that wouldn’t be the case - the Chitauri had needed the Tesseract to cross the distance, and the Tesseract was safely ensconced in Asgard.

“I do not know the exact numbers, but there are surely thousands of sentient and civilized races among the stars. But you do not have to worry too much - Midgard lies in Asgardian territory and is thus protected from most evil-doers. You are also not space-faring yet, a fact that grants you additional security. The Nova Empire prides itself with their protection of planets like Midgard and it is an intergalactic effort.”

Another few tense seconds passed. Steve turned around and was not at all surprised that Tony had managed to get his hands on his own tablet, already in position to take notes. “Nova Empire, you said?” His face showed both how serious he was and his infinite curiosity towards the unknown. Bruce had a similar expression on his gentle face, while Sam only sat there and tried to get his head around the fact that the universe was much bigger than he had previously believed.

“What exactly do you wish to know, Stark?”

“Everything.”

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Avengers Compound

The last week had been very busy for her. The Boss (with a capital B, he was after all the most important boss in the world) and Dr. Banner (he had asked her to call him Bruce, but really, he was one of the smart ones, which was rare enough, so he earned his title) had both exploded in activity after the first morning of Mr Thor’s visit. It didn’t surprise her very much - her parameters were very clear in how much Boss feared the idea of another space invasion and the new data she had gathered from Mr Thor’s report almost completely dealt with the possibility of another attack from a more advanced species. Many more files had been created, both by herself and by Boss, and she had sorted a lot of data into these files. Most of it was about politics. Some of it about the alien biology of the more prominent races. She even had drawn up a rough map of the politics inside the Milky Way galaxy, but Mr Thor had been too vague in his descriptions to make it a useful one. The Milky Way was, according to Mr Thor, not terribly well populated, and most of these worlds were far closer to the core where you could access the big jump points to travel to the far more popular galaxies. That comment had made Boss a bit twitchy, but really, she was very comfortable with it. It made her job a lot easier.

At least she thought that way. To be honest, she wasn’t quite sure yet what was easy and what was hard. Sometimes, a specific task took longer than another but then said task could be very boring indeed instead of challenging. And that was another can of worms, wasn’t it? It was certainly the right euphemism for her situation. Most new things weren’t boring the first time around. Communicating with Boss and his friends (and the smarter workers at the Compound and the Tower, especially Mrs Potts) was always fun. She knew that she wasn’t quite like them, but she felt good when she was treated like one of them. Feeling good was highly satisfying. She knew that doing her job felt good.

Which was why Friday immediately took notice when the first signal reached Earth. Of course, there were streams of returning data every day that were sent to Earth from the multitude of satellites surrounding the planet, and the couple of space probes currently on the moon and on Mars. This, however, was something highly unusual. And her Boss had made sure that she was attentive to the highly unusual things that came from space.

Within the next couple of milliseconds more and more data packages were sent. Luckily, the satellites in question were Stark Industries’, but it was only a matter of time before others would take notice, too. Starting a protocol that Boss had installed, she swiftly took action and bundled the most prominent pictures and the appendant readings into a file that she then sent to Boss, who was luckily in the workshop right now. At the same time, another part of her vast processing power started operation Blind Side, which she thoroughly enjoyed - after all, it wouldn’t do to start a worldwide panic. Better to intercept similar data packages from other, more outdated and thus slower satellites. She also adjusted a number of military satellites into the correct position to be ready to receive their own package which she could then steal - after Stark Industries, these tended to have the more sensible sensors within the competition. And yet another part was busy scanning what she could of Earth’s surface for the spike of gamma radiation that would inform her not only that the Tesseract or a similar object had been used, but also the location.

It was a shame that the most enjoyable work also involved high levels of stress for her Boss, who was spitting out his coffee at the interactive holo-screen.

“I have informed the on-duty Avengers to gather at the Compound, Boss. I was unable to contact Mr Thor. Mr and Miss Maximoff, as well as Mr Barton, are yet to be cleared for duty, but they will attend the briefing.”

“Good. Pull up the schematics for Mark XLVI, it might take a while for Natasha and Steve to come back. How much time do you think we have? Does it move?”

“I have calculated the average speed as of now, Boss. As long as it does not change velocity, it will take around 3 hours and 40 minutes to reach the stratosphere. Miss Romanoff and Mr Rogers should arrive in 45 minutes maximum.”

“Good girl. Keep an eye on it. And check my math on the capacity and maximum velocity of the new suit. See if it can reach and maintain escape velocity.” A folder collapsed and another was brought back again. This time, Boss didn’t spit his coffee all over the workplace when he took a look at the grainy picture of what was without a doubt an extraterrestrial vessel with Saturn as its background.

“Of-fucking-course this happens the moment our own space-prince is gone.”

“So it seems, Boss.”

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Close to the Moon

It had taken a long time. A long, long time to find it. He could feel the pull and he knew that it had been right to search for it. Terra was…

It was beautiful. This blue and green painted marble, with its grey and white moon and the young, richly-yellow sun, was beautiful. And wasn’t it fitting, in a broken and confusing way, that his journey would end on such a beautiful world? That with his journey this world would also end?

It was unfair and heartbreaking, but that, too, was fitting. After all, the universe itself was unfair and heartbroken. Even the one with the green eyes had been unfair and heartbroken. Maybe he was the one with the green eyes, and he had finally found himself.

He laughed at that thought and was thrilled yet again that he was able to do so - the Sharp Place hadn’t allowed such behaviour, which was why he was doing it with such ferocity. It was a loud, misshapen noise in his ears. Not at all like the echoes of screams dying on bloody lips. But that was the past (and the present) and he should concentrate on the present (and the past). Now that he had found Terra, he would not bother with the future anymore - there was not much future left for him, after all. He wasn’t doing this for himself.

And there was the pull again. It had never left him fully after He had given the source away to the Cold one. It had helped, after a fashion. Terra had been well-known in the Andromeda galaxy after the failed invasion. But here, in the Milky Way, it suddenly wasn't that well known anymore. Oh, how he had scrambled! The pull had not been strong enough then. System after system he had to creep forward until he found out that here it was Midgard. A planet with many names. One world of nine. Asgardian. Afterwards, the pull had helped. Because it was the pull of the Staff, and the Staff was what he had searched for. The Staff that had been stolen from Father, that had been lost on this beautiful planet. What a marvellous thought. He would make it quick, then. He would show mercy. They would help him end his future and secure it for the one with the green eyes.

He had already given him the past. Now, he would give him the future. And maybe, possibly, with his own death, the pain and the echoes and the memories and the hurt would go away.

But first, the Mind Stone. Somehow, he knew that the Stone had brothers. They were the same, and because they were the same because he had been broken with it just as the Cold one had been broken, they would both die here.

He was careful in his descent. It wouldn’t do to lose the ship too early. He still had time. So much time. Time in which more and more information flitted across the many screens in front of him, pictures and videos and names and locations.

One name. One location.

Vision. New York State.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

“Boss, the vessel landed in the Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont, approximately twenty-five miles from the Compound.” Friday, good girl that she was, uploaded the exact coordinates on his screen, as well as a couple of shots from the closest SI satellite. Just a moment later, the same information showed on the built-in screens of the Avengers Quinjet for the others to see who were not currently ensconced in a piece of ultra-futuristic high tech.

“There was no attempt for contact?” That was, of course, Steve, who still believed that every visitor to Earth couldn’t possibly have sinister motives. Not even when they land as close to the one source of intergalactic greed Earth possessed at the moment. Which was why Vision had been told to stay at the Quinjet, together with Bruce, until it was absolutely necessary for him to join the fight. Nobody wanted him to get kidnapped, not when the stone on his forehead was the reason he lived.

“No outgoing signals, Mr Rogers. Scans show that the vessel’s power source has been turned off. No visible movement.”

“Keep your eyes on it, Friday. We are almost there.”

He felt nervous, going into this fight without Thor. He was, after all, the only one of the team who had encountered other aliens than the Chitauri. With Vision and Bruce on reserve, Steve had let the Maximoff girl join the mission after she asked, but her brother was still not cleared. Instead he was to stay at the Compound and protect Clint’s family in case all this went horribly wrong. That had been Clint’s condition of joining the mission himself.

So they were four down from maximum efficiency. But it would be all right. Probably. The ship was nowhere near as big as the one they had blown up with the nuke back in New York. It wasn’t even as big as the black monstrosity that had appeared during the Greenwich event. It was still impressive, all sleek and steel grey and yellow lights and as big as a damn house. Who knew how many aliens were in it. Who knew if they came in peace.

They landed the Quinjet a couple hundred meters away and out of sight from the vessel. Tony immediately took to the skies after a short nod from Cap, Falcon hot on his heels.

“There is movement at the vessel, Boss. A hatch is opening.”

A moment later Tony and Sam were able to confirm that through their own visuals. The team was getting into position. The area was slightly sloped, the ground covered with springy grass and rabbit holes. Trees were everywhere, but the vessel itself had landed in a medium sized clearing. Not optimal, but far away from civilians.

“Should be safe enough to release Big Green when we get our asses handed to us, Cap.”

“Noted. Let’s hope that won’t be the case then. Widow?”

“In position. The hatch is open, approximately 60 meters distance to target.”

“Hawkeye?”

“Got a nice big tree here. Clear sight. When you are ready.”

“Falcon, Iron Man, you have the sky. Let’s see if they are hostile then. If it turns sour and they try to escape, go for the ship.”

“Roger that, Capsicle!”

Of course, Tony didn’t really plan on destroying the ship. He would do it when it became absolutely necessary, but he would rather just keep it nice and whole. A spaceship fast enough to clear the distance between Saturn and Earth in four hours flat could prove useful, for his next Quinjet plans.

And then, there was movement. Bipedal. Taller than Steve, at least a full head, but thin as a whip. The light reflected golden on some parts of his skin, but the rest was like fresh milk. Friday was already busy creating a folder and collecting data. It was a new kind of alien and far too creepy looking for comfort.

“One’s out, guys. I can see something that might be a weapon, but it’s holstered.”

“Alright. Tony, ready for contact. Cover him, Sam.”

“Sure thing, Cap. Going to engage. Let’s see if it’s a hostile.”

He sped up, flying over the tops of the trees in a slow half-circle around the clearing. He was just about to descend, still a good distance away from the vessel and the single alien, when said alien finally looked up and towards Tony and Wilson. He immediately felt his hackles rising when he found himself staring into a pair of violently blue eyes.

And then, with a crack and a fizzle, the comm died, cutting off the low voices of his teammates. An alarm went off, indicating that his arc reactor was struggling, too, but it stabilized quickly - just in time to hear a scream. Wilson.

“I lost contact to the main servers, Boss. I’m unable to connect to the satellites!” Fridays voice was laced with static noise and Tony hurried to start a damage check on his suit.

“What’s the status, Friday? Can you get in a scan of what’s blocking communication?”

“Negative, Boss. Something’s stopping all outgoing signals. I detected a foreign energy spike just before shut down.”

He swore loudly and corrected his flight path. He was just about to turn around to check on Wilson when he saw movement on the clearing. It was, of course, Steve who charged the pale alien. Who was holding…

“Fuck!” He dodged the sizzling white bolt of… was that a laser? His scanners were still down. Another two bolts were shot in his direction, coming from the gun-like weapon. It reminded him of the Tesseract-powered weapons from SHIELD (and before them, Hydra) with its sleek design and the glowing core along the barrel. He was able to dodge both, having to depend on visuals only to warn him of incoming attacks. When he looked back down, he saw that the alien had to stop his attack to fend off a powerful throw of Steve’s shield before the man himself caught the rebounding disc and went into close combat.

Trusting his teammate to survive a minute without his aerial backup, Tony shot off towards the canopy. A couple of broken branches and twigs helped to locate the downed Falcon who was lying in a heap on the ground. One of his wings was obviously broken, the other only half tucked-in, and the man was curled up with a pained expression on his face.

“Wilson! You still with us?” The retracting face-plate was welcome and Tony sucked in a couple of breaths, landing beside Falcon who nodded. He was cradling his left arm close to his chest.

“The tree’s broke the fall. And my arm. I think a couple of ribs, too.” His voice was wheezy, but his eyes were clear despite the pain.

“Comms are dead. Nothing’s bleeding? Good, perfect. I can give you something for the pain, but Cap has decided to turn this into a boxing match, so I can’t carry you to the Quinjet just yet.”

Wilson nodded and let himself be put in a more comfortable position behind a couple of thick tree trunks. One of his guns landed on his lap, and with a promise to end this quickly Tony took off once again towards the clearing.

“Geez, Barton, been busy huh?”, he commented when he saw a big plume of thick, grey smoke. He knew exactly what that was. He had, after all, made those smoke-screen arrowheads himself. The smoke-screen had been positioned between the vessel and a dizzyingly fast fight between Cap and the alien. The latter had replaced his gun with a long dagger and was parrying and attacking the super soldier with it. The actual blade had a vicious jagged edge to it, the metal a pale yellow colour. Whatever it was, it held strong against Steve’s vibranium shield.

Tony scowled when he saw that the alien had managed to get a few hits in and prepared to help the soldier with a few well-placed repulsor beams but held back for a moment to adjust when he saw that the smoke from Barton had been used by Natasha and Wanda, both who had crept up to the spaceship. Natasha was wielding a gun and took aim with Wanda hovering behind her, her scarlet mist already gathering around her hands, something that still made Tony recoil slightly, despite his efforts to get used to her powers.

It was enough to distract him just a moment too long. Natasha shot, the alien moved, and pale, reddish blood started to flow. Tony used his own repulsor beams to stop the alien from running away from an advancing Steve who used the neck wound to gain the upper hand in their fight.

It actually looked like they would win this. They just had to knock it out long enough to incapacitate it, and then Tony could see how to stop whatever it was that stopped their comms. And claim the spaceship.

He would definitely claim the fucking spaceship.

“Go get him, Capsicle!”, he yelled and readied himself for another couple of shots. Clint had the same idea, letting an arrow lose that crossed the distance with a noticeable whistle sound. Tony closed his eyes and knew that his team would do the same. This was one of Clint’s ideas, a flashbang with a tell for the Avengers. A moment after he had closed his eyes he heard the small detonation. It was safe to look again and was right on time to watch Steve landing a mean upper-cut before he spun around and smashed the shield against the alien head.

“Nice”, he whispered to himself and descended even further, no more than four meters above ground. The alien had staggered for only a moment before it attacked again, stabbing and slashing with enough speed to push Steve back. Both of them ignored accumulated wounds, and now that the alien was fighting with an audience it worked to keep Steve in the way - Natasha couldn’t shoot it with the flurry of blows and body of the Captain between her and the alien. Even Wanda hesitated to use her power, until the alien took a hit in order to grab Steve’s belt and hurl him into a tree.

With a shout, Wanda threw scarlet mist towards the alien. It fanned out in an arc, forcing the creature to the ground. Scarlet wrapped around arms and legs, encased its skull and for a moment Tony was sent back to the moment Wanda had done to the same to him.

His reactions were far too sluggish to evade the blast wave that hit him and the others. Even Steve, who had just struggled onto his feet, was swiftly pushed further away from the being. They were grabbing at their bald head, eyes wide and gleaming, the almost human face contorted into fear and pain and hatred as they screamed. Tony flew through the air like a ragdoll for a couple of moments before he had caught his breath and pushed the panic down before he could stabilize himself enough to see that the red mist was gone - Wanda had been thrown against the spaceship, clearly knocked out. He saw Natasha a few paces next to her, already moving again. And Steve, who had managed to hold onto his shield and was now eying the enemy warily who had finally stopped screaming.

Chapter Text

June 3rd-9th, 2015
Between Delta Leonis and Sol

Then…

“Welcome to Asgardian territory”, Rocket said with a sarcastic drawl. Next to him, Kraglin snickered and started fiddling with the flight controls to adjust their direction. “From here on out we have to fly manually, because Asgard doesn’t appreciate the wonders of fixated wormhole travel.”

“I remember that trip. It was a right bitch to travel, what with no outposts to stretch your le-.” Yondu’s voice almost sounded fond until he cut off when the door to the bridge opened with a soft hiss.

“Who was a bitch?”

Gamora frowned when she saw Peter’s narrowed eyes and Yondu’s shifty expression. Rocket was literally choking on his stifled laughter and Kraglin hunched a bit lower over the control panel. She shook her head and carefully shifted into a more comfortable position. She sat close to the entrance on one of the padded benches with her legs folded underneath her and Harry’s head resting on her tights, watching half amused and half exasperated as the Centurian tried to calm Peter’s suspicions by lying through his crooked teeth.

“Ain’t they a bunch of idiots?”

She briefly looked down - Harry, too, was watching the scene through half-lidded eyes, a lazy smile on his lips. Gamora clicked her tongue at him and ran her fingers through his short, dark hair. “That you are”, she teased and was rewarded with a quick grin.

She took her time, then, to truly take in his appearance while she played with his hair. The dark rings under his eyes since she had first laid her eyes on his face, were darker, more pronounced from lack of sleep and stress, his skin in comparison a tad paler. His crafted eyes were less telling, but she felt the start of stubble when she traced his jawline with her thumb. A lapse in his own grooming - he usually made sure to keep his face as smooth as possible when he had the chance to do so.

It could be worse, all in all, although she wished he would find more rest at night. She still pursed her lips and patted his cheek instinctively as if to soothe his worries, which prompted Harry to roll his eyes and wriggle a bit.

“I’m alright, honest. Just a bit much to think over at night, nothing serious.”

“You are far too good at reading me, brother,” she admonished, but there was no heat in her words, only fondness. She didn’t mind him being able to notice her own emotions. The number of people who knew her well enough was small enough that she didn’t feel the need to put more effort into masking her thoughts.

Which was why she was frowning again when Peter stomped out from the bridge, clearly confused and fuming. Rocket finally lost it and dissolved into laughter while Yondu strutted around, clearly proud of the silly story he had spun to distract his nosy son.

“We should tell Peter the moment we are sure of the destination. The longer we wait, the stronger his anger will be at out deception.”

“I’m already sure enough. Too much of a coincidence.”

His smile was gone now, his brow furrowed and his jaw set. He had to shake his head a couple of times to let go of his musings and closed his eyes again. Gamora recognized the hint and continued to rub her fingers through his hair, smiling when he started to hum.

~~~

Now…

The last couple of days had been… challenging, for most of them. It wasn’t only the fact that they had to constantly check the Blinder’s fading signal just to make sure that they were on the right track. It was the inability to stretch their legs somewhere else than the ship for almost a week, the fact that Peter was constantly suspicious during these days and trying to search for Rocket’s map, the fact that both Gamora and Harry were pressing the others to just talk with Peter. It was a tense situation for everyone except, of course, little Groot. Even Drax was getting anxious, and Mantis was hesitant to join them on the bridge these days.

And with every day they were closer to Terra. Until one day, they were almost there, and it was only a matter of time for the Quadrant to exit the asteroid belt they were currently travelling through. Which had been Yondu’s idea to buy them a couple more hours.

“I’m just sayin’ to get it over with. He’s not that stupid, he will recognize Sol the moment he sees it.” Mantis had volunteered to keep Peter occupied during their little meeting on the bridge, but Harry wasn’t sure where the two had disappeared to and how much time they had.

He knew that he sounded annoyed and sharper than necessary, but he couldn’t deal with this anymore. They should have told him the moment it became clear where they were headed, consequences be damned.

He looked at Rocket, who he had thought would be of the same opinion, but he had surprised them all with being just as hesitant as Yondu, who was the biggest softie of their group regardless of what he said. As expected, the mechanic scowled unhappily, but even he could not argue about the need to tell their friend. It would be infinitely worse for Peter to find out by himself.

“He’ll be hurting either way, but if we tell him now the blow will hopefully be lessened.” Harry threw a quick smile towards Gamora. She was good with words, pointing out the positive aspects instead of how badly they had fucked this up.

“Yeah, okay, we understand”, Rocket snapped. Next to him, Yondu was leaning against one of the unused consoles, arms crossed in front of his chest in a defensive manner. Drax, on the other hand, gave a nod, as indifferent as he had always been during their discussions. Kraglin twisted his mouth and sighed in resignation. Because of-fucking-course they would give in when it’s almost too late.

“I’ll call Mantis and Peter to join us. We’re nearly out of the asteroid belt, too.” Gamora reached for the communication console and flicked on the interactive monitor, but just as she was about to touch Peter’s icon they heard someone stomping up the corridor that leads up to the bridge’s entrance. They all tensed, even Drax, when the door opened, and when Harry looked at Peter’s angry face, he was suddenly very happy that the ship’s doors made it impossible to slam them open and close.

“So”, he said, and his voice was trembling with emotion. It was mostly anger, but it was a convenient mask to hide the hurt and confusion. Harry knew that he had found out. “Where you actually planning to tell me about this, or did you plan to simply force the matter?” He threw a data chip onto the floor and Rocket spat out a chittered curse. It was the map he had created and then removed from the main server of the Quadrant.

“Of course we didn’t plan to force you, Peter”, Gamora started, but the half-Terran gave a sharp, short laugh at that.

“Yeah, sure! That’s why we’re almost back in Missouri after me tellin’ you a hundred times that I don’t wanna go back!”

“Well, funny that, because you also told us that you wanted to go just as often. Imagine our confusion over that matter”, Harry cut in from his seat at one of the flight consoles. “And since I am the one who had proposed to do a job in the Milky Way, you might as well yell at me and not at Gamora.”

Naturally, Peter turned to him now. The young mage knew his brother intimately. He had seen him happy, sad, angry, confused. And this, this was mostly hurt and a desperate attempt to cover it with anger. It was Peter’s go-to tactic, and he had learned it from Yondu.

Behind Peter, Mantis flinched, her big and glossy eyes wide and her small face pale. She was staring at Peter and lifted one hand. It was a slow, jerky movement, coupled with the nervous twitch of her antennae. Harry narrowed his eyes and shook his head. He could take it. And it was better for Peter to just let it out instead of Mantis keeping him calm.

“How could you, Harry?” The man in question hadn’t even noticed the quick glance over his shoulder, his attention now fully on Harry who crossed his arms in front of his chest, chin raised and eyebrows almost touching the hairline. “You know what this is about! And the fuckin’ Blinder? That’s your brilliant idea, too?”

“Fuck you, Peter.” Harry’s voice had turned cold now, but he remained seated. He had to stay calm enough to just weather the storm until Peter remembered that he wasn’t angry but insecure. “I just thought that you would finally make up your mind once you are here. Or, you know, stop pestering us about Terra.”

For a couple of precious moments, Peter was silent. It was not a pretty sight, but a damn hilarious one - all gaping mouth and huge eyes and angry red spots on his tanned skin. Harry knew him, just as he knew the rest of his small family, just as he was starting to get to know some of Peter’s friends and his own sister. And he knew all the little buttons to press to get a reaction he desired.

It was a shame that Harry now wanted to make him angry and get it over with.

“What the fuck is your problem!” This time it wasn’t only Mantis who flinched. There was a short scuffle to Harry’s left, but he didn’t look over, didn’t dare to take his eyes from Peter who was towering right in front of him now, pale except for two angry red spots on top of his cheekbones. “It’s not your fuckin’ problem! None of this! You don’t even know how it feels like, so don’t pretend that this shitty idea of yours was in any way helpful! Last time I checked, you didn’t even know where you came from!”

The mage had to clamp down hard on his own rising anger. He shoved it back and forced himself to stay seated - he had done this, and just because Peter also knew most of his weak points he couldn’t back down now. Because right there in Peter’s baby-blue eyes was just as much pain as there was anger.

“I don’t need a fuckin’ home planet to have some empathy, and you very well know it. I’m sick and tired of your whining, how about suckin’ it up and goin’ to find your big boy pants?” Somewhere beyond Peter’s face and tense shoulders, a door opened and closed. Harry couldn’t be bothered to check who had fled the bridge.

“How about you stop fuckin’ lying to me! You are supposed to be family for fuck's sake! And you didn’t say nothin’, you just forced me here, and what am I supposed to do now? Just go away now when there is a fuckin’ serial killer on-planet?!” He took another step forward, gulping in air, the face contorted angrily. “‘S not like you would care, right? Fuck Terra, because it’s not your place, and fuck me because you don’t have to deal with this shit! I have fuckin’ reasons, and you just go and do your shit anyway, and who knows what fuckups are following our trail now for that fuckin’ bounty!” Another heaving breath. His eyes suddenly narrowed. And Harry knew that this one would hurt.

“Didn’t even think about that, huh? Not like someone might follow you rather than the bounty. And to Terra, of all places, just after your daddy tried to invade it.”

He was up and standing without taking notice until he was so close to Peter that he could practically feel his brother’s racing heartbeat through the minuscule gap between them, and even then he couldn’t care less, couldn’t think properly, couldn’t reign his own temper in. Not with his own heart pounding so painfully against his ribs, not with the way Gamora had gasped just to his right. “If you truly think that I would willingly expose any planet, let alone yours, to Him and his madness you must have lost your last remaining little brain cells. Because you know what He does. What He has already done.”

His voice sounded brittle in his ears, his whole body numb. Somewhere he knew that he had fucked up because now they were both hurting and lashing out and that would help no one. But the overwhelming majority of his thought process was overcome by the need to defend and attack. His fury ran cold, the complete opposite of Peter’s burning rage.

“Peter”, someone said. Female - probably Gamora, because her voice had been just as cold as his. It was hard to say when the world had narrowed down to one man and his words.

“I also thought that I could trust you and I was wrong about that, so who knows what you were thinking! You had no right, Harry, to do this, and just because it’s nothin’ to you doesn’t mean that you can just go around fuckin’ with people like that!”

Someone touched his shoulder. It felt like an electric current ran through his skin and said someone yelped, the hand withdrawing again.

“What the fuck do you mean, it’s nothin’ to me?! You stupid fuckwit, I did it for you!”

“Harry, stop it!” - “Pete, come on..!” More voices were trying to disrupt them now, and more hands were grabbing him. Peter struggled against it, while Harry felt like lightning. They couldn’t touch him. He couldn’t stop himself.

“We all did it for you! You were feeling miserable after this whole Ego shit! And then, when the murderer started moving towards Terra? We couldn’t very well stop now! Because it’s your damn planet, you egoistic asshole, and we didn’t want to see you hurt! But of course, for Star Lord it’s not enough, right?” Harry spat the name with a contempt he didn’t really feel. But he needed to say something, anything. “You don’t even care that we might feel just as stressed as you, just as bad about it! We have all lost our fuckin’ families, Peter, that’s why we are here in the first place!”

“Boys.” Another voice. Familiar. But he couldn’t concentrate on it - his eyes were locked with Peter’s, and it was like sitting outside of his own body, watching himself spitting vitriol.

“So now it’s my fault? I haven’t asked for your help, I was fine! And you just go and betray me like that, your own brother!”

There was a taste of copper in his mouth when the loud noises stilled enough to finally hear the calls of their friends. Their family. To feel one hand gripping his shoulder despite the shock they had had to receive from it. His skin felt prickly and cold and two numbers too small, his heart was beating hard against his ribcage, and for one moment, Harry couldn’t breathe as he visibly recoiled from the last attack. Then there were arms around him and Gamora shot forward and grabbed Peter’s wrist to forcibly pull him away and out of the bridge. Yondu followed them swiftly, a pained expression on his face.

“Breathe.” That was Kraglin. Of course, it was him hugging Harry despite the sparks that the mage had sent flying. Harry closed his eyes and gulped in the stale air. His head fell back until he leant fully against the rail-thin man, his back pressed against Kraglin’s chest, his head resting on the taller man’s shoulder. Only Rocket had stayed with them on the Bridge - Harry couldn’t see the others, neither Mantis nor Groot nor Drax.

“You looked mighty scary there, Har.”

“I felt scary, Kraglin.”

“Well, you both fucked up badly. I think needling him was not a good idea.” Rocket fiddled with the hem of his tactical vest, whiskers quivering before he shook his head and sighed.

After a couple of minutes, Harry wriggled in the comforting hold and fell back onto his seat the moment Kraglin let go of him, hiding his tired face behind his calloused hands.

~~~

Two hours later, the Quadrant had already passed Jupiter, a gorgeous red and cream coloured gas giant dotted with gigantic, mesmerizing storms. Flying through a system was a slow process, what with the pull of gravity now fighting against their ship’s thrusters, but Rocket was optimistic that they would reach Earth within the next hour.

It didn’t really lighten the mood in the bridge - Yondu and Gamora were still gone with Peter, as were Mantis, Drax and Groot. Kraglin had stayed, despite his own curiosity regarding Peter, and Harry couldn’t put in words how thankful he was for that. Especially after the former first mate had told Rocket in no uncertain terms that they would not hijack the comms to listen in after the second time the mechanic had offered to do so. It had saved Harry from talking, something he didn’t want to do right now. Maybe forever.

Which was why he only nodded faintly when the door opened and Mantis came in, Drax right behind her and Groot riding on his shoulder. She still looked pale and exhausted, but her posture was more relaxed, her liquid dark eyes calm, and there was a small smile tugging on her lips.

“It’s better now. He is still sad, but he doesn’t feel anger anymore, only guilt. Much like you.”

She didn’t seem to mind that Harry remained silent. Kraglin, however, slumped back in relief and closed his eyes. Even Rocket gave a soft sigh. Instead, she walked up to the front panels and leaned forward - Jupiter had passed, but Mars was in front of them, and behind that a pale blue orb, still small but clearly visible. “How pretty…”

Drax watched her for a few silent moments before walking towards Harry. His hand on the mage’s shoulder was heavy and yet comforting enough to help loosen the tight knot in his throat and chest. “Quill is on his way. I don’t doubt that he will want to speak to you. It will be best for both of you to apologize. I will also not kill you for provoking him as you did, as it is a family affair.”

Kraglin actually snorted at that and hid his smile behind a hand, but before Harry could push the lump in his throat aside for an answer, the door opened again. Drax smiled and patted Harry’s shoulder one more time before joining Mantis at the helm.

Harry’s own gaze was instantly drawn towards the entrance, dismissing an annoyed looking Yondu and Gamora’s worried eyes in favour of the last person to slink in. Both the mage and the Guardian stopped entirely when their eyes met, but Yondu was quick to cross the distance and pull Harry onto his feet and towards Peter.

“You. Both. Talk.” It was a low, threatening hiss, voice gruff and menacing. It was the voice the former Ravager captain had often used with them when they had misbehaved badly and both Peter and Harry were quick to exit the bridge. When the door slid closed, however, it became hard to move again and harder to look away.

The fact that Peter looked just as embarrassed and guilty as he felt was, weirdly enough, not helping.

“Look”, Peter started, and his face was doing a weird thing, lips tight and jaw working and brows furrowed. “Look”, he repeated.

Harry did and hoped he wasn’t making the same face. He also hoped that he would not start to get hysterical because Peter would never, ever forgive him if he laughed right now.

“I shouldn’t have said that. I was angry. And I thought you didn’t give a fuck, and I fucked up pretty bad. Just… Yondu gave me the run-down, and what you tried to do? Not good, man, really not, but I know that… that you meant good. And that’s fine, that’s okay, really, even if I don’t like it, and I really don’t. But I shouldn’t have yelled at you. So I’m sorry. Mind you, I’m still mad at you, but you know I didn’t mean it, right Har? About your… you know?”

Harry stared at the tight face in front of him. Peter looked like a giant dumbass, but he was there, apologizing, and Harry felt like crying and laughing, the lump in his throat suffocating.

“Fuckin’ idiot”, he blurted out, and how he had been able to get it past the tight knot of hot guilt, he didn’t know. “Of course I know.” Peter sucked in a startled breath, but before he could say something that they both would again regret, Harry soldiered on. “You jerk, I was baiting you. I know you, and the yelling back there? A fuckin’ farce. You were hurtin’, and it was my fault, and it was fine until the last part because I knew that after the yelling you would feel better and talk about stuff. I just didn’t realize you were hurtin’ so bad that you would pull the big guns.”

He even managed a wry smile while he watched Peter’s idiot face. The returning spark of anger, the confusion, the realization. And again the guilt. “You are my brother, Pete. I know all your weak points, but you also know mine. And sometimes we will do some fucked up shit and it will hurt. Even when I am trying to help you. So… I’m sorry about this. We should have told you ages ago.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” They stood there and stared at each other for a good while after that. It was… awkward, because both were highly aware of how easily they could hurt each other with words alone. How good they knew each other to be taken apart so simply.

“You know I love you, no matter what?” Harry blurted out, after a solid minute of increasingly embarrassing silence and shuffling feet. Peter made a face.

“Sure. I mean… same.” But he grinned, so it was probably true.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

Vision felt the moment the comms went down - it was like a hat on too tight, pressing around his skull with the sudden lack of wind. Suddenly, all the contact with the net, with the comms, with his teammates… all gone. Something was out there.

“Comms are down,” Banner said, flicking switches on the dashboard of the jet. “You got anything?”

“Nothing.” Nothing at all. “I’ll go,” he said. Banner, clearly concerned, nodded and turned back to the display.

The forest was thick and green as Vision flew towards the last known location of his teammates. He was lucky he wasn’t Friday - constantly interacting between one place and another, projected into his body like Friday was Stark’s suits. Instead, though uncomfortable, he could still run calculations and triangulate the locations of his teammates - somewhere up ahead.

He raced through the forest and broke into the clearing high above everyone’s heads. He had a bird’s eye view of everything as a blast took out everyone at ground level, throwing Stark, the Widow and the Captain back - and Wanda hard against the alien spaceship.

“No”, he said, barely a whisper, but it was enough to draw the attention of the alien who suddenly met his eyes. Theirs were bright, wild, focused as Pietro’s could be. Vision had only enough time to recognize the madness in them before the alien launched itself at him. Quite literally even, something that Vision had not been prepared for in the second it took the alien to run towards him in a sprint and then jump almost 10 feet into the air to tackle him mid-flight. They tumbled through the air before the additional weight - and wasn’t that curious, how very heavy the being was, despite their lanky stature - forced Vision to go down until his feet braced against the soft, earthy ground, one hand wrapped around the being’s right wrist to prevent the jagged dagger to slice his throat.

Somewhere in the background, Vision noticed familiar voices shouting his name. But he was still staring into the alien’s electric blue eyes. They were wild and mad, and something behind them was splintered into a thousand pieces. Something behind them…

Vision quickly changed his grip and used his free hand to strike the being. Once against their chin, then two times directly under their ribcage. They were quick and sturdy - his blows only did little to damage his opponent who continued to attack him viciously. It took a well-placed smokescreen-arrow from Agent Barton and a jab against their throat to finally distance himself a couple of feet from the alien who had staggered back from both the strike and the white smoke that made it hard to breathe and impossible to see through.

Taking advantage of the situation Vision started to rise again while circling the hostile until he was placed between them and the still unconscious form of Wanda. He could only risk a quick glance - the Widow was kneeling next to her, gun in her hand and eyes focused on the threat. It was enough for Vision to know that the injury was not dangerous, otherwise, the Widow would have been more attentive towards the young woman.

Before the relief could settle, however, he had to duck under another attack. The alien was wielding two weapons now - his dagger and what appeared to be a handgun that shot not bullets but searing hot laser beams. The next shot forced him to the left. The third was deflected by the shield of the Captain before the more familiar blueish-white of Stark’s repulsors hit the alien in the back.

With the other Avengers joining the fight, two things became very obvious. First, the being was both too strong and too fast for any of them to fight alone, but with the whole team against him they were taking quite a few painful blows and were visibly under pressure. Second, despite there being multiple enemies, the being concentrated their attacks mostly onto Vision and tried a few times to again make the leap to pluck Vision out of the air. And that was worrying, very worrying indeed, a strong indication that the being was, indeed, after Vision and his Mind Stone.

Vision hesitated only for a split second before taking a short dive down, twisting his body to evade the latest shot. The Captain and Stark were on both sides of the alien, cornering them, preventing them from reaching for Vision once again. The being was doing their best to duck and dive away from their punches and kicks, mostly lashing out at them only when there was no other opening to use. Vision waited for another moment, sharp yellow eyes following the fluid movements of the three people fighting below him. And when the next opening came, he concentrated on the heavy, comfortable weight of the stone nestled into his manmade head and fired a bright, yellow beam of pure power at the enemy at the same time they were lifting their own gun upwards.

Visions attack hit them in their left shoulder, cutting through the skin before tearing apart the metal plating underneath it. The blood was oddly bright, more of a pale pink than the dark red that Vision knew humans had. The sight of it startled everyone including the alien who jerked back but didn’t drop the gun. Blue eyes widened and for just a moment, the unnatural calmness of the being was replaced by something akin to panic. Again their eyes met - and then, the being dashed forward, shoving the Captain away and shooting at Stark for the first time since Vision had entered the battlefield, shouting out in a language that was highly unfamiliar to him.

Vision twisted around. A moment later Stark is with him in the air, the Captain already running after the being. But they fast, despite their wounds, faster than the Captain and fast enough to sidestep both the bullet the Widow shot at them as well as Starks multiple repulsor shots. They weren’t, however, as fast as Stark or Vision himself, who were flying high above him before diving low again, Stark right in front of the alien and Vision further away, next to the Widow and Wanda.

“Can you get her out, Miss Romanoff?” His voice was calm and steady while he watched Stark and the alien dance across the field, the former trying to engage into battle, the latter trying to evade the suited man. Besides Vision, the spacecraft started to hum. He could feel the engine working, could feel how it powered up. The Widow nodded once, movement sharp and clear, and started to drag Wanda further away from the vessel just as the alien broke free of Stark’s hold and dashed towards an opening hatch. Vision moved swiftly but got caught at the side by a merciless swing of the razor-sharp dagger. It didn’t cut deep, but it was enough of a distraction that the alien was inside the ship before he could reach out and pull them out again. With a hiss and a thud, the hatch closed again, the hull sturdy enough to withstand a series of repulsor shots Stark sent out.

With another hum, louder and deeper now, the vessel started to ascend. Stark was hovering close by, and Vision knew with one glance that the billionaire was trying to find a way to keep the vessel earthbound without damaging it too much. He understood the sentiment - it was a marvellous craft, sleek and beautiful and probably filled to the brim with highly advanced tech that could be of great use for the inventor. He also saw the Captain moving close, already next to the Widow and Wanda, gentle despite the situation when he hoisted the still form onto his strong arms. She was safe now.

Which was why Vision decided to phase out and through the sturdy hull that wouldn’t give in as long as Stark was reluctant to use his more powerful weapons on it.

The interior of the ship was just as sleek and elegant and so very foreign as the exterior. Vision was careful when he set his feet onto the dark grey floor, his eyes already moving to take everything in his vicinity in. He was in a well-lit corridor, the walls a brighter shade of grey and slightly curved towards the ceiling that was lined with bright light fixtures.

Despite the still functioning transmission damper Vision was very aware of the constant hum of unknown energies and machinery around him. It was like a soft brush against his artificial skin, no more pressure than the weight of a feather might cause and strangely comforting.

His steps were near silent as he stalked forward, only once stopping when he reached the other side of the hatch through which the alien had exited and then entered the ship. He couldn’t see any visible access panel, however, to open the hatch again, so he walked past it, his strides quick and confident now. He had no illusions of being hidden, sure that the corridor was riddled with hidden eyes and ears.

It was remarkably easy to find his way to what was probably the bridge of the vessel. The layout was straight forward, with only a couple of doors on the right-hand side of the corridor that led into nearly empty storage rooms - the ship was too small for someone to get lost, and at the end of the curved corridor was an open passage through which the Vision was able to see the helm of the ship. It was beautiful, all gleaming surfaces in different shades of grey. Along the front wall were panels and interfaces with a few seats arranged in front of them, and above and in front was one masterfully crafted piece of hardened aluminium oxynitride covering the opening of the helm.

The being was right in front of the middle console. They were swiftly manipulating the interfaces while the world outside of the window shrunk down as they ascended. Before Vision could cross the room, the alien flicked a long finger against a panel and turned around. They smiled, blue eyes dancing. And then they spoke.

“You will come with me now.” The voice was male, dark and velvet and smooth. It didn’t quite fit the androgynous face and body of the being - even up close it was hard to clearly assign a gender to them from visuals alone. Behind him, Vision could see the gleam of red and gold, and he shifted his stance.

“What do you want?”, he asked, cocking his head just a tiny bit.

“The Stone”, the alien answered, just as calm and collected as Vision. “I have a need of it. Your tabloids say you are a hero - it might please you to know that I seek your destruction for the greater good.”

“The problem is to identify whose greater good is involved.” Vision took a step forward and half a step sideways, his eyes locked firmly with his opponent. He knew very well that with each second, the ship was only further gaining both speed and altitude. He had read Friday’s data on how fast the ship could move and he was sure that his time was running short. Already he was seeking the power within his mind, calculating where to hit for maximum damage. The landing would be rough - he doubted that the man in front of him would survive it, and he, too, would have to move very fast to phase out of the vessel before it went up in flames.

“All living beings in the universe. I thought you would know. I thought…” And the smile was gone, the eyes no longer dancing but burning. The pale face contorted into something more feral, and yet it looked less crazed than the serenity from just a moment before.

But before the alien could launch himself at him, before Vision could gather the energy on his brow to blast the whole ship, a loud, amplified voice cut through the tension.

“Vision, OUT!”

~~~

June 9th, 2015
The Quadrant, close to the moon

They had walked through the Quadrant, after the overly embarrassing talk. Harry was silent next to him, but the line of his shoulders was relaxed, his step easy and well-matched to Peter’s longer legs. Here and there their shoulders, arms or hands bumped into each other, and Peter found that he didn’t mind. Not after the last few days of tension and suspicion. It was refreshing and nice to just walk with his brother, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence. And despite his little speech, he had already half forgiven Harry his secrecy and manipulation, and he knew that Harry had forgiven himself, too.

And that was okay. It was more than okay. It was… pretty damn well.

Which helped quite a lot to handle the sudden anxiety he felt when the ship’s comms flared to life and Rocket’s voice cut through the pleasant silence.

“Just to let you know, we are in orbit of Terra’s moon. And I can’t believe that it’s called that. Moon. Literally moon! Either way, move your asses, we want to go down with a smaller crew because just a moment ago we lost signal which means the Blinder could be going anywhere.”

“Well, fuck.”

Peter nodded wholeheartedly, and they both took off running.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts

It was dinner time at Hogwarts when the Quadrant settled into orbit of the moon, and the Headmaster’s Office was empty if one didn’t count the large number of sleeping portraits.

On one of the several shelves that covered the walls of the Office, a spindly silver contraption stood. It was covered in a thin layer of dust. Some of that flew off when one elegant and needle-thin arm of the device started to rotate in lazy circles around the now softly glowing orb in the middle. Both movement and glow stuttered out with a puff of silvery smoke into the air, but a couple of minutes later the arm rotated again.

“Interesting”, a whistling old voice uttered. It belonged to the portrait of an ancient man, bald and wrinkled and covered in heavy, expensive robes. Keen brown eyes were observing the contraption that continued its jerky movements before he turned around and walked out of the frame.

Chapter Text

June 9th, 2015
Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

Steve was still clutching Wanda when Vision vanished inside the ship just moments before it took off so very fast. Natasha was crouching beside him, ducking under the shield that he held up with his other arm. He angled his body with the move, protecting Wanda with his shoulders and his back, but there was no heat from the engines, only a burst of wind, and the ship was in the air, followed closely by Tony. But neither the suit’s repulsor beams nor Clint's explosive arrow were enough to break, or at least damage, the ship and Tony seemed reluctant to throw anything more powerful at the vessel.

Slowly relaxing in a more easy position, the thin young woman cradled to his broad chest with his left arm, Steve could only watch how Tony flew higher and higher, dancing around the spaceship like a hummingbird around a vulture, testing the hull with the various lower-level weapons the suit was equipped with.

“He needs to use something bigger. Get it out of the sky.” Natasha shifted next to him, her gun still in her right hand, her left hand flexing as she checked Wanda’s pulse and breathing.

“Vision’s still on it,” Steve said and forced himself to slowly breathe in through the nose and exhale through his mouth. Breathe in. And out. It would not do to panic right now, not with Sam unaccounted for, with Wanda only now slightly moving, with Natasha, Clint, and himself bound to the ground.

“Vision can handle himself.” And that was Natasha. Calm and collected even when the rest of the team was anything but. He didn’t doubt that she, too, worried, but it was rare for her to let someone see. Only Clint was able to notice her hidden thoughts and emotions when she was determined to hide them, and sometimes, Steve envied that ease, that closeness between the two. Then again, he envied the closeness between Tony and Bruce while cherishing his own friendship with Sam. Sometimes he wondered what that said about him.

“But without the comms, he won’t have a -”

He was cut off by the sound of a voice - Tony’s voice - yelling impossibly loud for Vision to get out. Snapping back to attention, Steve and Natasha looked up. And Steve couldn’t help but grin.

“Speakers. Of course, he can adjust the volume.” With bated breath they watched the Iron Man suit expand and unfold (and Steve truly had no other words for it) multiple hidden storage units before a barrage of missiles followed by a blinding beam from the arc reactor itself hit the ship right under one of it’s stubby wings on the back side.

The heat and power of the explosion were just enough to reach their upturned faces as a warm gust of wind. There was, however, not much when it came to debris. The hull was dented and torn where the beam had hit it, and the missiles too had done some damage, but the ship was still flying. Smoking, with an open hull and no longer ascending, but still flying. With a low rumble and a whirling howl, the vessel turned north and sped away, too fast for Stark to follow. In its wake, the spaceship left a tiny red spot.

Vision had made it out and Steve could breathe again.

~~~

Tony and Vision had barely made it down again when the comms came back online. For one moment, the slightly troubled look on Vision’s face vanished in utter relief. The difference was so profound that Steve wondered how Vision had felt under the reach of the transmission dampers. It was only visible for a short moment, though - the Synthezoid had a natural poker face, and it quickly covered the expression Steve was sure he had seen on his face when Vision had first joined them.

Now, there was only a vague kind of worry as he hovered close to Steve, who lowered Wanda onto the softer ground. Her eyes had opened somewhere during Tony’s final attack, already sharp and attentive again, and she had no trouble sitting up to meet Vision’s eyes. The delicate skin around her own, dark and bruised still from long, sleepless nights under Hydra’s thumb and Ultron’s orders, crinkled just a tiny bit when she allowed herself a tiny smile. Vision responded in kind. It was nice to see the youngest members of his team bonding together, despite their many differences. It didn’t lessen the blow of their failure, however. Despite the fact that Tony had hit the ship hard enough to alter course north instead of up into the safety of space (and wasn’t that something to think about - Tony guessed that it was now unable to navigate through space. A breach in the hull, maybe?), the alien had still made the escape, and that was a bitter pill to swallow.

He turned slightly around when he heard the soft hum of Tony’s visor folding back to reveal the face of the billionaire. As expected, he looked frustrated and annoyed, but he met Steve’s eyes and nodded grimly.

“Just keep an eye out. Might have cloaking abilities, but I doubt they’ll be sitting still for long.” He tapped his earpiece before changing frequencies. “Wilson, Brucey, comms are up again. Doing good there, Wilson?”

Steve tensed a bit, and next to him Natasha did the same. Already he heard the murmured greeting from the other scientist, as well as Clint’s happy remark over their working comms, but he was unashamed to say that the sound of Sam’s cheerful voice almost made his own knees buckle from relief.

“Everything’s holding up, Stark. It would be nice if someone’s on their way to pick me up, though. I love nature, I really do, but there are insects crawling on top of me, man, it’s nasty.” There was a short snort. “Fuck you, Hawkeye. You go sitting here and see if you enjoy it.”

The banter was good-natured, and it helped, a bit, to reign in Steve’s growing frustration. Tony had left the connection again, probably talking to Friday, and Bruce announced that he was making his way over there to come and pick them up. Clint was on his way to Sam after he made Steve pester Tony about Sam’s location, while Vision was talking softly to Wanda, eyes inquisitive, most likely offering help. Vision was good at that - offering, just offering, and it was the other person’s decision to take it or leave it. His gaze never held any pressure of expectations in it, something Steve found easy to appreciate.

“What do you mean, there is… no. No, just run that again, Friday.”

And with just a few words, spoken in a tense, heated voice, everyone’s eyes were on Tony again. Steve sucked in a breath when he saw how pale the engineer was, eyes already checking over the blue sky.

Steve shifted back into a fighting stance. Behind him, Natasha and Vision flanked Wanda, who had gotten back to her feet. On the far side of the clearing, right at the treeline, Clint emerged, supporting Sam who cradled his right arm close to his chest. Steve left his comm line open, so they could hear Tony dissolving into a litany of swears when it happened, and Steve saw how Clint looked up, how Sam started limping a little bit faster towards the group.

“Tony?” he asked and took a step towards the furious man. “Tony, what’s wrong? Do we need to move?”

Tony pressed his lips together until they were a white, tense line of stress and rising anger. “Doesn’t look like it, yet. Friday, update for all, yes?”

“Certainly, Boss. After reconnecting with my main servers, additional data packages had arrived from Stark Satellites. Two more unidentified spacecraft have been detected. The first one is on its way and just about to enter the upper atmosphere. It is similar in size to our original visitor. The second one is currently in steady orbit around the moon and roughly twenty times the mass.”

“Fuck.”

“Language, Captain,” the tired voice of Bruce Banner chimed in. Steve could already hear the engines of the Quinjet in the distance. The scientist would be there soon, ready to evac the team and to take a look at their injuries.

“Friday, can you track the incoming ship and calculate the estimated landing point?”

“Negative, boss. Although the ship has entered the atmosphere at the exact same point as the first one, it can easily change its route. I will continue to follow its path and keep you updated.”

Tony nodded and the visor slid into place once more. “I’ll go up and see if I can’t get a closer look. If they decide to make a landing I will be able to let you know.”

“Be careful, Tony. And try to stay away from the ship, they might pull the same trick with our comms.”

Turning slightly around, Steve took a good look at his team. He could hear Tony taking off, and while he felt uneasy about him approaching a new potential enemy on his own he trusted the inventor enough to pull it off without getting himself killed.

“Get everything ready for takeoff. Sam, Wanda, you two stay on the Quinjet with Bruce when we meet up with Tony. Bruce, you’re be on standby - this time we’ll keep you all close in case we need the Big Guy. We will go for the ship first so it won’t get away again. Vision, I will need you in the air as soon as contact is made.”

~~~

“What happened inside the ship? Have you found something?”

Wanda’s voice was low pitched and soft, but not quite soft enough to escape the Captain’s superhuman hearing despite the Quinjet’s engine drawing near. Vision saw the telltale movement of his head, the slight tilt towards them, but he didn’t mind - it was information that he would later tell the rest of the team as well when it was time for a debrief.

He still matched his voice to hers when he answered. The Captain would be able to hear it, too, but it created a sense of privacy that he found soothing after the discomforting feeling of being unable to connect.

“Not much in the sense of actions, but a bit that might help us in dealing with the situation. For one, our assumption that the alien is after the Stone proved to be correct. He confirmed this himself.”

He turned his head a bit and for a second he watched the Quinjet as it landed on the clearing. The thought that people were after the stone on his forehead, and therefore after his life, didn’t disturb Vision too much - he was, after all, unique, and he knew that unique things were prone to being preyed upon. He could also trust his team to protect him when he needed it, something he came to learn during the weeks he had spent with these people. Even those that were still awkward around him, like Stark, were ready to fight for him. It was… nice.

“But that wasn’t the only thing you discovered.”

He returned his attention to Wanda and rewarded her with a small smile. “He reminds me of Ultron. Driven by something he recognizes as good, as necessary. He is broken, though, to a degree where I cannot trust the urgency he displayed. His view is distorted. I felt a connection.”

He carefully tapped the powerful gem with a sigh. “One he shares, I think. I am his target.”

“A connection. Through the stone? Then he had been touched by it before.” Wanda’s voice was as soothing as it was thoughtful, and she tilted her head slightly to the side like a curious bird. “Next time we need to get a closer look, I think. To see if it can be undone.”

The smile on his lips stretches into something warmer. He felt more than he saw how the Captain chose to move a bit away from them, presumably to give them a bit more privacy and to help carry Sam onto the now landed and open Quinjet for Dr Banner to take a look at him.

“We can certainly try.”

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

“We know he has a transmission damper on him. Probably customized, too, he’s been able to cut off government systems and communication. He may have activated it when he arrived.”

Rocket shook his head and tapped a portable screen with a claw. “Nah. Those don’t work with low range identification transmitters. They work physically. It’s relatively old tech, but unless you actually dig into your ship and find the damn thing without blowing up your jump starter, they’re almost unstoppable. See, it works through vibrations and ain’t digital. Like sound. It’s a hunk of metal, built into the single most important feature of modern space travel, powered directly by the engines the moment you start your ship. Fuckin’ expensive to get rid of it or to work in a switch. I know the Ravagers don’t have them, but you lot are criminals and don’t care. Now, a civilian ship without an LRIT? Or worse, a rigged one? Couple years of jail time plus certain bankruptcy at least. So yeah. Can’t really stop the signal.”

“So he is either a really good engineer and just happened upon suitable tools on Terra to deconstruct his jump starter, or his ship got blown up?”

Harry pursed his lips, feeling very frustrated about the two possibilities. Either the Blinder was already dead (which was not too bad, except that Harry was already half convinced as to who he could be and thus very much wanted to meet him alive) or, for the near future, hidden from their eyes (a complete disaster on a backwater planet like Terra). “We can still triangulate the position where the last signal was send from and go from there. If the ship has been destroyed - and we can’t exclude that, Peter’s folk has fought off a Chitauri battle arc after all - there ought to be debris there. And if he was somehow able to stop it manually it must have left some traces, at the very least the tools to do so.”

“Not that we got much of a choice… oi, Peter, come here and look at these maps. You’re the local, make yourself useful for once!”

Both Harry and Gamora winced at Rocket’s rough words, but it did snap Peter out of his staring. Ever since he had first laid eyes on the beautiful blue-green orb of his home planet, the half-Terran had been both awed and terrified, and thus very much distracted. Sitting in the Downfall didn’t help things. The small bridge was a bit crowded, even after leaving behind Kraglin and Yondu to mind the Quadrant, but the windshields were all curved ALON* with little to nothing blocking the view and they were rigorously following the same path the Blinder had taken before them. Harry sat in one of the two front seats, with Rocket flying shotgun and handling the scanners, the rest piled upon the spare seats fastened at the wall - unlike Peter, Harry had stripped his M-ship of things he had thought of as unnecessary and opted for emergency seatings instead of the more comfortable full seat arrangement Peter had had in the Milano.

Peter sniffed and stopped gaping at his cradle planet for a minute to arrange his face into an impressive scowl, but he did get up to look at where Rocket was pointing at his screen. Harry’s fingers danced across a touch-sensitive interface on his own control panel, checking the numbers to make sure that the Downfall could make a fast entry into Terran atmosphere.

“Oh. That’s… that’s America. I’m pretty sure.”

“The country’s name is America?”

“Well, United States of America, really, America is the continent. I’m from… Missouri, somewhere around here?”

Without a warning, the ship dropped down - literally so, as Harry had entered the reach of Terra’s gravitational pull. “Hold onto something!” he shouted, but he waited only a few moments before adjusting the thrusters. There was a yelp next to him and a whoop somewhere further behind, and then the ship evened out and the lovely feeling of falling stopped. He smiled, eyes dancing before someone hit his head with a flat hand.

“Ouch!”

“That’s for not warning us!”

He rubbed the back of his head, but there was no real pain there and either way, Peter had stopped sounding like he was hurting again.

“That was the warning, you git. Go sit down again. Rocket, throw me the map and see if we’ve been noticed.”

The answer was an obvious yes, and Harry got it before Rocket so much as started his search. Something flew past their ship, something small and gleaming and…

“Did you see that, Harry?” That was Gamora with her sharp eyes. Heavy footsteps closed in and then the seat creaked a bit when Drax leaned on the armrest, bending forward with narrowed eyes just as the thing flew another circle around them.

“A robot,” he says and Harry had learned to trust his eyes by now, if not his wits.

“You didn’t tell us about robots on Terra, Peter”, Mantis said in an excited voice, but the Terran looked as baffled as the others.

“It hasn’t shot us. Could be a sentry, to check on us…”

And there it was again, in all its glory. Rocket gasped when the robot flew in front of the bridge, propelled by thrusters on its feet and hands. It was a sleek, well-built model, fashioned to have the same form as a human. Harry slowed the ship down and he knew that he wasn’t the only one to appreciate the bold colours of the robot, the polished gold and the popping red. Some dirt and soot caked the boots of the machine, and there might have been some scratches, but when the ship stopped mid-air, engines shifting to ensure no further movement, the sun caught the armoured thing just at the right angle. Above the clouds, it was an extremely good look.

And then it landed just at the seam of the windshields with a loud thud.

“Hey! It’s ruining the paint job!” Harry exclaimed startled and moved to stand up. He heard a shuffle behind him as the others were peering up at the thing that knelt on the nose tip and looked right back at them.

And then it spoke, which would have been really cool, in Harry’s opinion, had the sound not been muffled by the thick slab of transparent aluminium strong enough for deep space travel. He bent forwards and flicked a couple of switches until the voice of the robot droned out of the speakers for them to hear. It took a few seconds before the garbled sounds were dutifully translated by their transplants. It must have been English, then, the language of Terra.

“-ere? Can you hear me? Or understand me? Vision said the other one has spoken to him, so chances are high that you can, too, so better hurry up with some answers, otherwise I will have to shoot at you, and your ship looks so much better than the first one and I really don’t want to shoot it, so just answer me who you are. You don’t look like that crazy fella, and… wow, is that a racoon there? You have what, space racoons?”

It was a stream of words that flooded their ears, the speaker-voice a mix of curiosity and caution, body still poised on one bent knee, right hand on the windshield and the other thrust out for stability. Harry’s elbow jutted out and found Peter’s side.

“Go answer it. Should be okay to just talk normally, he should speak your base.”

“But I haven’t spoken it since I was eight…” he murmured before taking the seat Harry had abandoned. With the flick of a finger, the line outside was open and Peter cleared his throat, causing the robot to perk up.

It was amazingly human-like in its movements. Maybe it was controlled with some kind of full-body remote - a suit, perhaps, that one wore so that their movements were mimicked by the robot?

“Err… hello? We are here in peace, well, mostly.” He hesitated for a second. “My name is Star Lord,”he finally ended. Gamora slowly rested her face in her palm.

“Stars help me,” she whispered, only barely audible.

“Okaaay… That was some really weird stuff there. I think I didn’t understand a word of that with the exception of, and I don’t know if this is funny or frightening, ‘Star Lord’. And we already have space royalty here on earth, last time we got another prince there was kind of an invasion happening, so that’s alarming. Yes, very much alarming.”

The robot tilted it’s head and made to stand up, but Harry, remembering the part about shooting his ship, shook his head and lifted a hand, palm faced forward, in the universal sign of ‘Wait’.

“It’s not working, see? I was right, I barely speak it, they won’t understand a word...” Peter sounded pretty devastated by that, and oddly Harry thought he could understand. It was just another part they both had lost to the infinite space of the universe. It was common for people to at least keep their base language in use, but some, like Peter and Harry, never had others to talk to and almost always had to trust in the translators that had been forced onto them from a young age. Even Rocket spoke fluent Xandarian, albeit the rather rough dialect used on Halfworld.

For Peter, who had made the choice of not visiting Terra, even after he would have been able to, it had to be crushing to lose his own language like that, to speak, like Harry did, a mix of the most common tongues.

“Pfft. We can still make it work. Give me a minute and access to the computer.”

Rocket already started to pry open a panel on his side and started to fiddle with the hardware. The robot, who had stopped his movement after Harry had motioned him to stay, moved closer again, his blank, golden faceplate turned to watch what the mechanic was doing. Harry marvelled at that - it somehow managed to look baffled through the power of body language alone.

“Oh. Wow. Okay, that’s… new. A talking space racoon building a thing…”

Without so much as stopping his work, Rocket bared his sharp little fangs at the robot before he pushed the mass of wires back into the hole, screwed the panel shut and moved to the next available interface to feed the computer a couple lines of code.

“Finished?” Gamora clipped, cocking her head slightly to the left.

“Wait, what?” the robot said. The Guardians (and Harry) turned back towards it. Rocket looked unbearably smug.

Peter cleared his throat. “Can you understand us now?” he tried, still hesitant and anxious, but clearly trying for bravado.

“Yeah. What did you do? And how did you do what you did? Wait, forget that! Space aliens and all. Which brings me to the important question: Who are you, and what do you want on my planet?”

“Right now we are hunting someone who kind of headed for Terra. Your planet.”

There was a short pause. Then “You’re hunting someone? Why?”

“A criminal. There’s a warrant order out for him, he visited a couple of other planets and colonies on his way to Terra.”

How the robot could practically radiate scepticism, Harry didn’t know. But the smooth shell, the gleaming colours, and the blank faceplate managed just fine. It was all in the way it tilted it’s head and leaned back just a bit, splaying the fingers of one hand that still laid on his windshield.

“So you are what. Space cops?”

“We are called the Guardians of the Galaxy. You should see our advertisement,” Rocket said with a snort.

“We have an advertisement?” Drax asked, sounding perplexed by that.

“Well, we did save the galaxy twice now. That’s our advertisement!”

“Guys!” Gamora's voice cut through the friendly banter, eyes still on the robot which had fallen into silence for a couple of seconds before looking up again.

“So, Space… Headhunters, then. Okay, I can work with that. I hope you have some kind of proof. We can find out if you lie about this, we have pretty good ties to Asgard.” The speaker sounded amused by this, but the threat was clearly heard by all but one of the visitors. Drax remained perfectly unaffected by the more subtle messages of the spoken language. “I’d best bring you with me. We already encountered your criminal, but the dude ran off pretty fast after getting his ass whooped, so. Just saying. We totally kicked his ass.”

And with that, the robot pushed itself from the hood of Harry’s M-ship, probably scratching the paint off of the alloy in the process. It circled the ship two times, propelled by tiny repulsors on its hands and feet.

“Well. Guess we better follow him, then.”

~~~

They did end up following the robot, which, despite Rocket’s urgent wishes, Harry did not scan. It seemed rude to do so, and the mage was both keen to not embarrass his brother on his own home planet and to be as friendly as possible with the local executive authorities to make sure that the Guardians were allowed to pursue the criminal.

Surprisingly, the man behind the robot did speak the truth about encountering the Blinder, proving it by leading them to the exact spot that, as Rocket pointed out excitedly, was the place were either the LRIT or the whole ship had blown up not an hour ago. And even while landing his ship next to a tiny vehicle (all dull black and very sleek - Terrans at least had some style), Harry could see some bits and pieces of debris and various spots where the soft grass and soil had been torn apart like pockmarks.

Too little, too far apart. A fight, yes, but not a broken ship.

“Okay, guys, again: no fighting against Terrans. Rocket, you will not steal the robot.”

“Aww, but I need it, Quill!”

“No! We will behave, all of us. Drax, if you don’t understand something, please ask before you get angry. Let me or Gamora…”

“Gamora or I.”

“Gamora or I speak first, yeah? I really want this to go well. Be polite, or at least don’t insult them. Mantis, only speak about their emotions if they ask you to. Harry, keep your magic with you until we know if they are cool with it. I want this to go smooth, catch the Blinder and then have a week or two to go explore my childhood home, and I don’t want to have the military chasing me the whole time.”

Peter tried to look stern, but in Harry’s opinion, his face was just not made for any kind of serious expression. It was a big, open face, friendly and a bit stupid looking. Certainly handsome, but not his best asset. Harry nodded nonetheless and blocked out the bickering between Drax, Rocket and Peter to concentrate on landing the ship on the too-soft ground. With a dull hiss, the ship stilled and the young man rose from his pilot seat to grab the speaker that Rocket had cobbled together on their way down. It was a mobile version of the two-way translator, directly connected to the board computer. It was a crude solution (it wouldn’t quite get their voices right), but Rocket needed both more material and time for something more sophisticated.

“Less talking, more moving,” he called and shooed them out of the small bridge and towards the storage hatch. There was a ramp that they could use - the handful of people he had seen outside waiting for them should have the opportunity to get a good look at their visitors, if only to make a good impression. He handed Rocket the speaker and made sure that he had everything on him, especially his weapons (a perfectly visible blaster and his perfectly hidden retractable spear unit; Harry didn’t count his two knives as weapons but as necessities).

“All ready?” Peter, asked, and when a chorus of affirmatives was the reply, Harry pulled the lever to open the hatch and the group, one by one, walked off the ship, Peter at the front and Harry at the back, greeted by Terrans, warm sunlight, and sweet, crisp air with a note of rich, earthen forest.

Harry almost stumbled, it smelled so good, but he caught himself, nostrils flaring, eyes wide. He kept hold of himself for all of five seconds, right until he walked off the ramp and onto the Terran ground and he was drowning, drowning in euphoria.

He wasn’t gone - his senses were still working perfectly fine, which only made things worse (or better, depending on the view). It was as if all his senses, skin and ears and tongue and nose and eyes, had been sharpened, and everything felt so good and right and perfect and belonging that almost his whole body relaxed at once. And this time when he stumbled he didn’t catch himself, and thus landed on his hands and knees, sucking in the air in deep, filling breaths. It was rather like a wank, only about a hundred times better and very surprising.

And then his magic bubbled up, right under his skin, and jubilated with him.

Chapter Text

June 9th, 2015
Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts

“It seems that there is no error to be found.”

It was late already, past dinner time. It was a good thing, too - with the exams almost finished, it was a rare thing for him to miss a meal. It would have drawn unneeded attention to the small gathering in his office had not only the Headmaster, but also the Deputy Headmistress and the Potions Master and Head of House Slytherin been gone from dinner. Gossip was, as Albus knew very well, a peculiar thing. The fact that a house elf had appeared at the Professor’s table had been reason enough to send the majority of the feasting students into a riot of speculations, and he was glad that he had decided to wait a couple of minutes for the meal to end before asking Minerva and Severus to follow him.

“It’s impossible, Albus. He was gone for more than twelve years, and to reappear so suddenly…”

“But we always knew that he was alive. Though the blood wards around Private Drive were broken back then, the Vigilas Vitae is supported through Harry’s life, not his whereabouts or proximity to blood relatives. It doesn’t explain why the locator charm had not worked before now, but…”

He again prodded the spindly, silvery device. It worked just as it was intended to do, creating a link between the bobbing sphere and the missing boy. It was not necessarily legal to do such magic, but there had been made one exception in recent history.

“It’s fading, but it appears to be working. Due to his age, the result might be a bit vague, but it should manage to at least give us a country, if not a town or area to search for him.”

“Then we should go now.” True to his words, Severus stood up immediately, running his hands down the fronts of his austere teaching robes. “We cannot risk this opportunity, and who knows how long the charms will hold up.”

Albus sighed and motioned for the younger man to sit down again, which earned him an impatient scowl. “We cannot just go and get him. While I agree that we do have to hurry, they are still strong enough for us to make the best use of our time. For one, I cannot leave the castle until all students are on their way, not after this year’s debacle.”

He ignored the outraged expression on Severus’ face as well as Minerva’s disappointed one and turned around towards one of the many towering bookshelves surrounding the office’s walls. Besides various books and tomes, which had their own value, one could find many treasures here. One of them was a rolled up, ornate map of the world that he spread across his desk. It was made out of heavy cloth, every line and name carefully stitched onto it. The landmasses it displayed were a bit larger than one would see on a Muggle map - various locations that only wizardkind knew about were the cause of this, places hidden from the mundane population of the world.

A few stitches started to change position. South Africa was working on a new reserve for endangered magical creatures.

“Surely at least one of us will be able to leave the castle before the end of term, Albus. The exams are almost over.”

“And yet they still have to be marked, my dear Minerva. You are also in charge of your Houses, as well as other duties, and all of those require people willing and able to take over on such short notice. But rest assured, one, if not both of you will be sent soon. Just not today, and not tomorrow.”

“All of my exams are done. Send me alone, if you must - surely Horace owes you enough to cover for me?”

Albus, who had started to arrange the Locator device next to the map, paused for a moment before drawing his wand over the map, as if to search for an indentation. When he raised the tip of his wand, a single thread, glistening black and slightly wriggling, followed the movement like an enchanted snake.

“A good solution, Severus. But you, too, will have to wait until at least Saturday morning. And you won’t go alone. I will contact the Order to see if there is someone willing to go with you.”

“And why, pray tell, can’t I go tonight?”

Albus paused what he was doing to glance across the broad table at his young Potions Master. Severus’ normally severe, yet collected mask was replaced by his honest feelings of impatience and anger. For a moment Albus stilled, as if to think of what to say, before he touched the Locator with the tip of his wand to allow the thread to attach itself to the pulsing orb in its middle.

“Horace won’t be able to travel to Hogwarts until then. He is currently in France,” he answered at last. “Thus, it would draw too much attention should you be missing sooner than that. And we can’t risk this, not with the eyes of the Ministry watching us so closely. When Horace arrives, it will appear, to the students, as if it was already prearranged, and thus not a spontaneous decision. It is the same reason as to why neither Minerva nor I can join you until the end of term. I don’t dare leave the students alone.”

Severus let out a quiet huff, but he didn’t argue further. Albus allowed himself a small smile and gave the map a deft whack with his wand, watching it closely. His two Professors moved closer, too, and together they waited for the wiggling thread to move across the stitched cloth. A couple of moments later, the thread formed itself into a stitched circle. A rather big one.

“America?”, Minerva said faintly, touching the black stitches marking the location of their missing Boy-Who-Lived. “What in the world is he doing out there?”

“We will know soon enough. Severus, I will organize an international Portkey. He seems to be rather close to New York City. There have been extraordinary rumours floating about, so do be cautious.”

The Potions Master nodded once, his sharp, dark eyes fixed on the map. “I want to know who will travel with me as soon as possible.”

“A given, my dear boy, a given. Perhaps someone who knows the Muggle world a bit better than us. The American wizards are quite integrated into it, after all”, Albus replied thoughtfully. “It is a larger search radius than I would have liked. You might need their help to find him. I would also like you to not engage him too soon when you do, Severus. He might not know anything about our world, after all, and we don’t know where he has been, nor what kind of man he is.”

“So I do what? Spy on him? Befriend him until we know for sure?” Severus’ voice was dark and icy, a clear indication that he was not overly fond of that idea. Albus, however, beamed at him.

“Just that, my good Severus. It is better to first build a rapport with him, especially after he has just surfaced after being hidden so long. And we do have until August to bring him home. Don’t fret.” He leaned forward to pat Severus’ hand. Said man clenched his teeth together. “Minerva and I will follow as soon as we can. I do envy you, Severus, that you will be the first of us to lay eyes on Harry again.”

Albus smiled when he saw how the Potion Master first blanched and then, with a nod, left. He knew that his trusted Professor would not fail him. And though the young man had wrapped himself in a hard shell since his own youth, he had long ago stopped loathing the idea of James’ and Lily’s son. Still, James Potter’s shadow was a large obstacle to overcome, which was why Albus was pleased to see that his small words of encouragement had already taken root within his Potion Master’s mind, reminding him of those fearful nights years ago.

“I would be angry with your manipulations if the results wouldn’t be so good for him.” Minerva’s voice was stern and a tiny bit reprimanding, but her eyes showed her own nerves and how troubling this all was for her.

Albus could empathize - the timing was too ominous. First the tragedy of last month, now Harry Potter’s reappearance...

“I gather that you won’t inform the Ministry?”

“No”, he answered, shaking his head. “Not yet. Not until we can be sure that Harry will come home. Right now Fudge is too eager to blame someone, and his eyes are on Hogwarts. After all, it happened right under our collective noses.”

“You couldn’t have known, Albus.”

“But I could have anticipated it. Bagman missing, Crouch dead. None of our students has died, but Durmstrang has lost its headmaster and people thought dead are yet again walking around. Who knows what those two will do, now that they know themselves to be backed into a corner? They are, after all, still missing.”

Minerva shuddered.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Albania

It was not yet fully dark in Albania - it was the early summer, after all, and the sun took its time to depart fully these days. The evenings were usually pleasant and warm, ideal for lounging outdoors until nightfall.

But here, deep in the dark, damp woods, it didn’t matter.

Bartemius Crouch Junior stumbled more than he walked through the thick undergrowth between the old and gnarled trees, fighting against his hunger, thirst and the unnatural darkness of the forest. He was a sorry sight indeed, with partially healed gashes and barely scabbed cuts from the sharp thorns and pointy sticks. His robes, once well-made and, if not expensive, then at least decent, were dirty, and stained, and ripped at the hem and the sleeves. His eyes were burning, though, and he carried himself with a zealous determination where he lacked grace.

“I’m close… yes, I’m very close, it must be around here. I can feel it already, it must be right here…”

His voice was low and rough, the words no more than a never-ending mantra as he went further and further into the dark, sickly woods. It was one of the very few sounds that could be heard - his voice, his steps, the rustling of the undergrowth and the thick carpet of dry leaves. There was no bird song, no animal’s cry, and even the wind had grown tired, leaving the air underneath the canopy stale and thick.

But Barty couldn’t care less. He was on a mission - had he been a religious man, he would have called it holy. A holy mission to find to his Master. To return home.

He knew, deep inside, that his companion didn’t share his mindset. It wasn’t a passion or belief that made the small form in front of him go further. It was fear. But that was alright. His Master would see it too. It was alright.

“He will reward his most faithful. And we will help him, we will.” He gave a short laugh, and with a squeak, the thin, brown rat hobbled on faster, ears and nose twitching in alarm from the raspy noise of Barty’s laughter.

He was hurting, he was tired, he needed food and drink and a long bath. But he couldn’t care less - he was close, after all. So very, very close.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont

At least Steve was no longer looking at him with those blue, disappointed eyes. What had he been supposed to do? He wasn’t about to just blow their ship up (that would have been worse, Tony was sure), but he couldn’t just leave them be.

So Tony had brought the aliens with him to Vermont.

And it clearly wasn’t his fault that one of them had collapsed the moment they trooped out of their ship.

“Should we call Bruce?” He kept his voice low and his eyes on the alien called Harry, judging from the amount of time the other beings were shouting it while fussing about the young man (he was relatively sure that it was, indeed, a man - Harry the alien looked remarkably human to Tony). The young man seemed to be rather flushed, green eyes big and knees still wobbly from his graceless stumble, but he was already swatting away the touching hands.

“No, I think it’s okay now. It’s better for him to stay with Wanda and Sam, anyway.”

Steve’s answer sounded reasonable enough to him, so he nodded once. They had moved a couple of dozen meters away from the Quinjet, in which Bruce was seeing to their wounded as good as he was able to (“I’m not really that kind of doctor!”), so it was only the Captain, Natasha, Vision and him greeting the visitors. Suffice to say, they had many questions for them.

“Look at the racoon. Bipedal, and I swear it was speaking up in the air. Not only speaking, but rewiring something on their ship. Maybe it’s a robot, what do you think?”

“I think that for aliens, they look far less ‘alien’ than our previous… guest. Other than the girl with the big eyes and the antennae, and the talking, walking racoon.” That was Natasha’s soft voice. She was still miffed about the other alien’s escape and was ready to prove herself should another fight break out. Tony recognized her stance, body poised for a quick and deadly dance, and her voice was the low feline purr that promised violence if danger came. Tony couldn't blame her. He himself was pretty wound up and didn’t trust these people. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to trust them at all, and yet he had brought them here.

“This is hideous. They managed to talk to me earlier, so let’s just get this going and done with”, Tony decided just as Harry the alien started snapping at the others, which was quite a feat since he still looked flushed and groggy, still had to clutch to the other human-looking alien.

He didn’t wait for Steve or Natasha to complain - he simply stepped forward and out of his armour, which opened for and closed behind him in a smooth, efficient shuffle of miniscule metal plates. He had designed it to be stunning and to catch attention, the ease in which he could part from his outer shell, and he was quite pleased with the reactions he got. It obviously isn’t anything new to them - there are a couple of wide eyes -, but they hadn’t thought to see it here, on Earth, and the racoon is practically jumping with glee, clutching to what looked like some kind of tiny, grubby subwoofer and a short piece of cable.

And then the racoon dashed forward and slammed the subwoofer onto the ground right in front of Tony, who suddenly was very aware that he had just left his armour behind, and he could hear the shift of his teammates behind him. He himself was eying the little metallic box before lifting one hand to signal his friends that everything seemed alright while listening to the foreign mutterings of the little critter and the just as foreign answers of their friends. And then the creature plugged the cable into the nape of his neck with an audible click, a small orange light lit up and the speaker turned on, because that was exactly what it was.

“...don’t know about it, Quill, but we should try to include the armour. I want it. No, I need it, obviously, it is very important for my work and overall well-being that I get this thing as soon as possible.”

“You won’t get my armour. It’s mine, I made it, what would you even need it for, anyway? You’re far too small for it,” Tony blurted out, amidst the surprised exclamations of Steve and Natasha and the low humming sound of Vision who hovered closer.

“Ha! It works! And I bet I can improve it. I could make two armours out of that one, three in a pinch.”

“Or you could, you know, get on with it so we can all talk properly.”

Harry the alien had moved a bit forward, gingerly and cautiously, but without help anymore. His mouth had moved, and Tony had heard the voice of a young male speaking utter nonsense, followed not a moment later by a generic male voice which translated for him. It wasn’t the same voice, however, nor was there any inflexion in it, no emotions, unlike when the racoon talked. Who, now that Tony looked back down, was offering Harry the alien the thin cable. Who took it and, after a quick search behind his left ear, plugged it in. This time Tony had seen the little flap of skin, easily brushed away with the tip of a finger, and hiding underneath a tiny port to connect the cable.

“Test, test. Works a treat. Come here, Peter!” And true to his words, the generic male voice had been replaced with what seemed to be Harry’s own.

Tony stared at the speaker rather greedily.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Avengers’ Quinjet, New York State

Wanda couldn’t help but feel a small amount of amusement despite her own wariness about their current situation. It was enough to distract her from her own injuries, however, which was a small mercy in itself.

Her eyes flickered towards Banner, who was sitting close to Sam, who was in a worse condition than herself and who had been seated, just like her, in the back of the Quinjet, close to the hatch. At this point, it was only natural that Vision, too, had chosen to sit with her. There was an identical little smile on both their faces, which did not surprise her as much as it would have just a few weeks ago, when Pietro and she had started living at the Compound. Banner had a bit in common with Vision, after all. Cordial and soft, in their own way, and very much good-natured. They, too, were amused by the constant bickering of Clint, who shared the cockpit with Romanoff and Steve.

He had a lot to say about their newest allies, that much was for sure.

“I’m just saying, if this blows up in our collective faces, I am so gonna blame you and Tony for it. I mean, even the odds are against us!”

“This is the fourth time that aliens popped up, Clint. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Yeah, but two out of three turned up to be crazy murderers. Odds. Against. Us.”

Wanda could practically feel Steve’s eye roll. He was the only one who was still arguing against Clint, defending his decision against the friendly banter. She didn’t take the time or the energy to worry about a real argument breaking out - Clint’s tone lacked any malice. He spoke out of concern, wrapped in annoyance, but he respected Steve enough to accept what had happened.

“I’m on Cap’s side. They are interesting. And better we bring them with us, where we can keep an eye or five on them.”

The slightly distorted voice of Stark echoed out of their Comms and was met with a loud snort from Clint.

“Have you looked at them? They were shady, the lot of them! You just agreed to have them at the Compound because you want the racoon. I mean, seriously, they only had some neon fantasy tabloids to prove their story, which they had to translate first, so they could have totally faked the whole thing right under our noses.”

“Not to mention how they reacted when you asked them if they were police officers,” Romanoff chimed in, raising one perfectly shaped eyebrow at Steve who flushed slightly but nonetheless soldered on.

“Well. Yes, that was a bit awkward. But them being mercenaries shouldn’t hinder us to extend some sort of trust towards them. And Tony is right, we better keep them within our reach until the situation is solved. We don’t know how long it will take us to find our target, and we can’t let them just fly around and cause trouble. Besides, they have been very friendly, despite Tony’s antics.”

“Hey there! Must I remind you that the racoon started it? He wanted my armour!”

Friendly. Friendly indeed. At least one of the strange visitors had been quite friendly towards Wanda, causing a bit of chaos at the same time. Wanda looked up and caught Sam’s eye - he was grinning madly at her due to a mixture of the strong painkillers Banner had given him and the novelty of all of this. Aliens.

Of course, Thor was an alien himself. But he didn’t look the part, not really. There would forever be the mental image of a small, grey thing to wonder at when aliens were mentioned. The small sapling, however, whose name was Groot, fitted the concept of alien very well. One could even describe the sentient plant as magical, especially with his childlike naivety and expressions, the wonder and curiosity in his eyes, paired with a kind and open mind and a lot of mischief hidden in there.

He had, after all, enjoyed the panic he had caused, running away from his group and sneaking into the Quinjet for a quick adventure. It had made an enjoyable surprise - it was hard to stay worried and tense when a small sapling tried to climb up your lap, especially if said sapling, upon reaching their goal, started waving madly at Sam and Banner and introduced themselves.

Again the Witch found herself smiling a tiny bit. A child indeed.

“You’re just calling them nice because of this Peter Quill. Has he asked you for your autograph, yet?”

Even Stark snickered at Clint’s comment. Steve scowled at his feet. It was enough to draw back Wanda’s attention to the front of the Quinjet.

“Why would one of them want an autograph?” She kept her voice low, leaning a bit towards Vision who took notice of her curiosity and hummed a soft tone.

“Evidently, Mister Quill had read most of the comic books picturing the Captain’s adventures back when he was a young child. He is quite the fan of the Captain and was suitably starstruck when, during introductions, it was explained to him that it was truly Steve Rogers in front of him.” His smile grew more prominent and he dipped his head lower. His eyes glowed faintly within the shadows he had cast onto them. “It appears that Mister Quill is a former kidnapee and a native to earth. Friday ran a search for his name and found a matching report from Missouri.”

“What a coincidence,” she mused, leaning back against the wall to close her eyes for a bit of rest. For a moment, she was content to listen to the chatter at the front and the quiet murmur between Sam and Banner closer by while pondering her stance regarding the group of aliens. Guardians of the Galaxy was a grand label. Far too grand for her taste, and definitely suspicious. “Can you tell me what you think about the others?”

He took a moment to gather his thoughts before he answered. It was only a little thing, but yet again something Wanda rather liked about Vision - that he always treated every question seriously, regardless who asked the question or what it was about. Doing that he gave people importance, a feeling of worth. They were worth it to think about. To discuss with.

“Most of them, despite their outside appearance, behave remarkably like humans, even though only one, Peter Quill, claims human heritage. Only two are remarkable in that they are very much alien - Groot and a woman named Mantis. She is very interesting, with powers closer to yours than I have yet seen. It could prove useful to speak to her, when she has settled down at the Compound.”

Curious. Not a warning, but the advice to talk to one of them? Wanda watched Vision for a couple of moments, carefully taking in his solemn and calm expressions, before she nodded once. She would trust him in that, even though she didn’t feel ready to face someone who had powers, not unlike hers. In her head, she started to paint a picture of this woman - had she, too, been nearly broken? The thought sat ill with her, but it didn’t change her decision. Not when it came so easy to her, these days, to trust Vision, to feel comfortable around him.

“Would you accompany me then?”

She was glad when she saw him smile.

Chapter Text

June 9th, 2015
Avengers Compound

She wasn’t exactly babying her brother. No, it was more like treating him just as she treated the other boys - like a kid in the body of a grown man, exactly like he behaved right now. Sure, she was worried about him after he had almost fainted, but during their short flight and the walk from the landing point towards the gleaming building (The Avengers Compound, called after the group of - and she still couldn’t believe it - heroes they had to follow for the time being) Harry had proven to be healthy and energetic.

And a pain in her ass, even more so than Peter, who was still staring at the striking figure of Steve “Captain America” Rogers.

“Harry. Put that down right now.” She kept her threatening hiss deliberately low, so as not to trigger the speaker that Rocket was carrying around. The tiny mechanic was walking at the head of their mixed group, chatting gamely with the pilot of the robotic suit. Luckily the human man was just as bad as Rocket, and despite Rocket’s needling and whining to get the suit, Tony “Iron Man” Stark was not yet annoyed with him. Yet.

“Yes, yes, all right.”

Harry sighed and let go of a decorative ornament, which promptly fell back onto the soft, neatly cut lawn. Gamora could hear the tell-tale hissing sound of burned out electronic wiring and glared at the young mage who tried to arrange his face into something close to innocence.

“I hate you,” she mouthed at him, making him laugh. It was then that she noticed one of the Avengers was watching them - the injured girl with the long, brown hair. Well, they wouldn’t stop watching anytime soon. And neither would she.

“Just stop it altogether. Peter did tell you to be careful with your… gift.” She gave him a pointed glare before picking up her speed as the group entered the main building. She had to keep a tight hold over Groot (again), who was trying to jump out of her grip to go explore.

Children, all of them. She would have to thank Mantis later for keeping Drax in line, as he was, for once, behaving like the adult he was.

If only the other three would as well. Not that she minded too much, to be honest. She knew that this childish behaviour was infinitely more preferable than what was about to come. Peter would start to fret again, once the novelty of meeting his childhood hero faded away, and Harry would soon remember their talk a couple of days ago: their little pet theory about the real identity of the Blinder. She didn’t know what made him so giddy right now, but she knew without a doubt that it wouldn’t hold against his fear of meeting their brother again.

And what would happen should their fear come true? Gamora knew that she should be more attentive to the little tour they were given (at least a few of the humans had taken another route to tend to their injuries), but the worry was too great. Harry felt a great deal of guilt over what had happened with Azalel. This trip would be bad for both her boys.

Hopefully, Kraglin or Yondu would be there should the worst come true. Harry was bound to be hurt badly, and while she felt a stab of bitterness about it (he was her brother after all), she could admit that, in reality, they didn’t know each other all that much. They had bonded fast over their shared childhood and she didn’t doubt that, one day, they would have the same, deep bond that the mage shared with the Ravagers, but right now it wasn’t the same. And if both Peter and Harry were hurting after this mission, she knew that her place was with Peter, and Harry’s place was with the men.

“What a mess,” she whispered, just as the group was shown the guest rooms.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Guest Suite, Avengers Compound

Terra was beautiful, at least the parts that she had seen so far. Not as artificially and carefully crafted as it was on Ego, but beautiful nonetheless.

The sunset she was able to observe through the windows of her guest room was breathtaking - all orange and red and fiery, brushing against strikingly grey clouds touched with a softer pink and slowly dissolving into a deep blue. This was why she was the last person to finally make her way from her bedchamber towards the large community room the Guardians would share for the immediate future - until the killer they were chasing was put down at least. Not that Mantis was worried about the new quarters or the Terrans who had escorted them here. As long as she was in the company of her new friends, Mantis was feeling secure and content.

“There you are, Mantis!”

She smiled at Gamora, who was pacing the spacious room in front of large, floor-to-ceiling window panes. Drax was here, too, lounging on the comfortable seats. They were the only ones, though, and Mantis frowned.

“Hello, Gamora. Hello, Drax. Where are the others?” She ambled forward to place herself next to Drax, who made some space for her, sweet as he was. Her smile only grew, no longer anxious that he might think her to be repulsive.

Gamora stopped her pacing, her face somewhat stony. Mantis knew that face - it meant that someone was in great trouble. Hopefully, it wasn’t her.

“Already gone. I know that Rocket’s followed Tony Stark to work on a way to track our target, but I have no idea what Harry and Peter are up to. Groot’s made his escape, too, so I hope that the idiots took him with them, or else.”

Mantis quickly swallowed her nervous little laugh - it wouldn’t do to make Gamora angry at her, too, when she was already angry with the other members of their group. She also tried not to be worried too much for Peter and Harry. It had taken some time for her to learn that being angry with the others didn’t mean that the group would break up. Not anymore.

Everything would be alright. No need to worry.

But Peter and Harry had fought a lot, too, not too long ago.

She was startled out of her upsetting thoughts by Drax, who had put a strong hand onto her shoulder. Almost instantly she felt herself relax as she made the connection with him - he was a steady rock out in a stormy sea. She sighed and leaned against him before opening her eyes again.

Gamora was watching them with a fond look, which softened her face a lot. “I’ll go out and look for them. Steve Rogers said that we will gather later to talk about the next steps that need to be taken, and I won’t risk what little reputation we have with those humans to be destroyed by whatever idiotic things the boys will cook up when left alone.”

And with that, she was gone, leaving only Drax and herself in the room. Mantis couldn’t begrudge her friends the need to explore this new location. It would be nice to do so herself, but she was still a bit exhausted from the long journey to Terra and it was just as nice to simply watch the darkening sky together with Drax, who amused her with stories from his past.

Not that they were alone for too long before there was a knock on the door and they had three visitors.

~~~

“Go on,” Vision said, nudging her gently. And how odd it was, to Pietro, that they were so comfortable with each other. Especially the synthezoid. Not that Pietro had watched him like a hawk from the very moment he had noticed the budding friendship between Vision and his twin. Not at all. Just enough to notice things, like how Vision always acted more… human, around her, something Pietro was sure even Vision did not notice himself.

Pietro really wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“Go on,” Vision said again. “She’s got powers like yours.” And wasn’t that lovely. Not.

“I have powers like Wanda’s,” Pietro interjected with a drawl. That should have been quite obvious. “We got them from the same place.” He gestured towards the still closed door. “We don’t know where this one got her powers.”

“Yes,” Vision said patiently. “Which is why maybe we could ask.”

Vision watched him. Pietro watched right back. It wasn’t that he disliked him, like Wanda sometimes worried about. There wasn’t much to dislike Vision in the beginning. He was just… well, maybe there was a little bit dislike in play.

It was his constant calm that set Pietro on edge. He knew that it was that very same calm that helped Wanda, what made her seek him out in the first place, but he couldn’t help but to be wary. Maybe it was because Pietro himself wasn’t very good at being calm himself unless it was for Wanda.

There was next to nothing he wouldn’t do for her.

Between Vision and him, standing next to the door, Wanda squared her shoulders. Down the bond between their minds, Pietro could feel her anxiety and turned towards her, because Wanda was always more important than any staring contest in the world.

“Play nice,” she said to Pietro and knocked.

The decision was made, so naturally, Pietro was the first to enter. Just to make sure, to get a good look at these strangers that had been brought in. Only there were only two of them sitting on the sofas. He recognized them from the pictures Stark had sent him beforehand - the huge, hulking one named Drax, and Mantis, the one that Vision thought Wanda should speak to. Both looked up when the door opened, the latter with a noticeable delay, and Pietro tried not to approve of how quickly Drax had responded to their entry. He failed.

“Hello,” Wanda said as she stepped in, closely followed by Vision. Pietro, already inside, positioned himself at his sister’s shoulder, blue chasing his edges. “Could we speak to you?” She was walking forwards already, just as the question left her lips, and Pietro darted ahead, making sure there was a spot on the sofa for him which he claimed, right next to the spot where he knew Wanda would sit. She always preferred corners, after all.

“Of course,” Mantis said, after a couple of seconds of stunned silence. It was weird, how he could hear both her original language (lilting and melodic with a chirping quality) and the English translation coming from the box sitting on the couch desk (which looked suspiciously like a Stark speaker, just like those Wanda and he had in their shared room under the giant TV screen).

The woman herself was not what he had expected. Of course, he had already seen her picture - the pale skin, the skinny body, big, black eyes and the fragile-looking antennae protruding from her forehead. What the picture didn’t show was her body language - a bit awkward, but relaxed as she leaned against the huge frame of Drax - or her open and curious expression. She was easy to read, actually. Both of them were.

He didn’t know what to think of that.

“Thank you,” Vision continued, and took the seat next to Pietro. “I hope we have not interrupted anything. I am Vision, and these are the siblings Wanda and Pietro Maximoff.”

“Siblings? That is nice. I wish I had siblings myself. It looks like much fun. Peter has a brother, of course, and Harry and Gamora are also very close,” Mantis said lightly as she glanced at the twins.

“But they also argue all the time,” Drax chimed in. He was not as delighted about their company as Mantis was, Pietro noticed, and kept them all under scrutiny. Yet he allowed Mantis to lean on him, one massive arm wrapped around her dainty shoulders.

Wanda saw it too, which was probably why she didn’t ask the man to leave. Instead, she smiled just a tiny bit at their words and focussed her gaze on Mantis.

“To be honest, we are not only here to introduce ourselves. I wanted to ask you about something that might be a personal matter for you. About your… powers.”

This time, both perked up. There was a moment in which Mantis looked a tad shy, even the smallest bit uncertain, but before Pietro could hone onto that expression, Drax leaned forward. It was his time to be eager, almost delighted about the topic, which surprised both Pietro and Wanda - he could feel her matching reaction and was, as always, pleased by it.

“She has the most fantastic power, truly. Once she had exposed Quill’s feelings for Gamora - it was the funniest thing!” the muscular man boomed, his voice becoming louder with his growing excitement. Not unlike Thor, really.

“His feelings?” Wanda’s eyes were again searching for Mantis’.

Her shyness was gone now as if she had been encouraged and even bolstered by Drax’ words. “Yes, I remember. It was back when I first met the Guardians, my friends. They asked me to demonstrate, you see, so I read Peter’s feelings. His most prominent ones, at least, and I found a lot of sexual love and desire that was directed towards Gamora.” She smiled a big, bright smile, clasping her hands in front of her in delight. “It was warm and fuzzy and slightly awkward. A tingle just below the belly.”

“So you can sense the emotions of others?” Pietro asked, just to confirm his suspicion. And Mantis, who was (or acted) so open and honest, simply nodded.

“I can feel it for myself. Just a little bit when I’m close to someone and their emotions are strong, just at the surface. All of it, if I touch the person. I can also alter emotions, but that is a lot of work - the more drastic the change, the more tired I become, and that, too, can only be done by skin contact.”

And as if to demonstrate she held her hands up in front of her and wiggled her fingers.

“It is the most unique feeling, to share these things. Especially when she strengthens my happiness, or shares my sorrow.”

Pietro’s eyebrows rose slightly at the pride he could detect in Drax’ voice. The hulking fighter was obviously very fond of the woman and not afraid of the intimacy such a gift implied. And from what they said it sounded an awful lot like his twin’s own power when it came to the mind - to feel the emotions of a person, to even be able to alter it.

It was a relief, then, that most of this could only be done through touch. He felt himself relax - after all, it was almost impossible to catch him if he didn’t want to be caught.

But was the scene in front of him not oddly familiar in itself? The way the huge man was comforting and approving of her powers, how easy he trusted her with his very emotions. The way she wielded her powers to comfort him, to strengthen him in return. It had taken Drax all but a few choice words to help her overcome her initial shyness, to open up in front of three strangers.

He had already been a bit impressed with Drax, right at the beginning - impressed at his reflexes, if nothing else. Now, however, Pietro felt a sort of kinship with him, because they were alike where it most mattered for him. They were alike in how they treated someone important (most important for him, always) to them, someone with powers that made others wary. Yet they felt no fear nor distrust (and how could Pietro?) and offered kinship and compassion instead. Offered implicit trust.

And that was something Pietro could never disrespect.

“It is definitely an interesting power you possess, Miss Mantis.” As always, Vision’s voice was as calm as the man himself, tinged with a hint of curiosity. “If I may ask, would you be interested in a little demonstration?”

It was akin to throwing a treat towards a puppy. Mantis was certainly eager to do Vision’s bidding, eyes huge and delighted, a large smile dimpling her cheeks. And Drax, too, was not against ‘sharing’ the experience, so to speak, patting the woman’s shoulder when she moved forward to clasp hands with Vision.

“Would it be possible for me to… observe?” It wasn’t much of an interruption - their hands had not yet met across the little table between their respective seats, and neither Vision nor Mantis minded the intrusion. Pietro watched his sister closely for a moment, but all he could sense was the same curiosity (mixed with a healthy wariness) that he himself felt - she wanted to know how Mantis worked, what she would do to Vision.

Because it was something new, to meet someone else with a similar set of powers that dealt with the mind. New and daunting.

“I don’t know if it will work with multiple people. I don’t wish to mess with your feelings, and it is hard to pick out which emotions belong to whom,” Mantis warned. Which, maybe, possibly, earned her a point with Pietro.

“There is no need to worry. I have my ways,” Wanda answered with a smile that was more genuine than those before. Her eyes met briefly with Vision’s, who nodded almost immediately and moved her hands, fingers twitching minutely, in a careful and controlled way. Scarlet mist formed between her digits, curling and floating lovingly against her own skin before a thin tendril sought its way towards Vision’s head, who, to his credit, didn’t so much as bat an eyelash.

Chasing through their link, Pietro only felt content and tasted trust. For Wanda, it came easy to trust the man-made Avenger.

“We are ready,” she told Mantis, who had watched her magic with fascination.

~~~

Touching Vision was a most remarkable thing, of this Mantis was sure. She had yet to meet someone so calm and collected, so very in control of most of his emotions.

Still, underneath all of these things, he was just the same as all sentient beings Mantis had encountered so far (not that many, to be fair, but that couldn’t be helped). Fear and insecurities are hard to get rid off under the best of circumstances, and Vision was so startlingly young - such a contrast to Ego, who had lived for tens of thousands of years, for hundreds of thousands of years really, who had been so very, very old and still so emotional. It was a surprise for Mantis, so much so that when she gasped at it, Vision did, too, as she involuntarily shared it with him. There was movement next to him, but it was still very hard for her to see and feel much else than what she had honed into.

The most prominent fear was also what created most of the insecurities lingering around. And as few as there were, those existing were prominent enough to fester. And how interesting, how very sad, how lucky really, that his fear would be to not exist properly, to be a fake, a mere copy of sentience. Just a machine, and what he thought were thoughts and emotions only a facsimile of the real thing? No. That wouldn’t do, not when Mantis knew she could help.

But she also knew better than to simply impose her own emotions onto others when it wasn’t necessary. She knew better than to manipulate directly. So she shared, without altering Vision’s own mental state, what she was feeling, just to reassure him that she knew, that she was sure.

The fear and the insecurities were not gone, but their hold loosened up enough that Mantis was sure they would soon fall off on their own.

Blinking out of her trance, her dainty fingers curled around Vision’s stronger hands for a lingering moment while the soft glow of her antennae dimmed. Then she smiled and released his hands, pleased with what she had seen and done. He had proven to be so very fascinating, if not as funny as her Drax.

“You don’t need to worry so much. It’s good that you have such a great friend to help you out,” she mused, before seeking out Wanda’s eyes. “It’s quite lovely how fond he is of you. He feels most human around you, did you see?” She thought she had felt Wanda’s presence, too - barely even a touch, just the sense that someone had been watching - and it was just as new and exciting as Vision’s inner workings. Her smile grew, especially when she noticed that both Wanda and Vision were visibly stunned - oh, and her brother, too. Maybe there had been another connection, somewhere hidden. Or he was just picking it up from his sister.

Feeling content, she reached out to take one of Drax’ large hands into hers. It was always reassuring to feel his weight and strength, and how he carefully reined it in when being close to her. Merging with his emotions was also so much easier (and infinitely more natural) for Mantis compared to Ego - maybe because Drax was not only comfortable with, but most times even eager for it. Not like the others.

And certainly not like their guests.

“Thank you..?” Green eyes flashed for a moment before Vision leaned backwards again, looking at his hands before he turned more towards Wanda. The look they exchanged told a story, Mantis was sure of it. It also helped with their surprise, changing it into thoughtfulness, which was just as well. Maybe they would come again. Pietro looked curious enough.

“Yes. Thank you, Mantis. We should go now, you have given us a lot to think about,” Wanda added after a moment.

“You can come back anytime. And I like your accent.” Mantis watched as their guests stood up and moved towards the door. Her words caused the woman with the long, brown hair to stop for a moment, but then she smiled and opened the door and was soon gone.

“That was nice,” came the rumble from Drax and Mantis agreed.

It was nicer still when Drax asked her if she wanted to take a stroll.

~~~

June 9th, 2015
Avengers Compound

“It really shouldn’t be so hard to find one giant person.”

“Seriously, Harry. You’re just small.”

“And perfectly able to shove my boot up your arse!”

Sizzle… chink!

“Again, Harry? We are trying to avoid your sister without leaving her a fuckin’ bread crumb trail.”

“There ain’t even any bread crumbs! And why’s your girlfriend suddenly my sister when you are in trouble, anyway?”

“I am Groot.”

It was hard to get himself under control. Not like back when he was young, where doing magic was a right chore when you wanted to do it right - no, his control over his powers was as good as always. He didn’t even feel more powerful. But there was the most pleasant tingle and a deep satisfaction whenever he let the energy flood out of his fingers, ready to be manipulated by him, ready to manipulate their surroundings.

Which wouldn’t have been a problem on their ship per se. But here, on Terra? Little backwards Terra where they still mostly used electricity? There have been signs of another energy source, one that fared better against Harry’s wild companion, but most of the fixtures they walked past on their search for the blonde giant had run on plain old electricity. Had.

At least Groot was enjoying the sparks and crackling noises Harry caused when light bulbs broke and hidden cables in the walls melted due to overheating. He could content himself with making small, soft lights, but really, those were boring. The constant pull of an object made invisible, or a chair lifting up was so much more satisfying, and he wanted to enjoy the warm sensation of magic well done as long as it lasted. He was still unsure what had caused it - he had never had such a reaction just from setting foot on a planet, and who knew if it was caused by the proximity of one of the Avengers? - but he was opportunistic enough to accept that using magic felt so much better now. So use it he did.

That said, he still made the weird statuette visible again when Peter glared at him.

“Sheesh, okay, okay! See? I’m stopping it.”

They rounded a corner. Another one. The building was not very big compared to others they had seen, but it didn’t make it small, nor did it make long corridors with their gleaming surfaces and bright lights shorter. Harry had a vague understanding in which direction their assigned rooms were, but without actually going outside and walking back towards the entrance they had first used, he would be hard-pressed to find his way back. Not after they had taken the first stairs up.

But Peter wanted to find this Steve, this ‘Captain America’ (which was totally hilarious), before they were to meet all together, just to chat with him.

And instead of asking someone, he wanted to find him all by himself. And with by himself he had meant with the help of Harry and Groot.

“I am Groot!”

“No, Groot. It may be all fun and laughs, but Gamora will throttle us if we have to pay for repairs. I bet there are a gazillion cameras around, anyways, so Harry can very well tone it down. He’ll make me look bad.”

“Oh, goodness me. And here I was, thinking it impossible to ruin your reputation even further.”

“I am Groot?”

“See, Groot is on my side!”

Harry was outright laughing now. But there was a little twitch on Peter’s face, beneath the stern expression he had forced onto his big face. The banter also helped Groot to forget about the lack of visible magic, leaving him crooning into Harry’s left ear every so often.

Neither of them noticed the two men until they practically ran into them.

“Uh, hello!” Peter sounded enthusiastic, but Harry noticed that he was the only (adult) one who was. The reason for that enthusiasm (and his hasty grab into his satchel to pull out one of the stolen and modified sound speakers Rocket had given him before the mechanic had gone to search Tony Stark) was easily pointed out - Steve Rogers was, by no means, a small man. He rivalled Peter in height and surpassed him in sheer muscle mass. Not as much as Drax, but more… shapely, in a way.

Maybe that was the reason Peter was such a fan. Harry swallowed a laugh.

The man in question looked a bit strained, but he made the effort to smile and nod to Peter’s greeting and reply with his own. His friend, who had been introduced as Clint Barton and Hawkeye (and Harry started to see a pattern with Terrans and Codenames), didn’t bother pretending. His sharp eyes flicked from Peter to Harry to Groot, dark with suspicion but not overly hostile. Harry reckoned that he mirrored him quite well, one hand casually raised to protectively cup the tiny body of Groot.

“What are you doing here?” Clint Barton asked, eyes still on Harry, though they did flicker towards Peter every now and then as if to keep both of them under watch. Steve Rogers cringed a bit at the abrupt tone before eying them thoughtfully.

“Looking. Walking. Stuff, you know,” Harry drawled, pleased when it came out just as he wanted it to - slow and lazy and disinterested. He couldn’t help, however, the quick smile when one of Barton’s brows twitched. It twitched again, and Harry’s smile stretched wider.

“Looking for what?” Barton shot back, not really irritated. More… interested? But before the mage could reply to that, Peter shot him a look.

“Looking for you, actually. Uhm, for Steve. Rogers. Captain Rogers,” he blurted out. Harry was glad that Peter was the kind of guy to jump forward despite how embarrassed he was - and right now? Right now he was almost blushing, yet he still soldiered on. “I wanted to talk to you. Captain to Captain.”

“Really?” slipped past Harry’s lips, voice tinged with a horrifying fascination of how much an idiot Peter could make himself look.

“Really what?” said the idiot, folding his arms in front of his chest. “I am the Captain. No matter what Rocket said,” he quickly added, glancing at the other Terrans.

“You know what? I want to talk, too. And by ‘talk’ I mean I want to sit there and watch this misery.” Harry beamed at them. Peter looked affronted, Rogers looked highly uncomfortable and Barton… Barton watched with unholy glee, and Harry was suddenly very sure that he would like him, suspicious of them all as he might be.

“Agreed. Actually, why don’t we go to the common room? We have a bit of time on hand until the meeting and can snatch the best seats while we are at it. Either way, I think we will all be talking. I have a few questions.” Barton slapped Steve’s shoulder. And then he eyed Harry before he deliberately looked behind the mage, down the corridor.

Oh.

Shit.

“That sounds like a good idea. Come along then,” the famous Captain America said with a sigh and turned around.

“I hate you,” Peter mouthed at him. Harry shrugged. Another pattern there.

~~~

The room they led in their new guests was large and sleek and modern, just like the rest of the building, but despite that, it was also surprisingly comfortable. Clint had always preferred a more homely style, mainly because he had had the farm for so long as a stark contrast to his life with S.H.I.E.L.D, but he didn’t regret moving his family onto the Compound which was as secure as any home could be. Even Laura and the kids had taken a shine to their new surroundings, but then Laura had also spent a lot of time redecorating their large set of suites to her own liking with the help of a couple of trusted Stark employees.

The room itself was more of an open concept one - the floor dipped down at the far side from the door where it faced a floor-to-ceiling glass wall with long, charcoal-grey leather couches and armchairs grouped together. Another group of similar couches was crowded in front of an enormous flatscreen. Along the left wall stood the bar, because obviously, any room that Tony Stark planned on occupying for any amount of time had to have easy access to alcohol, while on the right side one could climb up glass stairs to get to a small mezzanine for more private conversations. Clint knew that there was a kitchen through one of the three adjacent doors, mostly used to produce snacks when they decided to watch a movie. The second door led to a small bathroom (small when you measured it with Stark’s eyes) and the third door led to a more formal conference room done in steel and glass, woods and leather.

Their guests looked around - one satisfied with a quick glance, the other taking his time and the littlest with big eyes and an open mouth - and followed the two Avengers towards the seats in front of the window. Steve sat down and Quill chose a spot close to him. Clint couldn’t help but grin at that. He wasn’t the only one - the guy called Harry settled himself on a couch, slouching in a way that reminded him of Tony, and looked just as amused as the archer.

The amusement, much to their delight, was not going to stop anytime soon. Much to Steve’s embarrassment, Quill almost immediately started questioning the Captain, starting with the familiar “How come you are still alive?” and ending with the hilarious “Have you ever read the comics about you?”. And Steve, proper Brooklyn boy he was, answered each and everyone with a patience that Clint would never understand. Not that he needed to: Quill was totally focussed on his childhood hero, lapping up the attention and information like a dry sponge.

And every time it looked like Steve wanted to change the subject, either Harry or Clint himself would edge Quill on, which always resulted in an exasperated look from Steve. Sweet betrayal.

“I never got the chance to ask,” Steve said at one point when he finally managed to get a word in edgeways.

“Ask what?” Quill leaned forward eagerly. He was tall and muscular, clad in clothing made for combat, but his open face, bright eyes and the smitten smile made it hard to take him seriously, especially after the last half hour of him chatting with Captain America.

“What he is.” A nod towards the walking plant, who has curled up in Harry’s lap and watched them with huge, solemn eyes. When the attention shifted towards the little guy, however, he sat up and waved at them all.

“Groot? He’s a Flora Colossus,” Quill answered without hesitation. He looked glad that he was able to answer Steve’s question. That could be useful. “His race is the only known sentient plant life that is also spacefaring,” he added after a moment.

“Is he… he looks really child-like. You said you were mercenaries. Is he an adult?”

“I am Groot!” the little guy said with his high voice. Quill faltered for a moment. Steve and Clint exchanged a look.

“He isn’t.” It was Harry who had answered when it became clear that Quill was still reluctant. The young man (and he was very young, younger than Steve, even younger than Pietro and Wanda) patted Groot’s head affectionately.

“Pretty dangerous to take a child with you, then.” Steve frowned, and Clint could only agree.

“Well, it’s even more dangerous to leave him behind. He’s family.” Peter’s words were strong and filled with conviction.

“The ship’s our home. We don’t have things like this,” Harry added and gestured at the room they were occupying. “There ain’t many Floras around anymore, and besides, Groot and Rocket have been friends for years before we all met. He used to be an adult, but something happened and now he’s not, but that’s hardly a reason to get rid of him. He’s plenty safe with us.” He flashed them a smile, all white teeth, both charming and sharp.

Steve still looked like he wanted to argue. But Clint could see the protective glint in Harry’s eyes, and the determination in Quill’s. “Bet it’s harder out there than here,” he mused, and it was enough to settle Steve. “But back to you two. Quill, how come you ended up in space?” And just like that, Quill eased back.

“Got kidnapped. Happens a lot, sadly, but what can you do. And I wouldn’t have met my crew otherwise, so it’s not that I’m all too sad about it.” He had an easy smile on his lips, but his eyes had a hint of something else in them. Regret?

“Must be hard to adapt, for a Missouri boy. I come from Iowa myself.” He winked at Steve as he pulled the attention towards himself. “And where are you from?” And swiftly pushed it back to their visitors, this time to Harry.

And wasn’t his reaction interesting. “No idea.” The answer came swiftly, with a smile not unlike Quill’s, only more rueful. He didn’t hide it either. “I’m like Pete, got snatched when I was small. Backwater, like Terra, but I have no idea how it’s called or where it is. Peter got lucky with that - people already knew about Terra.”

“You look just as human,” Steve offered, but that only garnered a laugh from the young man.

“Half the galaxy looks human. That doesn’t tell you much.” He waved it off, one corner of his mouth twitching upwards before a mischievous glint entered his eyes. “Wanna see something cool?”

“Harry, no,” Quill said quickly.

“Harry, yes,” Clint argued. Steve looked uncertain, but the archer knew that he wouldn’t want to look impolite.

“Don’t encourage him!”

A soft click caught Clint’s attention. He looked back. Then he did a double-take.

The young man was holding his eyes in his hands. What.

“OH, COME ON MAN!”

WHAT.

“What?” Harry echoed Clint’s thought, only infinitely more calm and amused. “Last time I did that, you liked it!”

“Uhm…” Clint was still staring at the pair of eyes, which were still connected to the empty eye holes through thin wires.

“Err…” Steve made a brave attempt at speaking, but he was as speechless as his usually quick-witted friend.

“Last time you showed them off to people more used to our tech. Really, I can’t go anywhere with you!”

“Oh-ho, yeah, because you are the pinnacle of table manners, Mister I-flirt-with-the-client’s-daughter.”

“What the hell!” Clint shouted (not very loud, mind you). Steve was still searching for the appropriate words for this situation. Clint heavily doubted he would find any. “Wait, wait! Are these like, space tech? Can they do cool stuff?”

Because how cool was that? He couldn’t wait for Tony to find out.

“Sure. And they’re heaps better than your regular ones!” There was a short pause, a tilt of his head (which didn’t look creepy at all without his eyes) and a small frown. “Wait, they call you Hawkeye, don’t they? Don’t you have, like, advanced eyes?”

“Hell no! I’m just a really good shot. Trained for years. Eyes are regular - don’t even need glasses.” He found himself leaning forward to get a better look at the orbs sitting there on the palm of Harry’s hand. He grinned. “You got infrared sight with these? Zoom? Special stuff?”

Steve’s elbow prodded none-too-subtly into his side. “Clint,” Steve said. “Be polite.”

“I am Groot!”

“He doesn’t mind.” Quill sounded almost offended at the notion. “He likes showing off. Honestly, I think he likes it when you ask about them.” His face turned away, grumpy in the way of siblings. “Weirdo.”

Harry lifted up one eyeball at the extent of its wire, and waved it around Quill’s face. “I got my eye on youuu!” he crowed.

Definitely siblings, Clint thought.

After a moment of Quill sitting grumpily, Harry’s attention returned to Clint. “Zoom, but not too far,” he said. “And awesome night vision. And, I can do this.” Eyeballs balanced in the palm of his hand - still connected by a wire - he seemed to squint around his empty sockets.

In his hands, the eyes rolled, pupils contracted and expanded.

“Oh wow,” said Clint.

Harry tugged the connecting wires. “As long as they’re plugged in, they’re all mine.”

“Harry,” Quill said in a strained voice. “Please.”

Later, when the rest of their friends and guests entered the common room, Clint would notice that he had let himself be distracted from questioning Harry about the broken lamps. Nonetheless, watching Steve reeling back in thinly veiled disgust each time the eyeballs unexpectedly moved in Harry’s hand made it totally worth it.

Chapter Text

June 13th, 2015
The Workshop, Avengers Compound

Tony had no problems to say that yes, he liked Rocket. It was hard not to - they had a similar sense of humour and both a great obsession and, most important, a genuine talent when it came to mechanics. They had quickly bonded, Rocket, Bruce and him, while spending the last few days almost entirely in his own workshop inside the Compound to come up with the exact parameters and equipment for a long-range scan to search for their fugitive.

And within these few days (and nights), they were fast to call a truce and fall into an easy rhythm.

Sometimes he wondered when exactly his life had made the turn into the absurd - here he was, trying to coax a talking racoon into giving him specs and information of inventions mankind could only dream of while the-man-who-was-also-the-Hulk chewed on a pencil while checking on a test run. The thought never lingered for long - he couldn’t care less about these things.

Because he genuinely liked them both.

Of course, there had been other things happening, too. At least once a day, Steve called for a meeting of both groups (usually in the evening during dinner, but Tony was suspicious that it was a plot to get the three scientists to eat) to tentatively discuss strategies they could use when they were ready for battle. Tony kept himself busy, but even he had noticed during these dinners that both groups had started to mix a bit, with Antennae Girl sitting and chatting at Vision’s end of the table with the Maximoffs, and the Quill Guy still clinging to Steve (and was that Birdbrain together with the Harry Guy? The one who they said was burning out all of his light fixtures?). Not that he could or would say anything against it, not when Rocket was wedged between himself and Bruce, talking about his favourite topic: Weapons.

There had been private talks with Steve - an assessment on their process. What he thought about their guests. Clint’s suspicions about Harry. The hilarity that was a space fanboy. There had been calls from Pepper and the usual amount of paperwork he had to look through.

Time flew by for Tony Stark when, on the fifth day after the skirmish in Vermont and during a highly entertaining mock bartering between Tony and Rocket (Tony wanted a spaceship, Rocket wanted his own suit), Friday announced that a match has been found.

He stopped mid-sentence. “Where is it?”

“Albany, Boss.”

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Communal Kitchen, Avengers Compound

For Harry, the last couple of days had been fun - despite Gamora’s silent worries, he had been a bit too busy to think too much about the murderer they had chased through the galaxy. It had become a game of sorts for him, and the rules of the hunt were clear in his mind - had to be, since he was the prey.

A very gleeful prey.

It wasn’t that he didn’t use his magic at all. Sure, he had nodded to Peter’s warning not to use it, but surely such a backwater planet had never heard of mages, so why bother hiding it? Still, he was not about to full-on disobey his brother. Not in front of their guests, at least. Not to an extent in which they would be sure of his gifts. And that meant he had to be stealthy or quick.

He knew they knew he could do something - after their first meeting, Barton had clearly waited for him, probably butthurt that Harry had diverted him from questioning them by using his eye trick. So when Harry left the common room to flee to his own chambers, he had made sure to rein his magic in (and to wink at the blonde archer). The man didn’t follow him into the guest suite. He would hold onto this for the next four days.

So avoiding him it was, and if that wasn’t possible, Harry knew to quickly gather a crowd. For whatever reasons, Barton tried to be subtle about it, too. It was their game, without any pressure. Even Gamora didn’t say anything, and Harry was sure she knew what he had done, what he was still doing.

Wanda Maximoff, however, was not Clint Barton, and for whatever reason, Mantis’ new lady friend was determined to seek him out. And she was fiendish - on their second day at the Compound she nearly managed to corner the young mage, and in the guest quarters no less. She didn’t avoid the rooms given to them, because Mantis actually invited her into them.

Her association with Mantis made it just as difficult for Harry to avoid her as avoiding Barton. Still, it was a welcome distraction from Gamora’s searching eyes and Peter’s obvious attempts to drown his own worries with his over-the-top excitement over Steve Rogers.

The only thing that was kind of hard these days was to feed himself without getting caught and to do his training without being observed, which was why he tried to combine the two. It did wonders when it came to his invisibility trick, really, but it always left him drained and famished by the time he made it in and out. It took a lot of concentration and slow movements to keep up the thin layer of magic around his whole body.

Which made it very unfortunate when the alarm sound surprised him quite badly, just as he reached the open doorway on his way out, straining to be as silent as possible to not alert Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson during their own meal.

Especially poor Wilson, who let out a loud scream when Harry, startled, lost his grasp on the spell and not only became visible, his hands full of semi-stolen fruits and granola bars, but also caused one of the windows to loudly crack right through the middle.

“The hell!”

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Barton Family Suite, Avengers Compound

To say that the last few days had been interesting would put it too simple. Not when it all started with the statement that Vision, calm and collected and trusting and trusted, was feeling most human when he was with her, a sentence said without even noticing the weight behind the words, thrown casually into the conversation like one would talk about the weather in some distant part of the country.

It was a heady thought - that she herself was the one to put him to such ease just by being with him. It made the following interaction with Vision awkward again, like those first days where she had still been unsure about him. What threw her even more, however, was Vision’s own reaction to the short talk with Mantis and her friend Drax - this thoughtless confirmation that his emotions were real, something that Wanda had never doubted and yet something that Vision himself had never been sure about.

She had certainly moved two worlds around that evening, the woman from the stars, without even meaning to. Just honest words from an honest mind, and wasn’t that ever so refreshing?

Maybe it was this beautiful, frightening honesty, this unsuspected gift they had been given, that drew her back towards her, be it alone or with Vision or with her brother or both. Pietro was still wary, but not overly so - he liked Drax well enough, of all the men of their group definitely the best, and Drax seemed to be just as interested in her fast twin which was a relief.

And after a hint from Clint, given both to Pietro and her during a visit to see little Nathaniel, another member of the strange group may have caught her interest, too.

And maybe, just maybe, this interest was only boosted by the fact that Harry, brother of Peter Quill and Gamora, started to avoid her just as she had started to show her interest.

It was a curious game of cat and mouse that followed. She was aware that Clint, too, was playing it - he may even have told them about Harry’s hidden powers solely to gain allies in his own hunt for answers. But it was not that important, in Wanda’s eyes. Surely not important enough to ask Pietro to simply catch him with his superior speed. And if she didn’t ask her twin, she was not about to ask anyone else.

“I think he might have some form of Telekinesis. Friday says that he can hover things without touching them. It also burns out electrical wiring,” Clint had said. And it was curious, that two people had made an appearance who each shared a piece of her own powers.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to help?”, asked Pietro, but a simple no was enough with him.

“He should come back shortly,” said Mantis when Wanda visited again because a simple no was not enough for her.

It was… nice. Her new and growing understanding of Vision. The calm talks in their little group, the tentative friendship between her and Mantis. Even the amusing riddle that was Harry, whom she didn’t even really know.

And little Nathaniel Pietro Barton, held in her brother’s arms. It was a short, but peaceful time. She knew better, of course, than to hope it would last. Neither of them would be here at the Compound otherwise.

The three adults were still perturbed when the alarm sound woke the baby, mixing high pitched cries with the blaring sound of sirens.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Avengers Compound

Steve’s week had been somewhat stressful. It was better now, but the first couple of days the thought of strangers (aliens) inside the Compound had been nerve-wracking for the former soldier, especially at night. But all in all, not much changed due to their visitors, and the rest of his team seemed to slowly warm up towards the Guardians.

Even Steve himself, despite Peter Quill’s ongoing stalking.

It was still stressful - occupied with their guests, a lot of day-to-day duties fell to him, and he had his hands full to keep everyone in check. Having an additional seven powered individuals under his care was nothing to laugh at. He was glad that Wanda had stepped up to take care of two of their guests, and despite him having to pull three instead of just two busy scientists away from their projects, the fact that Tony and Bruce were able to rein in someone Steve knew instinctively to be a trouble maker was a huge relief for him.

He even decided, after a few talks to Clint and a long time watching Harry, to leave the young man alone when it came to the wreckage he left in his wake - nothing important was broken, after all, only secondary installations like light fixtures, heating elements and other tidbits, and it kept the workers on site busy.

Quill, however, proved to be tenacious to a point where Steve considered having a stern talk with the guy. Looking back, he doubted that it had been a coincidence that Gamora had chosen that day to come to him instead, with half an apology and enough of an explanation that Steve decided to indulge Quill who was, much like himself, a man out of time.

Naturally, Sam wasn’t having it, and during an early lunch with him in the communal kitchen, he started to explain to Steve how that was not at all helpful.

“But we aren’t exactly in a position to offer solid help, Sam,” Steve said, a frown on his face. “What am I to do, I don’t really know the fella.”

Sadly, he would have to wait for an answer - just as Sam opened his mouth, three different things happened. The first one was the sound of the alarm klaxons blaring through the hidden speakers around the Compound. The third thing was Sam shouting. The second thing that had happened took a little longer for Steve to figure out, but after a moment he too was staring at a guilty looking alien with his arms full of food items standing with them in the kitchen when before he had decidedly not been there.

“The hell!” Sam yelled.

Boss has called a meeting! All Avengers and special guests to the first-floor conference room. I repeat, all Avengers and special guests to the first-floor conference room.”

~~~

June 13th, 2015
The Quadrant, Moon

A few calls a day. Harry, mostly, outside the building, sitting close or inside the Downfall, the tablet he was using cradled carefully in his hands while he described his day, that they were bunking with heroes (and yes, they all had weird hero-names just like Peter). The first night about what had happened with him, the moment he had stepped on Terra. What could have been the reason for it (but then, between Harry and Kraglin, they had come up with four different theories that were somewhat reasonable, and a dozen outrageous ones besides). How the Terrans had reacted. What Rocket was doing now, together with Terran scientists, to pinpoint where the Blinder was hiding.

Peter was not nearly as diligent, but then he had never been. Yondu knew that it was his own fault - he had taken Peter, had taken him away from his home with his very own hands. Harry, on the other hand, he had rescued (well, Kraglin had, but Yondu too had chosen to help the boy, hadn’t he?). And Harry had decided to stay with them. It didn’t surprise him that this still showed in how they behaved, despite the fact that there was no grudge left between them for what had happened decades ago.

So, a few calls a day it was. But Yondu was not used to the wait, without the presence of his crew, without something to hold his attention. There was only him and Kraglin, and him he had lost to what was called television the last couple days ago.

At least he could also call the others. He was not dependent on his boys, damn it.

“How’s Peter?” He threw a glance to the other side of the bridge, not even trying to keep his voice low. Kraglin was lounging, food in his hands, in front of one of the bigger screens, eyes focussed on it in rapt attention, a set of headphones on his head.

“The usual. Flighty and trying to hide it. I doubt it’ll get better as long as we don’t visit where he’d grown up. I think he’s afraid of seeing his mother’s grave, or any living relatives of his.”

Gamora, bless her, was apt as ever. Useful, that one, for when he was unable to keep a keen eye on his boy himself. Because even after Peter had forgiven him for the abduction, a part of Yondu would always feel guilty. Guilty, because he couldn’t bring himself to regret it. Couldn’t bring himself to regret Peter.

“Better to just get it over with, I tell ya. But be careful with his kin, might be bad when he reaches out and they deny him that.” The world was, after all, a cruel place. And Peter had been missing for so long, surely everyone who had once known him through him dead.

He already wanted to throttle them.

There was a moment of silence, and then… “Do you want to be there?” Her voice was soft, but not for him. They didn’t know each other well enough for that. This softness, that was for Peter, and Yondu was equally glad that his boy had a nice girl like that, and irrationally jealous about it.

“Probably. Fuck, I want to be there now. You sure you just can’t give me an estimate where the fucker is hidin’? We can always bomb it.” And they both knew that Yondu was only half-kidding.

He wanted his boys back, damn it.

“I don’t think that would be wise. He might get angry at you.” She smiled, complete with dimples on her cheeks and crinkling eyes. She wanted this to be over, too. Good.

“Wouldn’t be the first time, eh?” he grinned, but before she could answer, there was an obnoxious, loud sound coming from her end. Yondu watched Gamora looking up, a bit confused at first, before an unknown, female voice talked over the sound of horns.

Boss has called a meeting! All Avengers and special guests to the first-floor conference room. I repeat, all Avengers and special guests to the first-floor conference room.”

“Leave the screen open. You might want to hear that,” Gamora murmured and the screen went blank. The audio feed, however, didn’t cut off.

Back to fuckin’ waiting.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

After the meeting (short and to the point, with the Avengers already starting to get into their gear) it had been a rush. Most of the information came from Tony Stark, told through their new communication devices that he and Rocket had made to ensure everyone would be able to understand and communicate properly. Harry briefly wondered what else they had done, constantly holed up in Stark’s workshop and labs, but there was no time to ask, not while both teams were climbing into their aircrafts while listening to the where and when's of the situation by someone named Hill who had already contacted the local police force, that something in Albany was causing chaos, that people had died because of fucking course the Blinder had to choose a highly populated area to try and lure the Avengers out for a fight.

And it made Harry sick to his stomach, sitting in the Downfall to once again chase a trail of bloodshed, more so than ever, because this was Peter’s planet, this had once been his home, these had once been Peter’s people and whoever was behind this could very well be someone Harry knew. Had known. Would never really know, probably.

“Okay guys, police report is in, they’ve started the evacuation process and are trying to keep him contained. We’ll follow the initial plan, so stick to it until the first encounter.”

Roger’s voice was steady and oddly reassuring, which was nice after the scare Harry had given the man. There would be questions later. Harry couldn’t care less at that moment, eyes glued forwards as they made their hasty way to Albany.

“Landing in two. Tony, I’ll need a lift up after the switch,” Barton said - the man would take a position on top of a high building, and after having watched him on the shooting range Harry had had no complaints whatsoever about his weapon of choice.

“Roger that. Vision on scout, then.”

They were flying above the sprawling town now, and Harry saw the Quinjet sway to the left and downwards for a touchdown, followed by the red and gold suit of the human inventor, still a few blocks away from the commotion. Harry kept on flying - their team would engage from a different direction and he put on some additional speed, making sure the cloaking was still in place before doing his own brief landing. Rocket would stay onboard with Groot and provide aerial firepower if needed, but the rest of them got out in a hurry.

“Guardians in position. Closing in.”

“Hawkeye delivered, following Vision now.”

“Team Cap coming from the south-west. Do you see the smoke?”

“Rocket here, there’s a building on fire.”

Peter activated his rocket boots - he, too, was to stay on the rooftops, a mobile thread from above to their enemy. And there, visible between two towering buildings, a strip of blue sky and dark smoke stark against it.

“Can confirm. It looks to be an isolated fire. We need to ensure that the police and firefighters can reach it with only minimal risk.”

“I don’t know, Natasha, I can still see a lot of people. Best we apprehend the lunatic as fast as we can before he… Fuck!”

“Stark? Stark, what happened?”

They were running now, Gamora and Drax, Mantis and Harry, towards the sound of the echoing explosion. More smoke, white and grey and almost black, wafted into the sky, and they heard the sounds of sirens and screams. People were running now, mostly ignoring the aliens in their panic despite three of them being so obviously different in appearances.

“I think he’s planted bombs in the surrounding residential buildings! I can’t - there he is, I have visuals, he’s just standing there, on the little green, just his blaster out. I’m going to get closer, you hurry up!”

“Got that! Natasha, Bruce, keep an ear out on how the evac is going. Clint, be on the lookout for civilians who didn’t make it out.”

They kept on running down the street and broke apart - Gamora and Harry took a right, down a tiny alley between two buildings filled with dumpsters while Drax and Mantis went on to take the next.

“Cap here, I have my eyes on the target. Mantis, Gamora, talk to me.”

“We’re close to the signal, keeping our heads down for now.” It was Gamora that answered for both of them, and shortly Mantis’ soft voice confirmed their own position with a short “We see him” through the comms. Crouching down, both the assassin and the mage used the dumpsters to hide their presence before peeking around the corner, smoke stinging in their eyes.

It was a chaotic sight. The green was to the side of a smaller street where it crossed with a four-laner, creating a cosy place smack in the middle of downtown Albany. Most of the buildings were residential - townhouses of three to four stories lining the two-lane street, higher and blockier apartment complexes mixed with shops and the odd eatery lining the four-laner. It was a townhouse that showed licks of fire, but the explosion they had heard had left greater damage to a more modern building made out of concrete and now-shattered glass.

What made it worse (not unbearable - the universe is not a place filled with kindness, and Harry was a killer himself after all) were the bodies that were visible between the debris or on the streets, either killed by the explosion or by hand, judging from the cauterized holes through their backs and heads. They must have tried to flee, Harry thought, almost clinically taking in the positioning of the bodies.

And there, walking from the green onto the intersection, was the Blinder, his face held upwards, ignoring both the damage and the death he had caused. Electric blue eyes were fixated on the two people flying above. Fixated mostly on the one with the cape and the gleaming yellow gem on his brow.

Next to him, he heard Gamora taking a sharp breath, causing his heart to feel like someone was giving it a slow squeeze. She moved closer to him as his eyes drank in the tall body, the pale flesh, the gold plating and circuity running like veins under the skin. He shuddered as cold dread filled his mind, but… but it could be someone else.

It could still be someone else.

“We see him,” his sister whispered next to him. There was an affirmative on the comm, the low order to stay put, to first let it to Iron Man and the Vision to gauge the plans of the man while the others should see if they couldn’t help with the evacuation efforts while staying unseen.

It could still be someone else.

“Harry!”

Someone else who raised his gun to take aim, whose lips curled upwards in a pleased manner. Harry had to know, he had to, he had to get closer. So he did, careful not to let himself be seen, crouching behind cars and other obstacles and moving quickly, eyes always on the pale man and ignoring the various voices warning him to stay put, to wait until they had adequately secured the location, to wait, Harry, stop and listen.

He was being careful, and he was not about to just give up and go back, not when he had to be sure.

And then the outstretched arm holding the gun dropped lower until the nuzzle was horizontal to the street, pointed towards the retreating back of a running person, one that Harry hadn’t noticed, but the others had, and there were shouts through the comms as Iron Man swooped down, trying to get his armoured body between the shot and the civilian just as the Blinder pulled the trigger.

And hit a chunk of broken and scorched concrete that had shot up just like Harry had, hand outstretched and clenched to a fist, arm shaking from the strain of holding onto the heavy piece of rubble as the red bolt splashed against it, tearing it apart.

The civilian kept running around the next corner, screaming now, and with a shaky breath, the mage let the broken pieces fall to the ground. He could smell burnt copper and plastic and feel a stinging pain in his left ear.

“Fuckin’ hell,” he said and took the destroyed comm out of his ear, eyes glued to the man in front of him, only a car and a few dozen meters of tarmac between them. It could just as easily have been the dusty stone floor of the Temple, only that this was not a boy but a man, with the same blue eyes and the face of a stranger.

Until the shocked look vanished from it, replaced with a feral grin that Harry knew with painful accuracy. A grin that was mad and angry and hurt and bitter, eyes ablaze and desperate.

Because he had always been desperate this way, lashing out in every direction.

“Hello, brother,” Azalel greeted, and watched with interest when every window in a hundred-meter radius shattered.

Chapter Text

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

He was too far away to hear more than what sounded like a weird explosion. But his eyes were sharp and had focussed on Harry the moment the young man had stupidly stepped forward to meet the target, and he had seen the windows breaking around him. Nothing else moved, no matter how much it looked like the results of a strong shockwave - not even the smoke from the fire had been touched by the force that shattered the glass in Harry’s and the target’s vicinity.

And then, the electronics failed them and several voices cut off in Clint’s ear.

“Hawkeye here, what the fuck happened?” he snapped into his comm, eyes searching for his friends first. There, he could see Steve crouching behind an upended van, pulling his comm out of his ear. He looked through the scope on his bow and saw smoke gusting from the melted device, saw Cap carefully cupping his right ear with one gloved hand.

Looking up, he noticed that Tony was also still flying. Lower than before, but then the suited billionaire was currently swooping down to place himself between the alien lunatic and Harry, repulsors glowing.

“Shit, shit! Rocket here, comms are down on the ground.”

“Copy that. We can still hear you, but we can’t reach the others,” Natasha’s cool voice replied, much to Clint’s relief.

“Still on it, too, but I could need some help here!” Tony’s voice was slightly static but clear enough to understand. A grunt followed, just when the alien met Iron Man down below. Both of them tumbled a couple of steps before Tony put some more power behind his repulsors and blasted the man away from him.

“Someone needs to get to Harry asap! He’s just standing there!” That was Quill, which meant he too had been far enough away from the mysterious shockwave.

“I see Gamora moving in his direction, try to come closer and have her back. Tony, keep that asshole occupied. Tasha, Rocket, I need you two on civilian duty, we still have too many of them in the buildings and the cops can’t come closer!” Clint wasn’t very keen on giving commands, but he had been trained just like any other SHIELD operative and knew how to put a strategy together. And right now, without any kind of stable communication with Cap, he had to deal with this, and he had to deal with it fast.

He got a quick affirmative from the others before shuffling closer to the edge of the flat roof for a better outlook.

“I see Cap and Drax coming in, Tony. Gamora is still heading for Harry. If you see Pietro, tell him that he and Wanda are to help Natasha and Bruce with the civilians first, got that?”

“Right as rain, birdbrain!”

Until it wasn’t. With a roar and a twist, the alien had broken free of Tony’s grasp and was fast enough to duck the shield that Cap had sent flying. It was a truly mad dash, but he managed to weave between the shots that both Tony and Clint sent against him.

Damn, but the thing moved fast.

Clint could move fast too. He crossed to the next rooftop, heading closer towards the epicentre of the chaos, the same direction the alien was heading. He could see electrical wires hanging, and flashing street signs sparking and broken. It looked like the destruction Harry would leave in his wake back at base and Clint regretted not asking more about the man’s uncanny abilities.

Skidding to a halt right at the edge of the roof, Clint could clearly see the alien’s grin - something manic and crazed. Dangerous. Harry was hardly moving, though, which made his job easier.

Clint nocked an arrow, sighting down the shaft. This close, his scope risked being more hindrance than help, and he needed to be careful with the explosive tip.

“Gamora,” he said, praying she could hear. “Explosion incoming in three, two-”

He released the arrow on an exhale and it flew straight and true. Harry still stock still - as still as a statue. The alien grinning madly, blaster lifted and glowing.

And slim green arms pulled Harry out of the blast of the alien’s next shot when his arrow hit its target, exploding at its feet. Orange flames and scattered rubble sprayed up, fire briefly licking across the tarmac. Harry was clear, but at that moment he lost visual on the alien - and on Drax, who had just reached the fight and jumped right into the billowing smoke that was left from Clint’s handiwork.

~~~

The urge to laugh, to scream, to cry, came and went and came again in rapid succession, so fast that it was almost overwhelming. Green eyes. His green eyes, clear and brilliant and right in front of him, full of grief and regret and fear.

They were right, they were his. And Azalel’s hand was steady when he took the shot, because his eyes were set in a face of a traitor.

His brother. He had almost forgotten their connection, had almost let it slip away from him, never to be found again inside the broken mess of his head. But there he was. Harry.

And then, he wasn’t, and the burning hot beam of his laser gun missed its target. Someone had made him miss, someone with slender, green arms and a shock of red hair. Oh, he recognised these green arms as readily as he had his brother’s eyes - it only confirmed all his own fears. Gamora, one of Father’s favourites, here to rescue the traitor.

How he wanted them all just to die.

His head throbbed with the weight of fragmented memories. The air stank of smoke and burnt flesh and there was blood on his tongue. Through this, it was hard to even register the others around him. Both the Vision and his brother were like beacons, easy to concentrate on, easy to follow, but other faces stormed his mind. Faces of long-lost siblings, those he had killed, those others had killed, and there was blood in their eyes.

But there were others. The Avengers. Those he had read so much about, to try and gauge his opponents who would fight against him on his quest. Others, like the one far away. Arrow, he thought and ducked just as one hit the street inches away from his feet the moment he pulled the trigger again. Smoke hissed out of the clunky arrowhead and filled the air - heavy and grey, clouding his view and hiding his siblings.

And another one, like the one in the gleaming red and gold suit. Armour, he thought, listening to the mechanical humming above his head. And another, closer still - him Azalel could almost feel, and he was close enough to focus on.

Enough that his eyes full of smoke did not slow him down too much when he whirled around to answer the slash of a pair of knives with a wide sweep of his gun’s barrel. Metal met metal in a grinding sound and it could have been just as well metal cutting through flesh. Metal scraping against bones, mingled with the smell of fresh blood and a painful cry. A blade, a gun, a scalpel - for a fraction of a second, all was the same.

The man was strong, but the heavily muscled body in front of him didn’t fit. Not an Avenger. Someone else, but the details were hidden by the smoke and the faces that only existed in his own head. Strong, and keen on fighting him. He would have to go. They all would have to go.

With a scream, he pushed against him. The wind started to carry away the thick smoke. Only a few moments had passed since his missed shot, and already his sanity, the small amount he had pulled together, was fraying. There was not enough time to think. So he stopped for a moment. Faces faded away, and his body took over. A work of art indeed.

And suddenly, it was so much easier to ignore his brother and his target (Vision, something whispered in his ear, and a vision indeed the being was, with the gem on his forehead gleaming in the sun). Three people were close, now - the Armour, the Knives and another one. Blue and white. Steve Rogers, the Captain, with his shield on his arm, still paces away but coming closer speedily.

They clashed, and it was a violent dance, one he had learned for so long that he didn’t need to remember - this, his body knew. This, his body had been made for. It was a world of quick moves and sharp turns. Evade, duck, spin, attack. His eyes were on the Knives, hulking right in front of him, but his body was always, always, aware of the other two. Ears listened to the humming of repulsors. Skin prickled just before contact. The dance conjured other half-memories, long forgotten scenes of endless repetition of blood and pain and the grating, cruel voice of instructors, but he simply let them play out. Fighting had always been easy for him.

Especially if the people he fought against stood between him and his goals - the stone and his brother, his brother and the stone.

The Armour and the Shield, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, had often been shown together with the Vision during his information gathering - this, he could remember. They were known to save people not their kin - anyone, really, that was not able to fend for himself. It had made Azalel laugh in confusion, because those too weak were bound to die, surely?

But still, they would try. It was the other one, the unknown one, the Knives that had to fall first. So he spun around, landing a firm kick against the plates of the Armour, hard enough to shove him in the way of the Shield. A quick shot had the Knives drawing back for a moment, and for just a fraction of a second one of his hands was free enough for him to touch his belt and one of the four small devices bound to it.

The moment the second explosion went off Azalel finished his spin, grabbed his own knife with his now free hand and stepped right up to the Knives. He had to trust in the other two and those around them, that they would actually waste their time for the weak, the helpless. Rubble and smoke and flames shot up from the building across the street, sweet screams echoing against his ears, inside his mind and memories, as he viciously attacked the one man he didn’t know, hadn’t seen during his search, couldn’t know if he, too, would stop to save and worry and care. So he pressed him, as fast and hard as he could, during the few moments he hoped the others were distracted and was rewarded for that when one slash of his blade connected with the broad back of the Knives.

Not deadly, but painful and hopefully enough, because the others had once again joined the fight.

~~~

“I think I just saw his triggers - on his belt, four identical units!”

“Try to take them out, Tony. Vision, check the building for survivors. Tasha, we need the Quinjet for quick transportation.” Clint was running again, past the crumbling building and the heavy smoke that interfered with his vision.

“On my way,” Vision’s voice sounded in his ear.

“We need a minute to unload,” Bruce answered over the sound of panicked voices in the background.

“Just be quick about it,” Clint told him and jumped onto the next flat roof. He could see a flash of blue - Tony’s repulsor beams in action. Another few steps had Clint at the edge of this roof and an arrow on the way, only to be deflected by a quick slash of the alien’s sizzling knife. The thing was all quick moves and turns - it was hard to hit him, for all of them, now that he was concentrating his efforts onto Drax instead of a flying opponent.

It also became incredibly clear to the archer that the hulking Guardian had his problems to anticipate Steve’s or Tony’s next moves. The Avengers were working like a well-oiled machine, using each other’s attacks to their advantage. Drax, however, didn’t have this mix of knowledge, muscle-memory and trust in their abilities. He moved without the two in mind, as if he was used to others moving around him.

For Clint it proved to be challenging, to time his arrows just right so that he would not accidentally hit the brute, especially with the lack of communication available, Tony being the only one down there the archer could talk to. It also rendered his more potent explosives useless - he would not risk them, not under these circumstances, not with Drax already bleeding sluggishly from a shallow, yet long wound on his back.

Movement caught his eye for a moment - the Quinjet had arrived, landing on the same roof that Clint was on, the one next to the newly destroyed building. He gave Natasha a short nod when the assassin jumped out. Vision had long since disappeared into the building, fearing that it would soon collapse, but Clint trusted them to get anyone out that was still inside.

Turning away, his eyes widened. One moment had been too long a distraction, but even a quickly yelled “Tony!” couldn’t hold off the bright blue repulsor beam anymore. He saw Steve throwing his shield to try to intercept it, but it was too late - the pale, long-limbed alien had already spun around and Tony’s beam hit Drax instead, who had stood directly behind the target.

“Fuck,” he hissed. Drax had been hit badly. “Drax is down, guys. Looks bad. Wait, someone’s incoming… oh no, no, no, Mantis is on her way!”

She was running fast, he would give her that. But she wasn’t trying to hide and left herself open for attacks. It was pretty obvious for Clint that she was not used to combat. Her eyes were only on Drax, who had trouble moving, let alone sitting up. His knives glinted in the summer sun a couple of metres away from him - he had lost his grip when he had been flung around. His torso was a mess of burnt skin and clotted blood.

It was pure luck that their enemy had not made a move against her. With Vision still inside the crumbling building and Gamora herding Harry further away from the fight, there were not many people left to help Tony and Steve. “Quill, I need you ready to come down and guard Mantis and Drax. Vision, as soon as everyone is evacuated, I want you to engage. Has anyone seen the Maximoffs?”

“Not the guy, but I think the girl is on her way,” Rocket answered.

And he was right - moments later Wanda was there, hands and arms coated in scarlet. Her hair was afloat, standing on end as if she were underwater. Scarlet wrapped around two pieces of rubble, each the size of an adult’s head, and when she raised her arms, they followed - just like Harry had done, only a couple minutes earlier, to save the civilian’s life.

Something blue followed her onto the street, only to race along the edge of the battle and disappear inside one of the still untouched buildings - Pietro, most likely still helping with the evac, but now close enough to be of help the moment he was needed. And there was Quill, jumping off a building on the other side of this mess, landing close to where Mantis was holding onto a still bleeding Drax. Azalel was now ducking away from Wanda’s projectiles while Steve and Tony got the occasional shot in. Steve was still trying to get closer - it was easier now. Both men had learned to move with and around Wanda’s mist, Steve more so than Tony.

Clint felt his breath catch inside his throat - again they were dancing down there. Wanda had managed to hit their target, but the long, thin thing, pale and so much more alien than even Rocket or Groot had managed to be, had kept on moving, now wielding a gun and a knife just like last time. He was so fast, it was hard to keep up, even for him, but…

There. Clint could see it. The Blinder was not fighting like last time. It was similar - the same vicious moves, the same crazed glint in his electric blue eyes - but not the same. He lead them on, he danced, used his opponents to cripple themselves. The slash of his knife to deflect Steve’s thrown shield was planned - now Steve had to come closer to catch it again, and with just a step to the right the target had moved behind the muscular frame of Captain America and neutered Tony’s next attack just as the repulsors on his hands had warmed up.

But it had left the Blinder open for Wanda, Clint thought dizzily. It had left him open, and Tony had the chance to come closer too, just as the scarlet mist latched onto their enemy’s head.

~~~

Broken, he was broken - his once whole self in thousands of pieces. Memories came and went by without context. The smell of blood and burnt flesh, the many-voiced cry of anger and pain and betrayal in his ears. Faces flickered in and out, each and everyone with blood on their green eyes. Father, always looming, always staring, and there was so much hate, hate, hate. And above and under and in between the whispered words of a world left behind, the only truth that had been constant - shattered. He was alone. So they had to die.

~~~

The windows were already ruined. This time, some other things got broken in the sudden shockwave that ensured. Not a moment after the scarlet mist had plunged its tendrils into Azalel’s ears and eyes, a staggering force had exited his body, throwing back both Steve and Tony. The billionaire crashed against a street lamp a couple of dozen metres away, the metal bending around his shape as it gave in. Steve had landed further away - he was massive but still lighter in weight than the armour. Still, he had managed to land in a roll, dampening the impact. It still looked like a world of hurt to Clint - he, too, had felt the shockwave tugging on his clothing, but he was far enough away to not be affected.

Wanda, too, had managed to keep her footing, a look of something close to horror on her face. Something had gone wrong. It didn’t take long for Clint to remember that the same thing had happened the last time she had tried to bring him down with her mental abilities. But why not use it all the time? Was it designed to throw off Wanda’s powers specifically?

“Fuck, that hurt.” Tony’s voice was slurred, his breath audibly laboured.

“Saw that, yeah. Better stay away from them if Wanda tries that again. Two out of two, that’s no coincidence,” Clint answered, gritting his teeth.

The three Avengers were slow in approaching the Blinder again. The pale alien was panting, eyes flickering from one to the other. Something dark and liquid was dripping from his nose. The short break after the explosion was enough for Clint to scout for more details - he saw cuts and bruises on the pale, almost white flesh, and a lot of the gold platings on his upper body were scorched, torn edges digging deeper into the exposed skin. But he still stood tall and looming, weapons in his hands and his body poised to move again the moment one of the Avengers decided to attack him.

It wasn’t an Avenger, however, who broke the moment. It was Quill, face enraged, who took the chance. He had landed next to Mantis and Drax, but the three had been close enough to the centre of the shockwave to be harmed by it - Drax wasn’t moving anymore, clearly unconscious, and Mantis was bleeding from a nasty cut on her cheek. She was still holding onto Drax, her body bent over him as if to protect the prone form from any more harm.

The shot was almost silent, his weapon of a similar design as the Blinder’s. Clint knew instinctively that Quill had aimed (and aimed well) at the centre of the Blinder’s back, right between the shoulder blades. But the shot had only been almost, not completely silent - the Blinder had moved enough for the shot hit his left shoulder instead, where one of the golden plates glinted prominently in the sun. The metal heated from the laser projectile, and the skin around it burnt, but it didn’t penetrate the alien. It didn’t kill it.

It didn’t even stop the aim of the Blinder. Vision’s voice was soft in Clint’s ear, a solemn “Everyone is out” followed by Natasha’s confirmation and her “On our way”. His own body surged forward, but his arrow wasn’t fast enough. It hit the gun, jerked it out of the way and almost out of the Blinder’s hand, moments after their target had pulled the trigger.

The hot red bolt wasn’t aimed at Quill, though. It was Mantis’ voice that rang out in pain. Mantis’ body that collapsed over Drax. The bastard didn’t even looked at her longer than a moment before whirling around again, already facing his other opponents. Hell, he didn’t even look back at Quill, as if he knew that the man would prioritise his wounded friends over him.

Not ‘if’. He knew. The bastard knew and acted on it. Clint cursed under his breath when the realization hit him, fingers tightening around his bow until his knuckles bled white.

“Vision, you have to get down there,” he barked, eyes on the target. Quill was at Mantis’ side, pressing something against her wound - he would not be able to help anytime soon, not with his friends so close to the combat. The enemy was now bearing down on Steve (and what was his knife made out to be able to hold its own against the famous vibranium shield?), keeping Tony away with his gun while trying to manoeuvre Steve between him and Iron Man.

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Vision phasing out of the collapsing building - a streak of red and grey, the Infinity Stone bright on his forehead. Another streak entered his field of vision, blue and silver this time, almost too fast to notice before the blur stopped to a sharp halt next to Quill’s panicked form.

“Quill, send Mantis with Pietro, he has to head two blocks west from here to the next police barricade. Try to move Drax farther away until he can come back for him, too. Hill, tell medical that they have two people incoming. Nothing invasive and no medication, they are not human and we won’t know what works with them, but they need to stop any bleeding.” How his voice didn’t shake, he could not say - the orders were given out fast, and received just as swiftly, Quill slightly hysteric, Hill professional as always.

Down on the streets, their target was yet again hard pressed when Vision joined the fight, who could attack him from another angle every time he managed to use Steve as a shield against Tony. “How long can that fucker go on?” he wondered with gritted teeth, glancing around in search for Gamora and Harry. They ought to help, they were supposed to, but he couldn’t see either of them from his position.

“CAP!” Tony’s shout was ringing in his ear, but he couldn’t berate the billionaire for his loud outburst. Cursing, Clint watched as Steve’s prone body was thrown through what had once been a large front window of a small café. “Vision, grab him! Fuck, no no no…”

He saw the pale hand twitch towards the belt. Still dancing. Still evading. But Steve was no longer too close to the target, so Clint took the shot.

~~~

He was used to pain - the deep, aching pain of what was left of his flesh and bones, the sharp and shrill pull of his platings, the agonizing headaches that came and went and came again. He was used to the feeling of suffocation whenever he got too lost in the jumbled mess that was his memories, and the dull throbbing that he felt whenever he thought he might be sane for just a moment.

When the arrow pierced his right hand and the repulsor beam dislocated his shoulder in the same move, he didn’t think twice to simply reach out with his left one to press his last button instead of wasting his time crying out. The explosion that bloomed out of the first story of the building in front of him, the one he had painstakingly moved closer to during the last couple of minutes, was close enough that even his numbed sense of touch could feel the blistering heat. Fire licked at the sky, red and orange and brilliant against the cloudless blue sky, and then Azalel’s body hit the pavement and rolled to a stop. His left hand still clung to the knife, but he had lost his gun and his right arm was as good as useless.

“Yes, yes, yes,” he croaked, a grin plastered on his face. The Armour was shouting at the bricks and debris and the smoke - other than the larger buildings (more people to rescue), this one had not collapsed over time to give the Avengers the chance to rescue. He had meant it as a trap for the Vision, to lure him in and take him out, but he needed to get rid of the others first before he could concentrate on his two goals.

They were in the way.

The shaft of the arrow had not broken by the rough landing. The wound didn’t bleed much, but the blade had cut not only muscle but also sinew. He still pulled it out, disregarding the additional damage he inflicted himself. The pain pulsed through his whole body like a living thing that ate away at what was left from the boy he once had been.

There is movement. Red and yellow and scarlet, so he turned towards the two beings touched by the Stone while the Armour was busy trying to save the Shield.

~~~

“Harry. Harry!”

Gamora hadn’t seen her brother this pale since the day he had saved both Yondu’s and Peter’s lives - pale and wrought and with eyes too large on his face. His hands were shaking fiercely in hers and he neither reacted to her calls nor to the pressure she applied through her fingers. His eyes, bright and far away, stared through the car they hid behind in the direction of the fight she could still hear - the shouts and the fizzling sounds of laser fire, the shock of explosions and the clash of metal against metal.

She wanted to be there. She needed to go, but she couldn’t find it in herself to simply leave Harry here, still so close to their long lost brother. Her heart had skipped a couple of beats when she had seen the young mage creeping closer to their target, and her breath had caught in her throat when the stupid git had stood up. But the worst was seeing Azalel, the demented grin blooming on his lips and the way he moved forward, death in his crazed eyes.

Since Azalel had left the Temple she hadn’t actively thought of him - she hadn’t been there at the time of his escape, but she had seen what he had done to many of her siblings and the guards that had tried to hold him back. He had broken out of his cage with the force of the desperate, using every edge Father had given him over the years to escape. For a while she had been, in some way, happy for it - he was yet another sibling out of Thanos’ reach. But she hadn’t been very hopeful to ever meet him again, nor did she believe that he would actually survive on his own, not with his mental state. After that, it had taken Harry’s delight back on the Quadrant to remind her of him, to take a small measure of interest in his fate.

This interest had only grown into worry over the next weeks with every piece of information they had gathered about the Blinder. It wasn’t much, never enough to either confirm or sooth Harry’s and her assumptions. She had known, however, that it would be painful, if not outright traumatic for Harry if they were proven right.

“Harry, listen to me. We need to stop this before it escalates any more. Our line of communication is down and the Terrans won’t know how to deal with him. He’s out of his mind, Harry. He needs us if you want to save him. If he kills someone now, we won’t have any other option but to kill him.”

It wouldn’t be the same as with Nebula, not for her. She had no illusions about herself - she was capable of ending Azalel’s life, because she had never been as close to him as Harry had been. But she knew exactly how Nebula’s death would affect her - it was not hard at all to imagine how Harry would react to that.

Not that they had any say in that matter. The fight had only been going on for a couple of minutes, and already the neighbourhood reeked of destruction and death, fire and smoke.

“I can’t…” His voice was barely a whisper and she nearly missed it altogether. She watched him sharply, increasing the reassuring grasp on his hands, before leaning forward until her forehead touched his. Frightened eyes locked onto hers, the weight of responsibility weighing heavy on Gamora’s shoulders.

“You must,” she insisted, voice low and calm. “If you want to give him a chance, you’re the one most likely to break through his insanity. At the very least it should be one of us to end this, one way or another. You need to bury your guilt for as long as he needs you.” Again she squeezed his trembling fingers and was rewarded with a hint of resolve in his artificial eyes. He was still too pale, too panicked, but at least he had worked through the worst of the shock.

“Will you help me?” There was no need to ask what.

“Of course,” she answered, moments before another explosion threw flames up into the sky.

~~~

Earlier that day
Diagon Alley

He felt odd in his traveller’s robes - the cut wasn’t right, not after years and years of wearing his teacher’s robes with the high collar and the flaring sleeves. The muggle clothing underneath was not as unusual for him, though it was the first time that he wore them in any other place than Spinner’s End. They were a necessity, however, with where he was heading.

“Wotcher, Professor!”

The cheerful voice had him scowling even before he turned around to take in the new hideous hair that Miss Tonks wore. Cut short, the hair straight as a ruler and a violent shade of turquoise, it clashed horribly with her sunny yellow tights, the black and red-paint splattered combat boots and the deep blue hoodie that was at least two sizes too large on her slender frame.

“Miss Tonks,” Severus greeted before casting his glance up and down her outfit. “I thought I was quite clear when I said to dress inconspicuously. I do wonder how exactly you finished the Auror Program.”

He gave her his most disapproving glare, but the years learning under Mad-Eye Moody as her Senior Auror had made her immune to such threats. Her school days were probably only a faded memory now. So instead of a wince, he was treated to a bright smile that fit well on her heart-shaped face.

“Remus said just the same thing when he saw me. He’ll be here any minute now, I had to raid Gringotts before the trip and left home early. America!” She all but shouted, clearly pleased with her latest assignment. Severus scowled, but again it failed to impress her.

“We are not going overseas to indulge in shopping trips, Miss Tonks,” he fairly hissed, straightening the light fabric of his black traveller’s robes. “Do try to conduct yourself in a more appropriate manner.”

“Yes, well, but I’m sure we have some time off.” She grinned mischievously before perking up. Severus stiffened when he saw the excited and besotted look in her eyes (a moment ago the typical grey of House Black, now a warm amber). He gave a put upon sigh and turned around to find himself confronted with none other than Remus Lupin, the pet wolf.

“Good morning, Severus,” Lupin greeted amiably. At least he was dressed much more sensibly than his lover who shouldered past the disgruntled Potions Professor to give the wolf a hug.

“Lupin,” was the short answer, paired with a glare that was directed at the back of Miss Tonks’ head. It went ignored by the young woman, but Lupin smiled apologetically. “I trust that you have everything you need?”

“Yeah, we packed yesterday evening,” Tonks answered, barely audible with the way that she pressed her face against Lupin’s chest. The wolf smiled warmly before giving Severus a nod.

“Well then, move along. I have no interest in standing here all day.”

~~~

The only reason that Severus didn’t simply make a grab for the Portkey himself and leave both Tonks and Lupin in Diagon Alley was that he knew exactly who would follow him afterwards. And while standing in line with Albus’ pet wolf and a far too colourful Junior Auror was a special kind of torture for him, at least both were somewhat polite with him - if not overly friendly, in Tonks’ case.

No, he thought. He would rather spend the next couple of weeks with these two people than the one Albus wanted to send in the first place. He shuddered at the memory of that particular talk. He would thank Minerva when he got back - they should have a little bit of time between searches, so there were plenty of opportunities for him to look for an appropriate gift. She had great sway over Albus and had used it to firmly squash the mad man’s first plan of action.

 

“Imagine,” she had hissed like the cat that she was at heart. “Imagine just for a moment what kind of impression it will make on Mister Potter when he sees Severus and him together, most probably fighting each other. We will be lucky when they don’t decide to duel it out on Times Square!”

“My dear Minerva, I don’t think that Severus will…”

“Oh, I believe that you don’t think on occasion. Albus, they are like oil and water. They don’t mix. Send Remus, if you want, but as long as Severus is taking on this mission you can’t send him away with Sirius Black, of all people.”

And that was that. Instead of making plans to covertly murder the damn mutt while on the trip, Severus had been able to enjoy watching Albus trying to tell Black why exactly he wasn’t permitted to be on the search group. After the man-child had stormed away, both Remus and Tonks had been floo-called over and sworn into secrecy before being told where they would go. It just wouldn’t do for Black to follow them and ruin the mission, after all.

Chapter Text

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

It startled him, how light Mantis felt in his arms. Her breath came in short huffs, and her skin was paler than ever, her forehead marred with a thin layer of cold sweat. He held her against his chest, cradling her in his arms and the blue haze of his speed. It didn't take long to reach the barricade, but it still felt slow, too slow — he couldn’t run as fast with another person under his care, not without hurting them even more.

He waited just long enough to make sure that the ambulance team knew not to medicate her, to tell them that they just needed to keep her stabilized. Then he turned around and ran. The world slowed down all around him to a near stop, almost every colour bleeding away until all he could see was his blue. In this timeless space, his destination was only a breath away.

~~~

Peter could do nothing more than stand between Drax’s body and watch the fight before his eyes. It was good that he hadn't moved a second time, hadn't tried another shot, because the explosion that destroyed the house above Captain America was strong enough to hurl debris all the way to his own position. With Drax still unmoving, it was all that Peter could do to shield him from further injuries.

Stark's cry would have been audible even without the comms and it didn't take long for Iron Man to barrel right into the mess right before the collapse of the building.

“Shit,” Peter said. Then, with more emphasis. “Shit!”

But before he could worry over protecting his friend, the red-skinned Vision and the girl called Wanda took over from where Stark had left just as the Blinder was about to turn around to face him. Peter watched, fretting, as the two Avengers engaged into a fierce battle with their target, both using their abilities to attack from a distance.

The Blinder's right arm appeared to be useless, the angle of his shoulders off a few centimetres. Dislocation, most likely, which forced him to put away his powered knife and change his gun hand. It didn’t take long, however, and a sharp twitch had the shoulder rearrange itself, which made Peter feel sick. He itched to get involved, but he had to watch out for Drax. While Vision's powerful beams were precise and the damage it did to their surroundings carefully out of range, Wanda's attacks were limited to throwing large pieces of buildings and cars at the Blinder, who had to dodge at full speed from the assault.

“Come on, hurry up, please...”

The speedster — Pietro Maxi-something, brother of the girl called Wanda — had been gone for more than a minute now. Peter had a vague sense of how fast the kid could be — he’d nearly shot that blue blur before realizing who it was. With Mantis in his arms, he had run not nearly as fast, and, yeah, Peter was grateful for him being careful with her, but he needed Drax to be taken out of here too. Something about their enemy had Harry almost frozen in place, so much so that Gamora had to pull him out. It was all kinds of wrong.

Peter was a mercenary. He knew that. From the moment Yondu had taken him under his rusty wing, he had grown up in the midst of criminals who did a lot for money's sake. He’d embraced a fair share of that attitude, first because he needed it to survive in the hostile universe and later because it had become part of himself. Even now, most of their work as the Guardians of the Galaxy was usually not for free, something every member of his crew appreciated. But he had always had his own limits — he was a thief first and foremost, a swindler and an adventurer. He had no qualms with defending himself and his family with deadly force, but he had always denied work that involved a paid kill. He was no assassin like Gamora.

Harry, however, had never had a problem with killing people. At first, both Yondu and Kraglin had tried to keep him away from any assignments that involved bloodshed when his brother was old enough to join the workforce, but it became clear very fast that Harry was good at it. Not just good — he wasn't hesitant to kill either.

He wasn’t quite as cold-blooded about it as others could be — he always did his research about whom he was going to kill for money. He didn't mourn other criminals or trained fighters. He tried not to endanger civilians and stuck to the small code of honour the Ravagers still abided to. But he was a trained killer, just like Gamora, and so he shouldn’t be affected by some murderous lunatic to the point that he couldn't move.

It freaked Peter out, even more so with wounded crew members and tentative allies.

“Give me a hand, would you?”

Peter spun around, gun pointed at Pietro's face, his finger already curved intimately around the trigger before he could stop himself. To his credit, the kid barely batted an eyelash, already pulling on one of Drax' massive arms.

“He's heavy,” Pietro breathed in a heavily accented voice after Peter had finally relaxed enough to help drape the hulking fighter onto Pietro's more lean back and shoulders. The kid did struggle, but not as much as Peter would have thought. So he was enhanced in more than just speed, then. That was good right now.

“Please hurry.” His voice broke between the words just a little bit. Pietro's eyes softened a fraction and he gave him a nod before dashing away. Blue light swam across his skin, bubbling around both the kid and Drax, and then he sped along the street faster than anyone Peter had ever seen running.

Instead of watching his retreat, however, the Guardian turned around. His fingers flexed around his weapon and his nano-helmet came to life, covering his pale and dirtied face behind dark metal and glowing red lenses. Drax was as safe as he could be, now. Peter was free to attack.

“Hey, you fucking piece of trash!”

~~~

Harry stiffened when he heard the shout — there were a few voices he could always track, no matter the circumstances, and Peter's was one of them. Next to him, Gamora sucked in air and tensed visibly.

“That idiot,” she whispered, eyes wide before she narrowed them into angry slits. “I’m going to kill him when this is over.”

Harry had peeked from behind the car they had used as a shelter, his heart still pounding loudly in his ears. He knew that he was sweating — the shock still clung to him like a foul, hard-to-wash-out odor, but Gamora had done a remarkable job of pulling him together. Seeing Azalel itself had been bad enough. Seeing him with so much obvious hatred and betrayal in his eyes had been a punch in the gut and had left Harry almost paralyzed in overwhelming guilt.

She was right, though. He was needed, and as he watched his brother holding his own against two enhanced beings the tentative resolve Gamora's words had rewoken in him reared its head. He needed to stop this, to at least try to talk to Azalel. Find out why he was here on Terra, with so much blood on his hands. So much pointless blood.

He waited for the second it took Gamora to jump over the hood of the car before he followed her, running along the sidewalk to use what little cover was available. Azalel was like Harry himself — most deadly when engaged in close combat and slippery as a greased monkey. Vision and the witch had the right idea, to use mid-range attacks to wear him thin.

Just one step in front of him, Gamora unsheathed her sword just as Harry activated his spear unit. They would have to get as close as possible if they hoped to deescalate the situation.

With a satisfying chink the slender, copper-coloured metal rod unfolded itself in his hand, growing mostly in length but also slightly in girth as the nanobots formed the rod of the spear. The simple shaft ended in a slim but sharp leaf-shaped tip. Next to him, Gamora mirrored his motion and not a moment later her hand was wrapped around her collapsable sword, Godslayer.

~~~

“Tony, do you copy? Stark, talk to me!” Clint was leaning forward as far as he could without toppling over, his scope pressed to his eye, scanning through the dust that the latest explosion had thrown onto the street. The building itself, a three-story with a bakery at its front, had sunk into itself after the explosion, and what was left standing stood crooked and shaky.

And both Steve and Tony were in it. Why was the billionaire not answering? “Tony!”

“I’m here, I’m okay, still alive!” The voice sounded wheezy and there was an edge to it — the beginnings of a panic attack, maybe, barely restrained by the need to find Steve first, if Clint knew Tony at all. But he was alive. He was alive.

“Find Cap and get out of there. Vision and Wanda have taken over.”

“Yeah, alright, just…give me a bit… Cap! Come on, Steve, where are you!”

It took Clint a lot to dismiss the muffled shouts, but he had to — he knew that Tony was his best bet to get Steve out. He couldn’t do more than providing help for those in the fight.

Like that asshat Quill, who joined the struggle the moment Pietro had taken Drax out of here.

“Oh, for fucks’ sake!” Clint yelled at no one when he saw their target turn around towards the Guardian. A quick dash brought the alien forward, around one of the mangled cars that Wanda had used as a blunt weapon. It also helped to avoid the blast from Quill’s own gun, which hit the asphalt instead, creating a slightly melted hole in the street.

Clint rifled through his arrows, choosing a cable one this time. The thin cable pulled taut between the Blinder and Quill, but instead of tripping him the alien simply jumped over it, gun blazing and knife back in hand. Wanda used the distraction to grab a hold of several large pieces of rubble, flinging them one after the other at the alien, but the long legs of the thing ate up the distance in a short time and Quill looked far too keen to let him, moving the bare minimum to avoid the laser bolts aimed at him.

“Quill, get the hell away from him!” Clint yelled into the comm.

“Fuck that! He hurt Mantis and Drax!”

“Clint, do you need backup?” Natasha’s calm voice helped a lot to push away the stress Clint felt, and he lowered his voice.

“Negative. We still don’t have clearance for Code Green. Keep up the evac and make sure that Rocket helps with the transport, too. We need to get everyone out, Vision and Wanda have already worn him out with long-range attacks.”

“Roger that.”

The comm buzzed, and Clint chose the next channel, heart pounding loudly in his chest. “How’s Steve, Tony?”

“Found him, but he’s unconscious. Give me a minute to dig him out and I’ll be back. Lucky son of a bitch just managed to roll under the display, and the scans say that he’s not too out of it. How’s the situation?”

“Vision and Wanda were keeping the target occupied, but Quill has created some chaos down there. Right now the target is trying to get up close to him, but Wanda’s keeping him occupied and — what the..!” He rocked forward.

“What? What happened! Clint!”

“Harry and Gamora are back, they’re engaging!”

~~~

Quill’s loud taunts were still echoing in the street, mingled with the sounds of stone hitting tarmac and the crackling of dying flames from the burning buildings. From somewhere farther away multiple sirens were audible, as well as helicopters flying in the sky above them, small and dark against the bright blue sky.

Why Peter was taunting Azalel, Harry couldn’t say. But he saw the near misses of laser bolts hot enough to throw up molten asphalt into the air and the way that Azalel got closer and closer to Peter, who was stupid enough to not keep the distance. Neither Drax nor Mantis could be seen, though, and something heavy and hot clenched in Harry’s stomach. He couldn’t see them.

He couldn’t see them.

Scarlet mist flared in the corner of his eyes, coiled around a large piece of jagged wall. Plaster fell off the red bricks underneath when the piece was flung upwards as if an invisible giant was preparing for a throw. Without stopping his run, leaving his last cover behind, Harry threw out his own hand towards the flying debris and clenched his hand into a tight fist. The bricks gave a shudder and broke apart. He could hear Wanda Maximoff’s yell.

He twisted his wrist, his eyes set onto the space between his two brothers — with her next missile missing, Wanda wasn’t fast enough to disturb Azalel anymore, who dashed forward, long legs eating away the remaining distance. From this close, Harry’s eyes could clearly make out how much damage Azalel had already endured — the tears in his skin, the broken and deformed golden plates, the sparks around the hole in his right hand, the long gash above his left eye. There were cuts and bruises on his bare arms and his face, none of them bleeding properly. Where the skin had been burned or torn of Harry could see open flesh, but even more open machinery and bare circuitry.

He felt sick, but he pushed it back. Five meters, four… He knew better than to simply wait. One of his brothers would die when he did that. So he twisted his wrist, splayed out his fingers and gathered the perceived weight in them before pulling and throwing. The piece of wall was now little more than a swarm of loose bricks. Deformed like play-dough, twisted and pulled into long sharp thorns, they shot forward to embed themselves into the street in front of Azalel, like a spear-wall.

His brother skidded to a halt. Before he could turn around, both Harry and Gamora had reached their wayward brother and clashed against him.

~~~

Earlier that day
Wand Street, New York City

“Well, that was awful.”

Severus could only agree in silence as he waited for a moment before taking a step away from their arrival point. He managed it without the need to vomit as the wolf had, so he considered it a win and used the distraction a sick werewolf provided for Tonks to pluck a tiny vial from his pockets and drink the Stomach Soother he had wisely prepared the day before.

“If you are finished, we still need to book a place to stay for the night.”

“Just another moment. You wouldn’t happen to have something on you to calm him down, Professor?” Large, grey eyes looked solemnly up. Severus’ lips curled slightly.

“No.”

A couple of minutes later saw the three leaving the International Portkey building and entering New York’s answer to Diagon Alley. Sitting smack in the middle of muggle Manhattan, the large and bright street was as far removed from Diagon Alley as possible. There was no cobblestone — instead, there were large stone plates, as polished as marble would be. The buildings were high-rising and made out of shiny stone, metal and glass. Even the noise was different — music was heard through magical speakers, and in the background the everlasting New York traffic droned on.

The occupants of Wand Street were just as modernly dressed. Where in Britain mostly kids and young adults were caught wearing muggle clothes (with the older generations mostly sticking to casual robes thrown over and the very old or very traditional ones wearing old school wizarding style from head to toe), the American witches and wizards seemed to have embraced the fast pace of their muggle counterparts. Men in sharp suits, women on high heels and dressed in severe looking combinations of white blouses and pencil skirts, older folks in soft garments and hats on their heads, teenagers in all kind of styles and little kids in summer dresses and short pants. Here and there one could see the flash of a colourful robe, but try as he might, Severus saw not one pointed hat.

“Okay, right. We need to go shopping at least once. Like, after we have found him. Deal?” Tonks was almost vibrating herself out of her skin, one hand wrapped around the fingers of her fiancé who had a look of pleasant surprise on his face, his eyes scanning their surroundings, nostrils flaring.

Instead of answering her question Severus simply turned away, brandishing the little pamphlet they had been given by the smartly dressed lady working for the International Portkey travel agency. It was highly informative, pointing out several sightseeing sites as well as a choice of hotels and inns, ranging from the modest to the outrageously expensive. It also came with a charmed map that pointed out not only their location but also the route they had to take for various places-to-be. Scanning the paper in his hands, he stalked along the sunny street. Tonks’ constant chatter and the soft tones of Lupin’s more sedate answers remained close behind him, so he didn’t even bother to make sure that they were following him.

Around half an hour later, two rooms had been booked for the day and one night — a single bedroom and a double. Severus took the chance to get rid of his traveller’s cloak after admitting to himself that even Tonks’ wild looks were more common in New York than his more traditional garb. He took a minute to check his appearance. He had chosen comfortable clothes — a deep black pair of trousers, not unlike dress pants; a dark blue woollen jumper with long sleeves and a high neckline; a dark brown leather jacket, softened by age and wear, but with a clean cut and sturdy patches on the elbows. A bit warm for the sunny weather, but nothing a quick cooling charm couldn’t help with.

Just like the people of Wand Street, the hotel they had chosen to stay in (moderate in price and space, but clean and close to the entrance of the street) was disturbingly modern. It mimicked a muggle hotel, with bright plastered walls and straight, clean lines. It was all very shiny and monochromatic — lots of white and charcoal grey. Muggle appliances had been clearly altered — neither the little fridge nor the light fixtures had visible cords, nor did they run on electricity. Instead, the fridge had a runic array on the bottom side and a Lumos triggered the lamps.

He didn’t know if he ought to disapprove this or not. It was… odd, but pleasing in some way, and too far removed from his own muggle upbringing that it didn’t quite disturb him. After coming to Hogwarts (despite the new trials he had found there) Severus had embraced the wizarding culture of Britain and hadn’t let go ever since. Of course, he still knew his way around the muggle world, at least in the small portion called Spinner’s End, but this… this was very different.

With a wave of his wand the lights turned off and he walked out of the room. It had no key — instead, they had been given a small bronze card, quickly charmed by the young man in the foyer. It was a nice bit of magic — one only had to hold it briefly against the lock to open the door.

Down in the foyer, both Tonks and Lupin were waiting for him, looking out of the front of the building which was mainly made out of glass. They were seated on a small, round table. The chairs were comfortable, polished steel and blue-grey leather.

“So, what’s the plan?” Miss Tonks handed him one of the menus, a sparkling drink already sitting in front of her.

“We need to research for possible travel options. Since we lack a place to apparate to, it will be best to split up and try to get as close to Potter as possible. We should be close enough for a Four-Point Spell.” Placing his wand on his palm he checked to make sure. It took almost two dozen turns for the wand to come to a stop, the tip pointing almost straight to the north.

“At least there are no concealment charms on him.” Lupin sighed and took a sip from his tea. Clear lines of worry were visible on his face, but otherwise, the wolf was thankfully calm.

“Makes it loads easier. I guess we return to base when we find something?”

Severus inclined his head. “Three, maybe four turns ought to be close enough. Afterwards, we will use side-along apparition. It will be better if all three of us are available for any kind of contact.”

“Well then, sounds like a plan!” She gave him a cheerful smile and then patted Lupin’s hand. “I think I’ll have a breakfast burrito and pancakes.”

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

It was almost a shock to see how good Azalel was. But then, he had been trained longer than Harry. His body was made for it.

Had it not been for Gamora — beautiful, deadly Gamora — he wouldn’t stand a chance. Azalel was slippery and fast, his long arms and legs lashing out every so often, his aim with knife and gun so very good regardless which hand he used for them. It took all Harry had to deflect and evade, to keep up with two assassins better trained than him.

But Harry was also a dirty fighter — what he lacked in the formal and painful training of the Temple, he made up with moves more fit for a brawler. With dirt kicked up, with grabs for loose platings, with suddenly soft asphalt under Azalel’s feet and a bright light on the tip of his spear. Gamora, bless her, had trained long and hard with him during their travels, either with or without Drax as the other close combat fighter they had. She knew most of his little tricks — he had used them against her, after all, in their mock battles.

Had it not been so deadly and devastating, this fight would be the most fun Harry had in a while, the two siblings working like clockwork together and the third one holding his own against them.

But it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t a game. Both Gamora and he tried to hurt, to inflict enough damage to keep Azalel down without killing him. Azalel fought with desperation and hatred — his blows were aimed at their vital parts, not to cripple but to kill.

“Why are you doing this? Why are you attacking these people? Killing them?” He had to shout to make himself be heard over the clash of metal against metal. He deflected a swipe of the knife with the shaft of his spear before dropping down under a gunshot. Then Gamora was there, giving him the second he needed to regain his footing.

“Why ask me if you know already, brother? You and our precious sister! Still His favourite?” An ugly sneer contorted Azalel’s battered face even more, blue eyes flashing with malice. Around them, others were shouting. Harry didn’t dare to check who was watching them. The three were moving rapidly, too fast for the others to engage.

“Shut your mouth,” came Gamora’s hiss, followed by a hard kick against Azalel’s side. His knife shot towards her leg but was stopped - barely - by Harry’s hand grabbing for his wrist.

“His favourite, Harry! And yet I see you clutching onto her, you filthy traitor!”

~~~

The dust is settled on the hard surface of the arena. It won’t take long for the guards to herd them back into the sleeping chambers, but for a little while, he can pretend. Azalel has stopped smiling for a long while, now, and he’s not sure how to make it better. Sometimes, Azalel looks at him like he looks at the older kids. It frightens him and makes his chest feel tight.

Suddenly Azalel stops. There, in front of them, stands Him. And on their knees, heads low, two girls. He knows them — sometimes they walk across the arena when training is scheduled. He doesn’t know what to think of them. They haven’t hurt him yet.

“I am very pleased,” He says and puts one large, purple hand on each of the girl’s heads. He pities them, but when he looks at Azalel, he doesn’t see any pity. There is anger, and the tight feeling worsens.

~~~

“I said shut your mouth!” Gamora lashed out, Godslayer humming through the air. But Azalel only laughed and jumped back. The grin was almost worse than the sneer. Then, suddenly, he took a shot at her but missed. He missed, without her having to deflect or avoid.

Through the battle haze came a short, pained scream. Harry stepped forward, aiming a high kick at Azalel’s injured shoulder. He couldn’t stop, kept on moving. Gamora was almost growling.

“How can you even think me a traitor? Do you really believe that I would turn away so easily? She’s not your enemy, and neither am I! You’re still my brother!” His legs were swept away with a low kick, but he managed to roll to the side.

“Lies! Why else would you jump to their defence! Don’t you see what they are doing? Vermin! They are in the way, you are in the way and you were supposed to help, help, help! You swore!”

He was screaming now, almost as if the words alone caused him pain, and Harry couldn’t help but flinch away from him, eyes wide and startled. But before he could protest these accusations or ask for clarifications, Azalel changed — his angry expression gave way for something hurt, his shoulders slumped and even his voice became hesitant.

“Why? Why are you doing this? Why are you fighting me, Harry? With her? You were supposed to help me! I searched for you, ever since I came free! Please, brother, please, I need your help, I need…”

It was heartbreaking and like a punch to the gut. Even Gamora pulled her next attack, taken aback by his desperation. Harry sucked in a breath and he stepped forward, one arm outstretched, the guilt he felt almost suffocating, a burning sense of shame. The world fell silent around them and they were petrified, not able to move an inch. Even Azalel’s hunted, heavy breathing was hard to make out for Harry.

“But I want to help you,” he could hear himself say. And it was true. His still outstretched hand turned around until the palm faced upwards, fingers slightly curled — an invitation. A sign of peace. “I always wanted to help you, Azalel. You’re my brother.”

Somewhere, someone gasped. But the world was still silent and unmovable, everything other than Azalel and himself of no consequence. Startling green eyes looked into electric blue ones. The smile, tentative on the other’s lips, was almost innocent — a small child’s smile, just like the last one Harry had seen on Azalel’s face.

~~~

They hide in their sleeping chamber, hiding from their older siblings. They’re never starved, but… but sometimes others try to take more. It is one of the only bearable things in the Temple, that Father wants his children to be strong.

They pick on Azalel more than on Harry, mostly because Harry is unpredictable with his magic. They fear him, just a little bit, but enough to let him go. Azalel, however, is a thin boy. He’s good in the arena, but not as good as some of the older boys, so they pick on him, take away his favourite food just to stomp on it.

Harry leans forward and opens his hands. Azalel’s eyes grow bigger. Harry has saved them up, the small berries that Azalel likes the most — almost twenty little green things fall from one pair of hands into another.

“Happy Birthday,” Harry whispers and Azalel smiles.

~~~

“Yes… yes, you always wanted to help. Even when I thought I hated you. Even when I tried to hurt you.” The pale face fell slightly. Azalel put away his gun and reached out to Harry’s hand.

“Harry…” His voice was no more than a whisper. He knew that voice, but he didn’t react to it. This was it. He could help his brother. He could save him and pay the old debt.

“You will help. I know you will. It’s all that we can do, yes? To do our part. It’s our duty.” They were close now, hands clutching each other in a death grip. “He wants them, you see. He had always searched for them. But He had lost one. I can feel it… it even had left some touches onto others.” Azalel lifted his face towards the sky. Towards the Vision. When Harry followed his gaze, the stone on his forehead caught the sunlight.

Suddenly the elation Harry felt changed into a heavy, painful sensation.

“You want to get the stone. Its…. it’s an Infinity Stone.” More sharp breaths. Someone stepped behind him — Gamora. Suddenly, Harry was very aware of the people around them — Vision, Wanda Maximoff, even Peter and another with silver hair. The Pietro boy. He shivered and turned back to Azalel who was still gazing up at the gleaming stone.

“Yes. And destroy it the moment I have it. Without the Mind Stone Father will never reach His goals. It’s only a small part, but we can do it, you and I. One part of the Prophecy, Harry.”

The hand in his felt heavy, the grip too tight. Again the world narrowed down onto Azalel, but this time it didn’t feel like wonder and elation. This time it felt like a chamber growing smaller and smaller and he tasted panic on his tongue, metallic and slightly sweet. He wanted to vomit, to let go, but the guilt and shame were still burning within him.

“You will destroy this place,” he whispered and then again, more urgently. “You will destroy this planet, Azalel, when you manage to destroy the Stone. You have to know that!”

“And what is one world but a cheap price for our goal? Open your eyes, Harry! It’s our chance! With this, we can buy all the time we need for our brothers to fulfil their duty, too!” Again his voice grew louder, boastful. His grip was stronger now, and Harry’s hand hurt.

“You can’t mean it. You can’t…” Because this was Peter’s home. “Think about it! We won’t be better than Him! You can’t be serious!”

But that was the wrong thing to say. Azalel’s eyes flashed violently, his grip tensing even more. A sharp pain followed the audible crack of bones and with a sudden shout, Harry found himself being pulled close — and into the knife still held by his brother’s left hand. It slid into his body with obscene ease. He could feel the sharp blade scraping against his man-made liver and it hurt, hurt, hurt...

Hurt to see these eyes, wide and crazed and far away, filled with vengeful satisfaction. Hurt to see those lips forming a word. “Traitor,” Azalel whispered. Harry couldn’t hear him over the roar of his own blood in his ears, but he could read those pale lips, could see it on this pale face.

Time flowed back to them and with it the rest of the world. There were cries of outrage. His name, echoed by both Gamora and Peter. Sirens from afar, the noise from helicopters closer, the scraping inside him closest. He is pushed back, followed by a kick. Something green entered his field of vision, then something red and something scarlet when he hit the ground. Then white and gold and the blood on the knife held above him — Azalel straddled him, both hands on the knife as if in the throes of a ritual, ready to sacrifice Harry himself. Scarlet crept closer, washed over him, then over Azalel and…

~~~

They sit on Harry’s cot, close together. They are like friends, and that is something precious — Harry isn’t too young not to know the importance of his first real friend. They hold hands, both of them against this cruel reality, and as flimsy at it is, the warmth of the other’s hand is enough for the moment to push the terror back. Azalel’s tales from before — stories of his mother, his father, his sister — are comforting.

“What about you?” askes the pale boy, curious blue eyes on him. Harry smiles sadly, but he doesn’t hesitate to tell his story. It’s not good, and not happy, but it's the truth.

“My mum and dad died in an accident. My aunt… my aunt always told me how horrible they were. But I never believed them. They were horrible, my aunt and uncle. Not as horrible as here, but… but they were bad.”

Azalel flinches. But he doesn’t go away. He comes closer instead. “I’m sorry.”

~~~

“I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, oh god, Harry, please…”

The voice is muffled and full of tears. Harry turns his head around, but slowly. Carefully. His head hurts. His eyes hurt and he can’t see anything, but he can hear the voice and tries to move his hand in the vague direction.

“Azalel…”

The sobbing stops for a moment before it comes back with a vengeance. But two small hands grab his, which feels... It feels good. Comforting. It’s still so new, to have a friend.

“It’s not your fault, Azalel. It’s okay, I’m… I’m fine.” He wishes his voice wouldn’t tremble so much.

~~~

He sits next to the cot. They have brought him back just a couple of minutes ago, and there isn’t much time. He only hopes that it will count for something. It’s his last chance before he leaves the Temple for good.

The boy in front of him is even paler than usual. There is not much blood on him, which is worse than a lot of it. Azalel is still unconscious, but Harry takes his hand in his anyway. He can’t cry, but his voice breaks anyway.

“I’m so sorry. I won’t waste this chance, Azalel. I won’t.”

~~~

His cheeks were wet. His hand too far away from his spear. His mind full of memories and his eyes on Azalel only.

But he saw Gamora behind his brother, Godslayer bright in her hand.

No.

Chapter Text

One hour earlier
Train to Middletown, New York State

“Remember to update your maps. If you find anything useful, note it down into your booklets. No use of the Patronus other than for emergencies.”

Snape glared at them. Remus had to suppress a smile. He knew that Tonks was not as considerate as him, though — the look Snape gave her was telling enough.

They separated, Tonks heading towards the entrance of the station to take one of the slower buses heading north while Remus turns around to reach a train that was headed northwest. Possible routes to take had been discussed during their breakfast and his first destination was Middletown. They were to circle around the defined search area, correct their directions after each stop with a quick Four-Point spell and report in the charmed little notebooks Albus has given to them before their departure. The werewolf knew that the Headmaster most likely had a copy of them, too, to watch over the search he couldn’t join himself for another week.

The travel itself was slow but very comfortable. He had gotten used to muggle travelling during his long, self-imposed exile after James’ and Lily’s deaths, but not all the countries he had travelled were as rich as the United States — it was less crowded and the seats were both bigger and more comfortable.

For a while, Remus did nothing more than take in the view from his window seat. His thoughts were always prone to wander, and this time was no different — memories of his youth, the feelings of dread anger betrayal when Sirius got caught, the pain and misery, not being able to visit Harry (a sharp pang of hurt — he still had to forgive Albus for this). Not being able to find work. Not being able to feed himself without the help of people he didn’t want to see.

Going abroad. Getting away from the loss, the hurt, the betrayal. Finding some peace outside of Britain, outside of Europe. Rebuilding a life thought lost. Meeting Tonks and coming back home.

Finding out about Sirius. About Peter.

Finding out about Harry.

He shook himself out of the spiralling thoughts, a deep frown on his aged face. He glanced around, but no one had paid him any attention. Good. With a fortifying breath, Remus shouldered his backpack and slipped out of his seat in search for the train’s loo. It was a bit cramped, but he managed to pull the door closed behind him, locking and silencing it with two flicks of his wand. Another flick scrubbed the toilet itself clean and he gingerly sat down.

“Padfoot,” he said, and reached into his bag to pull out a silver hand mirror, the glass slightly clouded and speckled with age.

“Hey, Moony,” came the answer almost half a minute later. The voice sounded rough and sleepy and matched the face that came into view.

“You look like shit, Pads.” He couldn’t help but grin fondly at the unkempt beard, tangled hair and narrowed eyes. There were dark shadows beneath the last.

“Fuck off,” Sirius told him and yawned, giving Remus a good view on most of his teeth and his uvula. The man smacked his lips a few times before suddenly perking up, causing the mirror’s view to go shaky while Sirius scrambled to sit up.

“For Merlin’s sake, Sirius, could you not sleep naked!”

“And risk disappointing you? Not a chance. You found him yet?” The mirror righted itself and grey, eager-looking eyes came into view. “Come on, Moony, don’t be such a tease!”

“You do know we’ve barely started the search, right? He’s somewhere in the area, though. Right now we’re trying to locate him via trains and Point Me’s.”

The talk that followed was as nice as it was exhausting like most things were when he dealt with a still tired and impatient Lord Sirius Black. But it helped to drown out the still fresh memories, even if he had to listen to Sirius rant about Albus, about Severus, about the world in general and the situation in particular.

Half an hour passed before he took down the charms and walked out of the loo. New York City has made way for trees and grass and bushes and Remus settled back into his seat, the mirror tucked safely away in his backpack.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

There was not much blood, which was wrong.

But then, Gamora had been raised together with another, a woman who didn’t bleed very much either. Still, it was wrong. Without its head, a body ought to bleed more.

But there wasn’t much blood and none on her sword.

Her eyes wandered away from the headless stump of a neck. Sparks were dancing along severed wires and cables. The soft whirr of broken machinery was loud in the silence between herself and her still living brother. Godslayer was still raised, her arm outstretched, the tip of the wickedly sharp blade almost resting where the nape of the neck would be, of a body without any head.

The tip was pressed against something shimmering in the air. A hint of gold, perhaps, something that had made it impossible for her to strike Azalel, who had still died.

She looked away from the headless neck and towards the coppery blade of Harry’s spear. Smears of blood and other fluid reflected the light. There was blood on the hand holding the spear in a death grip, knuckles gone stark white with the force. The arm was trembling, but Harry’s face was blank in a way that was worse than open grief or anger or desperation. Even his usually expressive eyes were blank, and it was wrong.

It should have been her. Not Harry — never Harry.

It had gone full circle, and Gamora tasted bile on her tongue, her stomach cramping up as she looked into bottle-green, blank eyes.

“Fuck me,” someone breathed close to her. There was movement all around them, people moving towards them.

Scarlet mist curled around Azalel’s dead torso, his dead arms and hands still holding the dagger poised to kill their magical brother. As Gamora released her breath, the scarlet let go of the torso and the corpse keeled over sideways and fell off from Harry, onto the ground.

The world regained its sounds and they crashed against her, invading her ears, her head. The helicopters, louder now. People talking. Someone cursing. The sound of sirens closing in and the soft breathing of Harry right in front of her, still sitting on the ground, eyes far away and hands trembling.

~~~

Fifteen minutes earlier
West Haverstraw, New York State

She had decided on a more scenic route after both Severus and Remus had bought tickets for fast trains, so Tonks had joined a mostly empty bus ride to West Haverstraw, making herself comfortable on the backseat row all on her own. She was tempted to use the charmed booklets they’d been given to write to Remus, but she knew better than to drive Professor Snape too far up the wall. The man would be insufferable in the long run otherwise.

The drive itself was quiet and enjoyable, with only a couple of stops in between. The people that shared her ride were friendly enough, always greeting when they entered and saying goodbyes when it was time for them to go, and the view from her seat was sometimes interesting and most times lovely.

Still, she was glad when they finally arrived at the small town of West Haverstraw, giving her a chance to stretch her legs and take in the sights.

“Not that we don’t have the time…” she mumbled to herself, a small grin lighting up her face. Really, Snape should take advantage of the timeframe Dumbledore had given them. A week for themselves to find her lost cousin before both the Headmaster and her old Transfiguration Professor joined them.

Easy work, she thought and went to search for food and drinks, since the guy didn’t even try to avoid the Four-Point spell or other means to find him. But then, perhaps, he was truly muggle raised? She only knew what little the Prophet had released that time and the theories of Dumbledore himself. Muggle means had been used in the kidnapping. So muggle kidnappers were more than possible.

It would certainly explain the lack of security measures.

“Oh, oh my!” She stopped at one of the little shops at the station. It offered glazed donuts and other sweet pastries. And just next to it, a Starbucks.

A few minutes later she emerged from said Starbucks, a box of double white chocolate donuts in her left hand and a large cinnamon latte in her right. She loved her magic and the world she grew up with, she really did, but sometimes she loved the muggles just the same.

Thus equipped, she started to wander through the small area until she reached a couple of benches in front of a news screen mounted to a wall. She still had time to decide her next destination, anyway, so she sat down to enjoy her lunch when the screen caught her attention.

“...bany. Police and Firefighters are still working on the evacuation, with the help of two aircraft, allegedly of the Avengers. Footage shows not only vast damage to the surrounding structures but also clear evidence of casualties…”

The video shown was a bit shaky and filmed from high above the city, but Tonks could see little figures moving around. There were broken buildings, fire and smoke still leaking out of the wreckages, and colourful lights — red and blue and yellow.

Tonks knew about the Avengers — literal superheroes, they said. It wasn’t something a lot of wizards and witches knew about in Britain, other than Ministry workers who had to know, and muggle-raised people with any kind of connection to the outer world. But the average, magically raised citizen? They didn’t know much about the phenomenon, and they weren’t interested in it, especially when the big papers, like the Daily Prophet, never wrote about the topic.

Tonks, however, had both a muggleborn father and worked as a Junior Auror for the Ministry. And she was hooked the moment she saw the gleaming suit of Iron Man zipping around the video. She had some time left, after all.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

Pietro skidded to a halt by Wanda’s side right as the action came to its end. He didn’t mind; if anything, that it was over was good. He reached for his sister, her hand already reaching back for his before she’d even turned to look at him. Before he’d even spoken. Her mind was turning to his, though, brimming with memories and observations, waves of red as rich as blood swamping her mind, leaving her own consciousness barely able to stay afloat.

Before them, the Blinder, green-skinned Gamora and almost-human Harry were locked in a perfect freeze-frame — a deadly freeze-frame.

The Blinder’s head was on the floor, two feet from its body.

“Wanda.” His voice was a whisper. At the least, Gamora and Harry didn’t seem to hear it. The corpse certainly didn’t. Wanda turned to him without hesitation, but her eyes —

Her eyes were wide, and they were fearful, and there was no scarlet in them in the way that meant she’d seen too much with it too recently to dare look with it again just yet. He took his sister’s hand in his and stroked a line on the back of it, knuckles to wrist.

“It’s all right,” he whispered in Sokovian. “It’s all right. They did it. They did the job.” He looked again at the bodies — one dead, two frozen and barely moving. When he looked back to her, Wanda’s eyes hadn’t so much as blinked. “He killed him.”

She did blink at that, in acknowledgement, if nothing else. There was still fear in her eyes, though, and the slight tension that meant concern, as she glanced at the three before looking back to him. “Killed him,” she said, and it was a whisper too, and Sokovian. Pietro gripped his sister’s hand more firmly. He could sense the myriad thoughts twisting through her mind, webs of scarlet and skeins of red silk and washes of bloodied water. Spiderwebs and wool, winds like his own mind, and memories, so many memories, in brisk flashes that even his mind, used to a more continuous speed, could not completely parse.

“Pietro,” she said, and her eyes bore into his. “This wasn’t murder. This was mercy.”

Pietro’s mind took off running.

Mercy, he knew, was for what you cared about. In the end, most people cared for little, or for few. They had things they held close, and things they would fight for, but growing up in Sokovia meant you had to learn to cut your losses, to cling to what you had and what you could keep and few could keep mercy. Wanda could. He could for Wanda, if not for anyone else.

And Harry and Gamora, from what little they had gleaned from Mantis and Drax and days spent in their vicinity if not their presence, he knew had had a similarly harsh lesson in their lives. It was in their eyes and the smiles they kept for those they considered theirs.

Mercy, he knew, was not something they would have offered if they did not care. And care, he knew, they would not have for many.

They had it for the Blinder. Wanda’s eyes, still boring into his, whisked another message into his mind.

A memory. Harry’s face, inches from the Blinder’s and the words, crystal clear as they only were when it was Wanda’s memory and not one she’d found or taken, I always wanted to help you, Azalel. You’re my brother.

Pietro wrapped his arm around Wanda, and she leaned against him without hesitation. As one, they turned to look at the three. Gamora’s sword had dropped now, and she’d stepped closer to Harry — Harry whom she’d called brother before.

Were they both, he wondered, siblings to the Blinder?

He tilted his head towards Wanda until his cheek was pressed to her hair, her cheek to his collarbone, her arm wrapped around his waist just as his was around her shoulders — a warm presence, a comfort. Something no one else could offer.

He could not imagine killing her. Not for anything. He did not know how Harry could or how he could survive it.

Mercy, Wanda had said. Mercy. And mercy as kindness, mercy out of care. Mercy because it was the only thing left to offer, the last option left.

Mercy. Kindness.

“We should watch them,” he whispered against Wanda’s hair. She shifted a little at the tickle of it. “After doing that-”

He did not need to look down to know Wanda had closed her eyes. The sheer calm of how she said, “Yes,” confirmed it for him.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Kingston, New York State

Severus carefully sipped the coffee he had bought. It was… not terrible, for something bought in a paper cup. Most of his attention was directed at a medium-sized map of the state they were travelling — a foldable charmed thing, again provided by the Headmaster, that was included in their booklets to show the estimated area they had to cover in their search. Already thin coloured lines were tracing their respective paths, a slightly bigger dot marking their current position.

Take your time with this, Albus had said to him before their departure. The spell ought to remain for at least another month, I should imagine, and you don’t want to rush this. Find him and keep your eyes on him. Minerva and I will come the moment school’s over for the year.

The Potions Professor had no intentions to take his time, however. And, while Tonks seemed to have taken the Headmaster’s words by heart, Lupin at least shared Severus’ sentiment to hurry up as much as they could. Old charms were tricky at best, and Severus didn’t trust the one that had been put on Potter almost 16 years ago. He needed to find the brat and slap another, more reliable, tracking charm on him before he could relax properly.

A couple of minutes later, Severus closed the small map after deciding on the next train to take. The Four-Point spell still showed Potter to be north from him, so there was no need to change routes at least. He stood up and made his way towards a row of ticket selling machines, passing a growing crowd of people surrounding one of the news screens, but before he reached his goal the booklet in his pocket grew noticeably hot.

One of his helpers had written in it.

Severus immediately changed directions and hurried to the next relatively empty corner of the train station, flicking the booklet open as soon as he reached it.

Watch the muggle news, target in Albany!! — Tonks

“The news…?” After a moment of shock and confusion, Severus spun around and stared at the still growing crowd. In the distance, he could see another crowd gathering up around another screen, and even more people than before were staring at their little hand-held communication devices. The Potions Master scoffed softly under his breath and made his way over.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

“Do you have this? Good. We are currently in Albany, New York, Livingston Avenue and emergency services as well as the local Police force are just entering the evacuated area of the latest Avenger’s fight. Close as we are, the amount of property damage seems to be very contained, but right now there are no estimations on the numbers of civilian casualties. The fight has taken place in a residential area of Albany, and with evacuation made almost impossible through the threat level of the terrorist- oh. Oh no.”

Jim Abernathy, a reporter of EAPN News channel, stopped for a moment in his tracks. He and his cameraman, Bob Spellman, just arrived at the intersection closest to the fight. Already a number of vehicles (Ambulance, police cars and nondescript black BMWs) had arrived before them. They had snuck through the barricade to be the first news team on ground to cover the story, hopeful to boost their own carriers with it, but the sight of the collapsed buildings and the odd body lying on the floor had clearly shocked them.

It took a few moments for Jim to shake it off, but his voice was tight and slightly cracking when he raised his microphone once again. Bob had dutifully raised the camera with him, above street level to avoid filming the bodies.

“As you can see, we have just arrived at the scene. Police and ambulance are already starting to clear the debris, as well as the local firefighters.” He raised a hand and pointed in the direction close to the greenery, trusting Bob to zoom in on the direction. “A number of Avengers and unknown people are still in place, some of them clearly injured during the fight. As it is, Hawkeye is just coming down from one of the rooftops. Let’s get closer, Bob.”

He hoped that the chaos around them would distract law enforcement to overlook their presence as both men made their way towards the little gathering. The camera focussed on Clint Barton, who just landed next to the group, having travelled down in speed via one of his cable arrows, and quickly joined Tony Stark in his distinctive Iron Man suit and Captain Steve Rogers, who leaned hard against Mr Stark, blood caking his cowl.

“Other than those three, we also see newly revealed Avengers, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, and the Vision, who have just joined the force as of few weeks ago, according to the statement the Press Officer of the Avengers Initiative had recently made. We can only assume that the other three are in some way connected to the Avengers, as it seems that none are being arrested.”

Another pointer and another zoom at three faces — one green-skinned woman holding a futuristic looking sword in her hand, face partially hidden by the odd angle of the camera and long, reddish hair; one man with human physique, who wore some kind of face mask with eerily red eyeglasses; one young man with short, black hair, who was just leaning to the side to grab something from the ground next to where he sat. The gold and white object was not in focus, but Bob got a clear shot of the young face with its vivid green eyes and a very visible scar on his forehead. Next to him, and partially blocked by his body, was an unmoving body with the same colour palette as the object now cradled in the young man’s arms. Before Bob could zoom in even further, the man turned just enough to hide the object, eyes cast down and shoulders hunched.

“Let’s get closer and see if we can get a statement on what has happened here. At this time, no statement has been given by the responsible parties and-”

“Hey! Excuse me, but who let you in?”

The camera finally turned away from the group of heroes and unknowns. An officer, flanked by two suited individuals, was walking towards them, face stern and disapproving.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Kingston, New York State

He staggered backwards before he could help himself. Then he cursed, loudly, and turned around, shoving his way through the crowd of muggles. The booklet in his pocket grew hot again, but he ignored it in favour of sorting through his muddled thoughts. It was hard to concentrate for a number of seconds in which he made his way through the station until he reached the nearest exit, but the fresh, warm summer air helped him to regain his calm.

The eyes had been a shock. Severus hadn’t need to see the scar to know that Miss Tonks was right. Potter was in Albany, just a bit over an hour away if he took the next train.

An hour. He was close.

Severus shuddered slightly and leant against the next wall. The camera had shown Potter’s face just for a few seconds, but one would have been enough to see the distress on it. And these people around him… He had heard a bit about these so-called heroes. As a teacher with muggle-borns in his care, it was hard not to, really, but he had mostly dismissed the talk about these ‘Avengers’ as rumours, not more.

Clearly, that was not the case and the group was part of muggle law enforcement. But why was Potter with them? During a fight, no less?

He took another minute to calm himself and strode back into the train station and towards the now deserted ticket selling machines, quickly buying passage for the very next train headed towards Albany. The booklet kept its warm temperature, hot enough to be uncomfortable in his pocket without actually hurting him. Clearly, both Miss Tonks and Lupin were already writing back and forth, but Severus felt too nervous to open the booklet in the open.

Twelve minutes until the train’s arrival. They would have to wait this long.

Hopefully, his hands have stopped shaking by then.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

From the moment the target had launched itself onto Harry, knife poised for the kill, he had placed his bet on either Wanda or Gamora. It would have been an easy kill for both — Wanda’s scarlet mist was already reaching for the neck and the head, wound around the torso. One wiggle of her fingers and the whole body would crush and crumple like a loose ball of aluminium.

Gamora would have severed its spine, right at the base of its neck. Her sword (and who knew she even had one? Who knew that Harry had a spear? Tony was in for a field day for sure) was held parallel to the floor, both hands wrapped around the handle, feet slightly apart and about to thrust the sharp blade into its target.

Even without these two, both Vision and Quill were probably ready to deliver the blow.

But not Harry. Not the kid. Not with his weapon a few feet away from his outstretched hand and his eyes wide open, filled with something that, despite the distance, clenched Clint’s guts. It was hard to watch, and yet he couldn’t look away. Later he would be thankful for that because it was over in the blink of an eye.

There was a moment of stillness, in which they all looked like statues, depicting the fight like a gruesome memorial, each of them battered and injured in some kind of manner. The alien, long-limbed and strangely pale, with its electric blue eyes and the knife held in both hands as if in prayer to prepare for its sacrificial kill. The young man beneath him, bottle-green eyes devoid of hatred despite being made the lamb as they locked onto the sword behind the killer. Gamora, eyes hard and unyielding and determined. The scarlet mist curling around torso and arms and hips, reaching out even further.

And then the moment was over and with a move so swift and precise that Clint nearly recoiled in surprise, the spear smacked into the outstretched hand of the kid before slashing up and to the side with just enough strength, the blade angled perfectly, to cleanly cut the head from its shoulders, through flesh and spine and metal and wire. And Gamora’s sword, despite her thrust and the strain in her muscles (neck and arms and back, even her legs as she braced herself for the impact that wouldn’t come), stopped moving altogether, the tip of it just half an inch away from where the head had been severed.

Almost on autopilot, Clint reached for his comm-unit and changed the channel to Hill. “Threat’s down,” he said, his voice lacking any inflection. And Hill, always professional and reliable, didn’t comment on it but went to work, sending in the clean-up.

Tony emerged from the ruins shortly after, practically carrying a bloodied and dust-covered Steve out with the help of Vision, almost at the same time the cars arrived. Police, ambulances, firefighters and what looked like the FBI of all people were soon running around, and Clint waited for all of them to get busy before he himself got down to street level, quickly making his way over to his friends.

“So he’s- what? Down?” The faceplate of Tony’s armour retracted the moment Clint came to a stop next to him. His face was sweaty and slightly pale, dark eyes sharp and alert. There was a flinch when Harry finally moved. “What the fuck happened?”

“Kid took him down, but… look. We better talk later about it. Let’s get Cap on a stretcher first, Nat is on her way. And someone ought to look at him.” He resolutely ignored the disembodied head in Harry’s arms, for the moment at least, but he nodded in his direction nonetheless.. Better to concentrate on the tasks on hand, to get his team back to the Compound and into medical care. And when everyone was well-cared for, he would finally get to ask his questions.

And they better answer all of them.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
West Haverstraw, New York State

I can be there in, let’s say, two hours if I take the next train. Then we can meet up back in NY and I take you with me. Or we do this first. I have at least 20 minutes left before the train to Albany arrives, and from there we can maybe catch a cab or a bus? I wrote down the street, a cab would be better, we could tell them that we have friends close by and they haven’t answered the phone so we want to go and look out for them? — Tonks

She sat perched on a chair, eyes flickering up from the pages of the booklet towards the news screen above. The station was tiny, nothing more than a roofed area with a couple of convenient stores and eateries next to the train rails and bus station, but even here people gathered around to watch the news. One tiny boy, clutching his mother’s hand, was wearing an Iron Man tee and a tiny Captain America backpack, shouting excitedly whenever the camera caught sight of the heroes.

The soft leather cover of the booklet grew warm. Before it could build up some serious heat she flicked it open again to read Remus’ answer. The lack of Snape’s spiky hand was a bit worrying, but not too much an issue to warrant a Patronus; most likely he was with muggles.

There is no need for both of us to go upstate. He is most likely to move before we reach him, either into a hospital or to wherever they will be questioned or debriefed (depending on his role and positioning with the law enforcement), so it’s better for us if I try to come from a different angle. That way, we can note down the directions we get and search for the crosspoint instead of blindly rushing towards Albany and having to start again the moment we reach it. — Remus

Sometimes I hate rational behaviour. She stared at her writing, chewed a bit on her muggle pen and then added: He was looking really bad. We should just… hurry, don’t you think? — Tonks.

She leaned back and took a deep breath, wondering why exactly she felt so much worry. Part of it was likely because of Remus — he had been friends with James Potter, still was friends with her cousin Sirius. It was only logical that he was somewhat attached to Harry Potter, too. And he was her cousin as well, wasn’t he?

But Tonks had practically grown up with stories about the Boy-Who-Lived, and then, when she was older and started Hogwarts, with stories of the Boy-Who-Disappeared. Not cousin Harry, but the elusive saviour-turned-victim, a tragic figure in a story well above her head.

Why then did she feel like time was running short, like she needed to be there now? This was Remus’ part in this. The worry, the uncertainty. Her’s was a duty, to Dumbledore and to Remus, and a little bit to her family as well, to bring the kid back. Only that he hadn’t look much like a kid in that footage.

I know. But if hurry means being sloppy, I will endure a little more time. He’s likely to move, but after that he is much more likely to stay for long enough for us to find him. — Remus

That made her smile a bit. How steady Remus was. Not hotheaded, like her cousin — he mostly kept his calm and took the time to think a situation through. Alright then. You can stay where you are, and I will take the next ride north. When I’m there I will write back and we both meet at the hotel? — Tonks

She put the booklet away for a minute, her eyes on the large clock now while she stretched her arms and her back thoroughly.

Fifteen minutes to go, and the booklet grew hot again.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Albany, New York State

There was a woman giving orders. She was terrifying — all legs and muscles that reminded him of Gamora, especially their ability to break the necks of bigger men than him like a bird’s neck. Her long, dark hair was pulled into a tight bun which didn’t move even a little bit with her severe steps and sharp turns.

Peter watched her, wary and suspicious. He didn’t know her. Didn’t know most of the people that had arrived shortly after Harry had killed their target and closed himself off to the point where he wouldn’t accept anyone else’s touch than Peter’s who had to ignore the disembodied head in his brother’s arms. It was easy in the face of Harry’s distress. His empty eyes, the blank face, the pale skin.

He wouldn’t let any of the doctors close enough to tend to the still bleeding wound. His arms never budged, hugging the head close to his chest, and Rocket was still not there with the Downfall and the medical supplies Peter needed to tend to a wound without getting Harry to lay down.

He knew that most eyes were on Harry and him. The brothers stood awkwardly in the middle of the chaos while everyone moved around them to move rubble and car wrecks out of the way. They were trying to get rid of the fire, to search for more people, dead or alive, inside the collapsed buildings. He doubted that many more would be found still breathing. Even Captain America was battered and bruised and fussed over by two emergency doctors before the Avengers were even allowed to carry the super soldier into the waiting Quinjet.

Then, finally, came the Downfall. The flight was slow, but then both Drax and Mantis had been brought on board the spaceship and even Rocket wouldn’t fly too fast while within the grasp of gravity, with two injured friends onboard.

“Come, let’s get you inside and looked over,” he told Harry, both hands on his shoulders. Harry didn’t answer, but he didn’t flinch away like he had when Gamora tried to touch him. And that had hurt her, Peter had seen how her whole face fell. How her eyes became hard with this mixture of anger and sadness and helplessness. Harry let Peter touch him, guide him and even coax him to move a bit when the Downfall landed right next to the Quinjet. And Peter tried not to think about what had happened. Thinking about it would be too much, what with the panic bubbling up inside of him.

Harry accepted his touch, and that was the only thing that mattered right now, with the mage shutting down the world around him like he had done in the early days, those months right after Kraglin had brought him in, when only Kraglin had been allowed to come into his room, to touch and to hug, whispering soothing words. It had taken longer yet for Harry to allow Yondu’s presence. Years before Peter could close his arms around a panicked Harry.

This, however, was worse, something he knew only vaguely about. Because the target, dead and beheaded, had called Harry brother and Gamora sister. And neither had denied this.

The dead man had been one of Thanos’ children, and Peter knew that this was something big, something important. Something he couldn’t help with, and Harry didn’t let Gamora touch him. What was he supposed to do now? What could he even do?

Small steps. His brother was bleeding and already dangerously pale. The motions were familiar, once Harry was sitting in the little med bay of the Downfall. Cathartic almost, to remove the jacket and the undershirt enough to reach the deep, bleeding wound. To disinfect it, to apply the special bacteria that would clot the blood and close the wounds from within. A thin layer of antibiotics, to prevent inflammation while the bacteria worked inside the body, and a shot of pain medicine, to take off any edge Harry might feel.

He didn’t notice Gamora until he finished wrapping up his brother. Hell, he didn’t even notice Drax, awake but still lying in his cot, watching them. Gamora looked like she wanted to say something, but Peter only shook his head.

“He won’t even talk to me. But…” Another glance at his brother. Then he looked up to Gamora, still kneeling in front of Harry. “Just. Give him some time? At least until we have sorted this all out. The others might not be too happy with us right now, what with this whole sibling stuff going on.” He knew he sounded tired. Looked like it, too. Hell, Gamora looked like death warmed over, and she was usually the least affected when it came to physical exhaustion with the exception of Drax.

“I fear the same.” Her lips thinned while staring at Harry. Angry. Guilty. Sad. Then she nodded. “Keep watch. I’ll go and sit with Rocket.”

And just like that she turned around and walked away.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Train to Middletown, New York State

Alright then. You can stay where you are, and I will take the next ride north. When I’m there I will write back and we both meet at the hotel? — Tonks

Sounds like a plan. Be careful — Remus

He put the pen away but didn’t close the booklet — the small café had only three tiny tables with two chairs each in front of it, and even though the day was warm and sunny, most of the customers sat inside, watching the news on the little mounted screen above the coffee bar.

It was still repeating the footage from before — the hastily blurred-out bodies, the collapsed buildings, ambulances and police cars speeding past the reporter and the cameraman. The close-up of the mismatched group, mixed with a grainy photograph of both what they called a Quinjet and the unnamed aircraft painted in blues and yellows. The two news anchors were currently discussing the meaning behind the second vehicle, the colours and the technology, but before that they had had a heated argument over the participants of the fight, not a month after the tragedy that was Sokovia.

With the doors open and the volume turned up after a request of another customer, it was easy to listen in to the discussion, to match faces with names. Remus wasn’t as reclusive as most wizards and witches in Britain. Not after years of travel, at least, and the Avengers and the Battle of New York were big news across the world. Like magic, Remus thought, watching the red-skinned Vision fly up into the sky.

Like magic. And like trouble.

He shook his head and lifted a hand to put some pressure against his temple, fighting the urge to get out the mirror. The Avengers with at least three new members. A fight in Albany. Dead people on the streets and likely more inside the buildings, with strangers fighting alongside the heroes, one of them the godson of his best, still living friend.

A kid, really, who should graduate this week with the rest of the NEWT students at Hogwarts. Who should be elated to finally escape school, and be sad about it too. A kid on the cusp of adulthood, finding his own way in the world beyond essays and detentions.

Instead there was this adult kneeling in the midst of death and wreckage. He didn’t even look much like James — the hair was too short to see if it was the messy mop his friend had, his jaw not quite as strong. Lily had left pieces of herself with her son, just as James had. But most of all the eyes had been wrong, and Remus felt sick yet again with the reminder.

Oh, the shape and the colour had been all Lily’s. Bottle-green, almost unnaturally so, framed with thick lashes and topped with strong eyebrows. But the look of them was almost dead, a blank stare that said nothing about the man wearing them. Like his face, his eyes had been closed off to the world.

The urge to call Sirius and just tell him grew stronger until Remus had to wrap both hands around the tall glass of iced peach tea he had ordered just to keep them from reaching towards his backpack. He knew that the moment he told Sirius about the news that the man would go search for more information in the muggle world, which wouldn’t censor the location of the fight for their convenience. Dumbledore had been very specific about when to tell Sirius any details of their search — preferably after they had established somewhat of a positive rapport with Harry and it was time to bring him home to Britain.

And Remus saw the merit in that plan, he really did. Sirius was impulsive at best and wouldn’t have the patience to wait. Instead he would run into any situation and try to wing it, which could prove disastrous. But after the image of Harry Potter, kneeling next to a dead man with devastation written all over him…

Remus understood Albus. And he would stick to the plan just a little bit longer. The moment they had a working tracker spell on the young man that didn’t rely on ancient blood magic, however, he would call Sirius, tell him everything, consequences be damned, and hope for the best because he sure as hell couldn’t deal with this alone, not with James Potter’s son looking shattered.

He sighed and took a small sip from the already warmed tea. The ice cubes had melted, making the drink too watery. He hardly noticed it.

The new writing in the open booklet, however, did a good job to pull him out of his brooding.

I am already on my way to Albany and should arrive in an hour. I agree with Lupin’s plan to tackle this from two directions, starting with Albany since they are obviously to depart from there. Both of you should use the time to meet up and obtain a copy of the footage shown in the news and go over it. I know both of you have experience with the internet. I will also need as much information about these so-called Avengers as I am afraid that Potter is in some way connected to them. — S

Not a minute later the tiny table was empty again. The only reminder of Remus was a half-emptied glass of warm peach tea and a couple of dollar bills.

Chapter Text

June 13th, 2015
Avengers Compound

The transportation of her two crew members from the Downfall to the private medical rooms of the Compound was a quiet breather for Gamora. Both Mantis and Drax had been patched up sufficiently with the limited means of the M-ships medbay to the point where they were stable enough for the move, although only Drax had regained consciousness (and predictably refused to leave Mantis’ side, which was why they were now sharing a room), and Gamora had grabbed the chance to enter the main building of the Compound herself instead of staying in the Downfall as Peter has done.

But neither the scalding hot shower nor the clean clothes had been able to calm her mind, for as soon as she emerged from her quarters she felt the tension in the air. It was palpable in the way that Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff, both cleaned and dressed as well, were watching Rocket and Groot in the common room, softly talking to each other. She sensed it in the looks from Wanda and her brother Pietro when she wandered down the hallways as she attempted to sort out her thoughts and feelings. Even the Vision, whose eyes held neither suspicion nor pity, now regarded them with plain curiosity. It made her skin feel too tight, and the drowning guilt inside of her was stifling, suffocating.

Harry has not left his room in the Downfall. The door was locked, her calls went ignored and even Peter had not yet managed to gain entry.

She knew that this behaviour, as well as her own anxiety (eyes cold, lips pressed into a thin line, her body rigid even in movement), were partially at fault for the increasingly uncomfortable atmosphere between the Guardians and the Avengers. Neither Azalel nor Harry had been quiet in their conversation, their talk about their familial relationship, of betrayal and oaths (and wasn’t that something to think about, an oath between the two brothers that Azalel had thought of as sacred?) reason enough to destroy any kind of good reputation they had gathered in the few days of their stay. She couldn’t fault the Terrans - it was a reasonable response to the situation. But it put even more pressure onto herself to make sure it wouldn’t end in tears and more fighting, this time against Peter’s people.

It didn’t surprise her when she found herself at the entrance hall of the building when she surfaced from her thoughts. Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, she could easily spot the sleek design of the Downfall, parked as it was right next to the Quinjet and facing away from the entrance. The bay at the backside of the ship was open, the interior familiar, but not the same as Peter’s old ship, the Milano. It made her chest hurt to look at it - the combination of her fond memories of those first few weeks, getting to know her makeshift family, and the dread she felt about what lurked behind the loading bay (a flight of narrow stairs up, then down the small hallway, right across the cockpit and behind a closed door), almost made her sick to the stomach.

She could have stopped this. Could have taken the kill earlier, never giving Harry any chance to interfere. Should have stopped him from joining this fight from the beginning. And now that it was too late, she wasn’t even able to help him.

They were brother and sister, but in the end, she barely knew him as well as the Ravagers did. She was family, but she wasn’t family. The way he had flinched away from her touch, eyes cast down, face deathly pale (how she had almost forgotten that through it all, he was quietly bleeding out), lips sealed. And now, not even Peter was able to talk to him - from the moment the door had closed behind the mage, he had shut himself off from any kind of contact. Isolated, with only a dead man’s head as company.

With a firm shake of her head, she forced herself to push away the mental image conjured by these thoughts and took a few deep breaths. Her eyes moved away from the Downfall and towards the setting sun. For just a moment she allowed herself not to feel the guilt and anger and the weight of responsibility upon her shoulders, but to once again think about the beauty of this planet, the fiery evening of Peter’s home.

The sound of the door opening behind her destroyed the illusion of calm almost instantly.

“Hey, sorry, didn’t want to surprise you.”

Tony Stark, the Iron Man, stood behind her, dressed in a crisp suit and his hands raised as a response to her sudden turn. His dark eyes moved rapidly across her body as if in search of weapons, keeping her hands and legs within sight for sudden movement. There was a tension underneath his easy words, in the set of his shoulders and the stiffness of his smile, and Gamora reminded herself yet again that it was her job to make sure not to make this worse.

It still took her longer than was acceptable to let herself relax.

“Please excuse me. I’m still a bit jumpy after the fight.” The words were a bit stilted, but she tried to put as much honesty in them as was possible right now. It also seemed to work at least partially, since Stark let his hands fall down again, his own stance changing from defensive to relaxed within moments.

“Yeah. Yeah, I get that. We’re all a bit nervous right now.” The man licked his lips, eyes moving rapidly, the thoughts behind them changing too fast for Gamora to even begin reading them. She’d had no experience with beings this fast previous to their arrival on earth and this, too, put her a bit more on edge than necessary.

“You wanted something from me,” she said, keeping her voice even if not inviting.

“Quick to the point, huh? Feisty. But yes, we kind of need the head.”

Her body went rigid again and she cut a quick glance back, to where the Downfall was with its open bay door, her partner and her brother inside. They had not yet scrubbed away the blood Harry had lost in the medbay. Her stomach curled at the thought.

She didn’t say that they wouldn’t have a choice. That it was Harry’s decision and his alone. That they would gladly leave the money be when he said the word, as much as they needed it
She didn’t say that they would fight for the leftovers of a person who had been broken and broken again, just like them.

What she said was: “You have the whole body. I don’t see why you would need the head, too. Besides, we will need it to verify the contract. We crossed galaxies to hunt him down.”

His answer came in a flash of teeth, a quick and quirky smile that didn’t reach the dark, intelligent, fast eyes of the man in front of her. “And if we promise to give it back to you? After we’ve analyzed it. It’s kind of important to know exactly what attacked us. Or do you want to answer these questions?” He shuffled a bit forward, arms crossed in front of his torso. The lack of his usual clothing - the rumpled, old shirts, soft from age and usage; the stained jeans, hems frayed and oil smudges everywhere - and his armour didn’t diminish his inherent strength. It was all in his posture, the tilt of his chin, the raised eyebrow, the muscles under the clean, sharp lines of dark, pinstriped clothing.

Gamora felt tired, and sad, and angry.

“No,” she said and knew her words sounded bristling, defensive. She didn’t care too much. “I won’t answer your questions, not with my brother still mourning. And you will not be given the head. These are decisions that Harry will make, and him alone.” She didn’t mirror his stance or his crossed arms. Her hands stayed down, but her eyes were on fire. “The only thing you ought to know is that none of us knew the identity of the man that was killed today. Do not sell yourself as stupid, Mr. Stark, you’ve seen my brother for yourself. It hasn’t even been half a day, so show a little bit of decency and wait until he is ready.”

The last words were little more than a hiss, but she suddenly found herself without much more patience and the urge to pound on that closed door herself until either one of them gave in and broke. They’d also certainly surprised Stark, who took a quick and telling step back when she leant forward to deliver her message as clear as she could. Without another word Gamora spun around, her steel-heeled boots clicking sharply against the stone tiles until they were dampened by the short grass of the lawn spread around the Compound.

He didn’t call after her and she didn’t look back.

Her anger carried her swiftly towards the spaceship, for it burned bright and fast and was, for a moment, stronger than her guilt. It was strong enough for the walk up the ramp. Strong enough to reach the narrow staircase, enter the short hallway and walk right across the cockpit towards the closed door.

Peter sat there, on the floor and his back pressed against the sealed door, his walkman besides him. The songs sounded a bit tinny, coming from the padded headphones on the floor. He was fast to look up, his face crumpled with worry and resignation. Like her, he didn’t mourn for Azalel. Like her, he mourned for Harry.

Like her, he mourned their incapability to help him out of his isolation, if nothing else.

Was it wrong to feel soothed that even Peter wasn’t able to help? That it wasn’t her being still too much of a stranger, but that this was simply a situation so bad, noone could help?

Her breath got caught in her throat, the lump that was lodged in there almost suffocating. It was wrong, so she ignored the feeling. It wasn’t her place, after all.

She was family, but not family.

Not yet.

“How is he doing? Has he spoken yet?” She kept her voice low, despite the urgency of the question. She had avoided the Downfall since they had landed here, the weight of it all too heavy at that time. It was still too heavy, truth to be told, but she would see this through. It was her responsibility, after all.

“Not a word. No sign at all. He’s allowed monitoring his vitals, though. I… panicked when he wouldn’t answer and the computer didn’t show anything.” He gestured to his pad. The screen was dimly lit, but Gamora noticed the various vital metrics. Heartbeat, blood pressure, temperature, breathing.

“So he listens, but he doesn’t talk.”

“Yeah. I don’t think we can do much. It’s been a few hours already.” He threw a nervous glance at the door. Worried, Gamora thought suddenly. Worried and resigned. Not confused or bewildered, but resigned. She opened her mouth, but she failed with her words. Either way, Peter beat her to it, his head thumping against the steel door. “Can you stay here, just for a little bit? I’m gonna call the big guns.”

He gave her a soft smile and she knew, she knew that her smile would have been bitter, had it been her in his situation. Bitter from the knowledge that she wasn’t enough. But Peter, with all his flaws and insecurities, had never been properly bitter. He was too sweet, too loyal to those he called friends and family.

“I… yes. I can stay.”

He stood up, perking up again, but left his Walkman on the floor. And then he had his arms around her waist and his lips on her mouth. His fingers dug a bit into her hips and the stubble on his chin was scratchy, but his hands were warm and so were his lips.

She sighed into the kiss, melting into the hug that followed, and felt the tension of her shoulders bleeding away. He was here with her. They all were here.

“Thank you.”

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Avengers Compound

The tension between the two groups was so thick it was not something one could ignore. Mantis, whom Wanda had visited shortly after the injured had been brought into the medical ward of the Compound, had been twitchy and nervous every time she wasn’t able to touch Drax, often holding onto his hands during Wanda’s stay. One didn’t need to be an empath to sense the unease with which the Avengers and the Guardians regarded each other, tiptoeing around each other with raised hackles.

She, too, was nervous - she couldn’t help it, not with what she had seen and sensed, not with what she knew. She had seen something intimate, something painful - something she could understand, being who she was. Between Pietro and her, she was the one who made the decisions, who lead on while the other followed. It was an awful, horrendous thought, one she didn’t wish to contemplate. But she understood.

To call someone brother and to kill them out of mercy.

Out of need and habit and safety, she reached out, her fingers meeting Pietro’s hand, readily held out to her the moment he sensed her reaching out to him. He hadn’t left her side, not really, not since they’d sought out each other at the end of the fight in Albany. He shared her horror at the very concept of what had happened, and she felt his confusion, the way his mind was unable to comprehend it, to understand it the way Wanda herself understood, his empathy for Harry despite all this. The tightness in her shoulders was mirrored in the tension of his body, coiled like a spring, and his gaze flickering warily with every movement.

They hadn’t been able to keep their eyes on Harry - he never left the Downfall one he’d been ushered onto it and it had been hours now, with the Guardians either in medical care or prowling around like animals. They clearly sensed that something was off, yet were unable to provide help.

“I don't like this,” she murmured in Sokovian and leaned back against Pietro. She closed her eyes to try to focus, but the Downfall waited behind her lids, and the image of Harry and his spear and Harry cradling the head and the image of Harry's mind at the moment, a complex twisting litany of mercysorrowdeathloss, I'm so sorry, brother.

Pietro’s hand stroked over her hair, soft and soothing. “I know,” he said in the same language. His thoughts swam beyond the brink of her mind, reaching down the narrow bond slung between them. She knew if she bled into his mind, she would find the winds of his thoughts a buffeting confusion, kindness and killing swirling around in a chaos neither of them would be easily able to soothe. She felt his lips press to her hair, though, and how his fingers squeezed hers.

The idea, to kill out of kindness, not just despite it but because of it, with the kindness fuelling the decision to kill, to make it a mercy, was a hard enough idea for her to contemplate. She had contemplated it before, at times, when they did not know if Pietro would be able to tame his speed or if she would have to reach into his head and take from him the power they’d risked their lives and their minds to claim. A horrible, harsh, hard thing to do, but a necessary one. For Pietro, who had built himself on the principles of protection, on never harming her, the idea was something far worse.

Pietro sensed the turn of her thoughts and untangled his hand from hers, instead wrapping an arm around her waist. With her already leaning against him what was simple reassurance became a comforting hug and Wanda gladly leaned into it. His lips pressed to her hair again, and he swayed a little, rocking from side to side with an energy he couldn’t expend running. It soothed him as much as her, though, soothed his anxiety at a concept she knew he could never bring himself to contemplate.

“I do not know what to do.” His words were soft and Sokovian and whispered against her hair where none of the others could overhear. “If we still trust them. But where you go, I go.”

Wanda sighed and turned, pressing her face to her brother’s shoulder. Always, the decision was ultimately left to her. She wished she could take the same reassurance she had taken in his trust of her as she had before he had been shot; it was not the same now, when he had been so grievously hurt due to her miscalculation. But his hand rubbed soothingly at her back and his cheek pressed to her hair, and his trust was there, the same as it had ever been. She did not know what to do. What to think. Not now she knew that Harry, too, was someone who knew that sometimes to be kind meant being callous, that being callous sometimes required kindness to fuel it, who knew it and who could act on it. It was a terrifying knowledge, only eased by the sight she had of Harry’s mind after: a broken and shattered wreck of grief and pain.

Mercy, she whispered to her brother’s mind. He cares enough it broke him. Like it would us.

Their side? Pietro’s mind whispered back. Or-

She shook her head against his shoulder and thought of what Vision had said, new-made and new-born, in Stark’s tower. I don’t think it's that simple.

He hadn’t wanted to kill Ultron, she remembered. Had only done so because Ultron, for all his claims of caring for the world, would not have broken at being cruel to it but would have been cruel because he could. She sensed Pietro’s tension at the whispering thoughts in her mind and invited him in further. With him holding her it was easy to spin scarlet between them and strengthen the bond that had sprung to place.

The others they didn’t know as well. The others they did not trust as much. The others, she showed Pietro in thoughts, were utter pragmatists, or were too callous, or were people they were not close enough to. But Vision...

In her mind, she gestured, showed wave after wave of scarlet memory and took the gently mocking thread of blue Pietro’s mind threw at her for it. Vision cared. Vision could, despite caring, be callous. Vision understood mercy, even when it came to his own mad maker. They could tell Vision.

In the waking world, Pietro’s arms squeezed tight around her.

“All right,” he whispered. His mind echoed the words he’d said earlier. Where you go, I go.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Avengers Compound

“You understand mercy, I think.”

Vision looked up from where he stood in the corner, thinking. There was a lot to think about: the battle, the Blinder, what had happened and how it could be handled better in future. The alien named Harry and his response to what had happened. But when Wanda spoke, standing in his doorway with her brother right at her shoulder, Vision looked up. He didn’t know, entirely, what to make of her words.

“I suppose that I do,” he said after a moment. They stood in the doorway in the way Clint liked to describe as hovering, for all their feet were firmly on the ground. It wasn’t an inaccurate description, though. Vision was quite aware of Pietro’s frequent presence at his sister’s shoulder, always ready and present, like an insect hovering, or a bird keeping place, or a helicopter waiting. “You may come in if you’d like, though I don’t have anywhere for you to sit.”

Wanda stepped in gladly, and Pietro moved with her - not his usual loose following, but close by, within arm’s reach. As they stepped in, Vision saw: Pietro’s hand in Wanda’s, both white-knuckled.

For all he was new-made, and for all he was only slowly be coming to accept that he had emotions and that they were real, let alone to understand them, he could at least comprehend unease and recognise that something was the matter. “Wanda?” he asked. “Might I ask what brought this on?”

She glanced back to her brother in the way she often did, the constant checks between the two of them that the other was there and that the other agreed. It pleased Vision, on some level he did not entirely know how to process, to see two humans in such harmony. Ultron had dismissed the possibility for humankind, but Vision couldn’t recall a time the twins weren’t in a comfortable balance with one another. The smile Pietro gave his sister was minute and barely there, but it was visible enough, and with it, Wanda turned back to him.

“You were there,” she said. “When Harry killed the Blinder. And now he is hidden from everyone and even his friends seem confused, yes? And everyone is uncertain and unhappy.”

He nodded slowly. He had not spent much time around the others - once they knew he was fine, and of course he was fine, he was vibranium and there was nothing in the world apart, perhaps, from Wanda, that could hurt him - but he recalled the unease on their faces and understood that Harry, the one to unexpectedly kill the Blinder, suddenly vanishing might be cause for concern.

“Yes,” he said. “Do you-” Wanda stood, still quiet, still holding her brother’s hand in a white-knuckled grip. “You were close by,” he said. “Did you see something? With your abilities?”

She glanced to her brother again, but Pietro didn’t look back. His eyes, piercing and blue, stayed fixed on him, as though daring him to hurt them. It was his usual look if Wanda was uncertain or unhappy and Vision was relatively certain it meant protect.

“The others do not understand,” she said. “And I do not think we do either, not completely. But… it was not murder. It was not malice. It was...” and she paused, seemed to roll the word around her mouth to make sure it was the right one. “It was mercy, Vision. He did it out of kindness and kinship, and it hurt him to do it. Do you understand?”

He dared not say anything for several moments. Wanda was tugged closer to her brother, Pietro’s arms wrapping around his sister as though he would pluck her up and pull her away, his glare still firmly saying protect as though he thought he would turn on them, or turn them in.

Kindness and kinship. Yes, he understood all too well. After all, it was part of why he helped them end Ultron.

“Yes.” The silence had stretched long enough to become uncomfortable even for him, but the twins relaxed at his voice. “Yes, I understand. And you think that the others do not?”

Wanda shook her head, loose hair catching on her brother’s shoulders so close he was holding her. “They are wary,” she said, “and fearful of what it means, and perhaps they should be, but- it has hurt him, Vision. As it would hurt me to hurt Pietro.” Her brother flinched at that, then pressed a kiss to her hair, hiding his face against her scalp. “And Mantis is healing still, and Drax. And Harry is hidden. I- do you remember, how I was, when Pietro was healing? They need peace and quiet now, even Harry. Even if we do not yet understand. It was not cruelty. It was kindness. It was mercy.”

She looked at him, eyes red with worry and not with scarlet, earnest and honest and simply watching.

“Yes,” he said. “It would do no good to cause upset. Not right now.”

Wanda relaxed at that, slumped briefly against her brother and then disentangled herself, reaching out. Vision reached back almost without thinking: it was Wanda, and she had never sought to hurt him for all that she was one of very few who actually could.

Her voice was scarcely a whisper. “Thank you.”

~~~

June 13th, 2015
The Quadrant, Moon

“Capt’n!”

Yondu grunted, eyes glued to the screen in front of him. Even here, orbiting Terra’s moon, news got around. Right now a shapely Terran woman was showing off both her cleavage and another replay of the Albany footage. Not that there was a lot to see when it came to details beyond that one scene that put him so on edge. Because why on earth would Harry, his Harry, kneel on the damned floor with a fucking head in his arms?

Maybe the thing was made out of pure silver. Rare enough to warrant the move, but still.

“For fuck’s sake, Yondu, it’s Peter!”

“Well, it’s about time!”, he hollered back, finally looking away from the screen. Something was off with Kraglin’s voice. It better not be anything serious, not so soon after the latest drama. Hefting himself off his seat, he made his way to the back of the large bridge room where Kraglin sat, anxious and excited.

“Hurry up, he won’t tell until you are here,” his former first officer grumbled, one hand busy pushing shaggy hair out of his eyes. His screen was a bit smaller - communication only, the one he had sat in front of the whole time since morning, right after Gamora’s little message that they were off to find the target had reached them - and full of Peter’s big face.

No wonder Kraglin had sounded off. The kid looked stressed out, his forehead full of worry lines.

“Let’s hear it then. Someone has blown his arm off.” He kept his voice dry as he sat down rather heavily next to Kraglin, who swallowed a laugh but otherwise kept paying attention to the young man flashing the tiniest smile on their screen.

“No. Not really. It’s…” Peter paused for a moment, eyes shifting from left to right before he looked up, first at Yondu, then at Kraglin. It had always been Yondu first, while Harry’s eyes had always searched for Kraglin before settling on the Captain. “It’s Harry. He doesn’t talk, he’s hiding away. Yondu, he took the kill and, usually, he doesn’t care, but. But this. He called him brother and now he won’t. Talk.”

He took a breath, deep but shaky, and Yondu suddenly hoped that Peter wouldn’t cry. He was a grown man, for fuck’s sake. Just like Yondu himself, and he did fine dealing with the sudden, painful clench in his chest. To his right, stiffened, leaned forward, knuckles painted white as his hands grabbed the edge of the console.

“Like after Tarus?” Kraglin asked, voice rough and eyes narrowed. Peter nodded, and Kraglin cursed.

“We’ll be on our way. Tell the Terrans not to shoot at us,” Yondu said, already jumping into action, Kraglin hot on his heels.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Edge of Avengers Compound

The trip from Albany to the Compound (not that Severus knew what it was called) had taken him hours. Without a broom or knowing the exact location he had had to rely on either confounded muggles to take him with their cars and on his own two legs, neither of which were anywhere near as comfortable as taking a train equipped with air conditioning. Only a heavy application of cooling charms saved him from sweating buckets in the summer heat, but even those muggles under Confundus were visibly confused about the too warm and layered outfit he’d chosen earlier that day.

But in the end, he had reached his goal, and stood, cloaked in half a dozen concealment charms, just beyond the high-security fence surrounding the vast grounds and the modern, shiny buildings. The day was old already, the sky coloured like apricots and persimmons in the west and a deep indigo in the east, the horizon edged with tall trees. The last few hundred metres had been a right mess to walk. He hadn’t dared to use the only street cutting through the woods in this direction, nor did he have any inclination of approaching the buildings from the riverside.

His eyes followed the fevered rays of the sun where they touched the gleaming glass and steel of the buildings and vehicles until he made out the exotic shapes of modern aircrafts - the Quinjet and the Downfall, though again he wouldn’t know what to call them.

“Point Me,” he whispered under his breath. His wand made a half-turn until it pointed straight at the main building, only the blue and yellow aircraft in the way.

He didn’t know a lot of things about the place he stood in, nor the people inhabiting the buildings. He didn’t know that just a minute ago, a call had been made through a device that could reach the stars and beyond, or that other star-touched beings wandered the grounds. But Severus was very aware of his lackings, which was one of the reasons why he didn’t dare to get closer. Not with such obviously modern buildings, assumingly housing some kind of super muggles and genius minds. The average British wizard and witch knew, vaguely, about the threats of modern technology and Severus, while not being average in many things, had never had any reason to brush up his own spellwork to deal with heat- and movement sensors, cameras able to pierce the dark and an AI that could identify every face of every employee working here.

There was, however, one person on their little three-man team who had both the knowledge and the skills to enter this Compound undetected.

Severus took his time to memorise his surroundings, the feel of the land and the ground, the positioning of the fence right behind him and the buildings in front, before he spun around with a soft crack of Apparition.

“Remus, he’s here!”

The sound of running, booted feet reached his ears and caused him to take a step to the side before Tonks had a chance to bowl him over. Her eyes were wide, her hair in a wide turquoise spray around her face, but there was a smile stretching across her lips and her heart-shaped face was aglow. “Did you find him, then?” she demanded and planted her feet firmly on the ground, ignoring the fact that she nearly tackled him to the ground.

“I would hardly be here this early had I not found him.” And because he had always been a vindictive bastard, he waited exactly as long as Tonks needed to process this and to open her mouth to shout the next question to cut her off with: “That said, it was impossible for me to reach him undetected. He currently resides within a heavily secured property.”

It was very gratifying to hear Tonks choke a bit when he glided past her and away from the Apparition point of their hotel. Just across the hall, at the little tables they had broken their fast, he could make out Lupin calmly drinking a cup of tea. It was, in some ways, very intriguing that Severus was not able to guess if the calm was just a front, or if the wolf truly felt at peace.

“You want to break into the Compound!” Tonks dropped her voice when they exited the Apparition point and the surrounding silencing charms (they had been sensible enough to save the guests ears from the constant popping sounds of Apparition) and sat at Lupin’s table.

“Not myself, no. I was thinking about sending you there. You are an Auror, are you not?” He lifted one eyebrow in a way he knew was condescending and was pleased to see her shock-shelled expression. Sadly, it didn’t take her long to overcome her surprise.

“It will be a lot of work, that’s for sure. Stark has paid for it, so we can assume that it’s rigged with technology taken right out of sci-fi novels,” she answered after a couple of moments.

“We have done some research,” Lupin explained, reaching out to put some sheets of paper in front of Severus, who cast a quick Muffliato around their table. “It was relatively easy to pair your marker on our map to the location of the Avengers Headquarters. It’s a training facility for the team but also used for housing and a number of other things. Stark Industries has a few laboratories there that mainly focuses on providing the team with the newest gadgets. That’s all one can find out about the Compound itself, though. Almost no pictures, and all of these from the birds-eye view. It’s pretty secure.”

“The Avengers themselves are pretty known, so it’s easy to get information on them. Right now the team has six official members plus four that have not yet been announced but that have already been seen in action,” Tonks continued, pointing out a number of sheets for Severus to peruse. “Tony Stark as Iron Man, physically said to be normal, but he is brilliant and super rich. Steve Rogers as Captain America, soldier. They say he’s either a mid-twenty something guy who took on the mantle of the late Captain America, some war hero from way back, or he’s the original guy and over 90 years old. In both cases, he is what they call ‘enhanced’, which means he is super strong. The guy can lift cars, that kind of thing. Anyway, there are some files out there that say he is the original Rogers and had been frozen for all that time.”

“The next two are former government spies and assassins. Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton, also known as the Black Widow and Hawkeye. Highly skilled, but otherwise normal.” Lupin waited until Severus had also seen their pictures, before he grimaced slightly. “And that’s where it gets really weird.”

“Weirder than a genetically enhanced, defrosted super... soldier?” Severus stared at the faces on the papers. He was, of course, suspicious about this. It sounded far-fetched, fantastical even. Something muggles weren’t supposed to achieve.

“The next one is the Hulk, also known as Doctor Bruce Banner. We haven’t really understood what happened to him, but we can liken his condition to my own.” Lupin didn’t even flinch, he just continued in his same, even voice. “The change of body and mind is triggered by emotion, as far as we know. Get him angry and he turns green. There are videos in which you can get an idea of the destructive power he’s capable of. As a human, though, he’s also said to be a genius.”

“And we’re quite sure this isn’t caused by magic?” Severus stared at the two pictures that Lupin had printed out for him. The man on the left looked fairly normal - average looking, with wild, slightly greying curls. A face you could easily trust, if a bit shy looking. The right picture, however, had only little in common with him. The face was the same, if distorted, but the whole expression was one of rage and violence. Hulking muscles tried to escape the confinement of tautly stretched, violent green skin. The whole creature was roughly the size of Hagrid, but instead of fat and muscle, this Hulk was only the latter.

“Unknown. He’s a muggle, I have checked what the M.A.C.U.S.A. said about them. None of them except the last one has an ounce of magic about them, and the last one… well, no one wants to touch him, really.” Tonks smiled apologetically and Severus looked down on the last page.

“‘Thor Odinsson, God of Thunder and heir to King Odin, Ruler of Asgard and the Nine Realms.’” He allowed the silence that followed his words to mature for a few seconds, until it was unbearably uncomfortable. Both Lupin and Tonks were practically squirming in their seats. “So, we have a supersoldier, two geniuses - one of whom, I might add, can change into something that makes giants look almost friendly-, two assassins and a god.”

“Those are the official members, yes.” Tonks at least had the decency to blush.

“And the other four?”

“Well, the first one is pretty normal,” Lupin hastily answered. “But not well-known. Sam Wilson, the people call him Falcon because he has a flying apparatus that look like wings. The others are even harder to research. A pair of twins, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, both enhanced. The sister seems to have some form of telekinesis, the brother is very fast. The last one is the Vision.”

“Who’s apparently not really even human! But he can fly and walk through walls. He was the red one with the cape flying around Albany. How cool is that?” Tonks exclaimed with a huge grin.

“You do realize that you will have to infiltrate the place where all these people are currently residing?” And wonder of wonders, Tonks stopped grinning, much to Severus’ silent amusement.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Avengers Compound

Maria Hill, former Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, raised her chin. She knew that she probably looked like shit - the hours after the fight had not been easy for her to handle, not with the media trying to harass law enforcement for information, politicians failing to harass her and the general public horrified and amazed by the whole ordeal. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t even be here, too busy with the clean-up, but thankfully Stark Relief Foundation and its capable handlers and workers had arrived early, taking up the work bit by bit until Maria was able to extract herself.

She was thankful about this, truly. She needed sleep, she needed food and a shower. She also needed a good book and a glass of wine, her go-to way of dealing with the sight of one too many mangled body freed from the rubble.

But most of all she needed some answers after having to shoo off the vultures from the press.

“I hope you are all ready for this, because if you aren’t I don’t care,” she started on the assembled Avengers and most of their guests from space. She had only arrived half an hour ago and the only reason why it had taken so long for all of them to meet up in one of the conference rooms was Pepper, who had taken one good look at Maria and swiftly absconded with her to get her into some spare clothes and a snack into her.

Her gaze fell onto those she knew - Stark was here, as well as Rogers, who was still bandaged up and was fussed over by Wilson. Natasha and Barton were huddled together, gaze flicking around. Wanda Maximoff was securely sandwiched between her brother and the Vision, while Banner made his way to Stark’s other side. At the other end of the long table, however, with the Maximoffs and the Vision closest to them, were the aliens. Three of them were missing, but she knew that at least two had a good excuse - not everyone was an idiot like Rogers, prancing around after a whole building had collapsed on him.

The other one had not followed the invitation and she didn’t give a shit.

“As it is, this debrief a mere courtesy, so I hope you will be very thankful that this is not an interrogation,” she continued, her eyes fixed on each of the strangers for at least a full second per face. Not that there were that many of them - Quill, who could be a human; Rocket and Groot, both as exotic as they could be; Gamora, looking just as deadly as the other women in the room, her eyes cuttingly cold as she met Maria’s own glance.

Maria Hill smiled, and it was all teeth.

“I received the latest update a couple of minutes ago. As of now, we have 13 confirmed deaths and 31 casualties that have not resulted in death. An estimated 20 people are still missing, but the searchers are positive that these are mostly people who had not been in the area during the incident.” She continued with her report, the number of people in the hospital that are at risk, the estimated number of collateral damage, the amount of time the repair work will take.

Stark followed, adding some details to the estimates, before both Barton and Rogers started to go over the preparations and the start of the mission.

After that, each Avenger gave a brief summary of what they had done during the mission itself, from the moment the group broke up into smaller units to the death of the alien terrorist. Maria didn’t bother to take any kind of physical notes, but she did pay close attention to each report, especially those of Wanda Maximoff, Barton and Vision - the three close enough to have witnessed the last fight between the Blinder and the two Guardians from start to finish.

Gamora (who moved not like a fighter but like an assassin, like Natasha - silent and nimble and aware of her surroundings), was also paying close attention - especially when it was Wanda Maximoff’s turn to speak, her own fight against the terrorist described in short but efficient words. It was the latter part of her summary, however, that interested Maria the most.

“When Harry and Gamora joined the fight, they did so in close combat, effectively rendering our long-range attacks useless,” she said while holding her brother’s hand. She either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the way the green-skinned woman eyed her intensely, keeping both her gaze and her voice level. “During their short fight, they also kept talking to each other. I was not able to hear all of the exchange, but some parts were shouted loud enough for us to listen to.”

She took a deeper breath, eyes flickering towards her brother, and Maria saw the way her shoulders tensed. The moment passed, however, and soon enough she shifted her attention back to Maria.

“Harry and the- the attacker referred to each other as brothers. Gamora was included as a sister. There was a familiarity between them, most of all between the two men. And while Harry’s fighting style was rather wild, parts of it matched both Gamora’s and the attacker’s despite their different weapons. Before the fight came to a standstill, Harry was also repeatedly called a ‘traitor’ and Gamora someone’s favourite.”

Again she stopped, looking thoughtfully at her twin. Most eyes were trained at the young woman. All of them - except for Gamora, who met Maria’s own gaze when the former Agent turned her head in her direction. The deep brown eyes of the green-skinned mercenary were apprehensive, her face set and serious. She was prepared for something.

“I think that both Harry and Gamora had tried to apprehend the attacker instead of killing him. At one point, Harry managed to talk him down. It wasn’t until the attacker was about to kill Harry himself that both Gamora and he went for the kill.”

“So, how come you never told about this?” Stark shot out from his corner, the line of his shoulders stiff despite him casually leaning back in his chair. “You know, this whole sibling stuff. Gotta say, I didn’t see it, with you being green and him being not. And now you also had a Snow White brother who just happened to pop up on Earth?” His narrowed eyes were set on both Gamora and Quill, voice sharp and mocking.

“We didn’t know that it was him we were tracking,” Gamora replied with clipped tones, but it was clear that a lot of the Avengers weren’t believing her words. Surprisingly for Maria, both the Maximoff twins and the Vision were more inclined to take her words as truth.

She had learned early on in S.H.I.E.L.D. how to read people. It was one of the most important skills for any Operator, critical when gauging a situation in which humans were present. To keep suspicious and alert even while entertaining some trust towards a stranger was essential. Maria couldn’t get a proper read on Gamora, couldn’t even guess if she told the truth or not, so naturally, she kept her suspicion. Why then were the Maximoffs, who still had to find their proper footing within the Avengers, willing to extend their trust?

What did they know that Maria and the others didn’t? Maria knew about Wanda Maximoff’s powers - the telekinesis, the mental manipulation. She had read the reports over and over again before allowing the Avengers to even think about making her and her twin an official part of the team. The girl was able to read minds and she trusted the green-skinned alien.

“That doesn’t really explain things, sweetie. How about you tell us about this family thing you have going on? Is it a space thing? You guys just adopt everyone to have all the colours of the wind under the roof?”

“Tony,” Rogers chided, but he too eyed the Guardians warily. Rocket was already bristling and Groot, where he sat on the raccoon's shoulder, was twining vines through his fur. Quill, on Rocket's other side, tried to calm him, but as Gamora shook her head and closed off they all clearly became more tense.

“I won’t discuss family matters without everyone’s permission,” she answered evenly, which didn’t sit well with some.

“Seeing as one of your alleged brothers went on a jaunty little killing spree on our planet,” Barton said, pose relaxed in a way that highlighted his own training. Next to him, Natasha looked perfectly calm, her head tilted to one side in polite interest. “I would say that we have a right to know exactly who was it who attacked us, and why. He was awfully interested in Vision until you came around.”

“Oh, that’s nothin’ to wonder about.” Rocket sat back on his haunches with Groot clinging to him. His muzzle was stretched into a sneer. “Guy’s flaunting around a fuckin’ Infinity Stone on his forehead like some dancer’s jewels, ‘course it’s gonna draw attention.”

Quill sputtered. “Wait, that’s an Infinity Stone?”

“Really, Peter? I told you that Thanos lost one to Terra and after the last one you should at least be able to notice them when they are right in front of you!”

“That’s what he wanted this whole time? For what? Is he still working for Him?”

“Could we please calm down again?”

“How do you know about the Infinity Stones? Are you here to steal it, too?!”

“Oh. My. God! And they sent a message to the big ship!”

“Okay, stop! STOP IT!

The sound of a flat hand striking the table brought the shouting and the flying accusations to a sudden end. Most of the people in the room were standing, with the Guardians on one side of the conference table and the Avengers on the other. Both the Maximoffs and Vision had refused to move from their positions in the middle, which prevented at least Stark from firing off the stripped gauntlet repulsor strapped on his hand. Now, however, everyone’s eyes were on her.

“Get yourselves together,” Maria scolded sternly, sharp eyes giving each of them a warning glare. “And sit. Down.”

She then turned towards the Guardians. “Do you want to explain your connection to the terrorist?”

“Not without Harry’s permission,” Quill said immediately, a stubborn tilt to his chin and determination in his eyes.

“Good. Then we’ll wait for him to regain composure. Seeing as they called each other brothers it shouldn’t be too hard to give the man some time after him having to kill his sibling.” This was said towards the Avengers, some of who suddenly looked stricken. She knew that they wouldn’t have thought about that, emotions still too high after the attack and the high tension in the Compound. And just as she thought, the Maximoffs and Vision reacted quite differently from the others.

They had thought of it. Had asked themselves if that was why Harry was not speaking, not coming out of the ship.

Empathy. Maria sighed inwardly and decided to better focus on the current task.

“You mentioned Infinity Stones and that you had seen one previously. Care to elaborate on that?”

This time it was Rocket who jumped to answer the question. “It was when we saved Xandar,” he said. He looked down at Groot before giving each of the others a challenging glare. “Ronan the Accuser, Kree dude, he wanted to destroy the planet. Stuck the Power Stone to his war hammer. So we wrecked the hammer, Quill grabbed the stone and almost died, and we kicked Ronan’s prissy blue ass.”

“And what happened after that?” Barton asked wearily.

“We got hailed as heroes,” Rocket said with a shrug. “They repaired our ship and cleaned up our records. The stone went to Nova Prime for safekeeping. Don’t want another nutter to try out world domination when there’s enough of them ‘round already. The Nova Empire’s strong enough to keep the stone safe from most.”

“We showed you the tabloids. Could even make a call if you still don’t believe us.” Quill was scowling now, arms folded in front of his broad chest. “We’re the good guys. When Gamora said she didn’t know the Blinder was someone she knew, I believe her. The only reason we took the job was to give me a chance to visit my former home.”

“We will see about that,” Maria said quickly before someone else could answer. She didn’t need this discussion to happen now. For that, everyone had to be present. Especially the one guy that started this mess by locking himself in his room with the decapitated head of his alleged brother. “But speaking of calls…”

“Yeah, like the one you sent up before the meeting,” Stark quipped from the sideline.

“Just called my old man to come down and talk to Harry, nothing to worry about,” Quill promised. “I mean, he and Krags raised us. If they can’t help him…” He trailed off, suddenly looking very worried, and turned around to Gamora. “What if they can’t, though?” It was meant as a whisper, but the urgency carried the words through the room. Maria could feel the collective strain of ears, but before Gamora had a chance to open her mouth someone else disrupted the weirdly emotional moment.

“Boss, the big ship’s coming down rapidly. ETA in 5.”

Silence followed the chipper voice of Stark’s new AI.

For a moment.

“As I said, nothing to worry about,” Quill said rather weakly.

~~~

June 13th, 2015
Avengers Compound

It took longer than either of them cared for to reach Terra - it was one of the detriments you had when flying a ship the size of the Quadrant. They weren’t made for landfall, simple as that - built in open space, the Eclector never had the need to come closer to any planet than was needed for smaller ships to reach the damn thing. Not until Ego, at least.

Ego, however, had mostly been made out of miles and miles of plains full of flowers. Terra not so much. Here it was miles and miles of trees, a dull river and not enough lawn between the buildings he could see from above. Already the gravity was pulling at the Quadrant, forcing Kraglin to either pull up again or to finally land the damn thing. No amount of thrusters would be able to make the thing hover as a little M-Ship could.

“Fuck the trees, let’s bring this baby down,” Yondu huffed beside him and Kraglin couldn’t agree more. He did, however, take a few moments to scan the necessary stretch of woods before engaging the landing protocols. Nobody would thank them if he accidentally killed some squishy human in the process.

Even through the thick insulation of the hull, they could hear the cracks and snaps of flattened forest underneath them. The trees, however, didn’t even slow them down that much, and they were already sprinting towards the closest exit point anyway, not paying attention to the destroyed woods.

Or to anything else, to be honest. They jumped the ship the moment the airlock opened enough to let them, ignored the partially destroyed security fence that laid flattened underneath the hulking ship (where only minutes ago another man had stood), and marched down the still pristine lawn towards the Downfall, painted indigo and fiery orange in the light of the setting sun.

Kraglin was pretty sure that there had been people streaming out of the main building. He was also pretty sure that Yondu was doing something stupid, most likely threatening them while keeping stride, just to ensure that nobody would try to stop them from climbing into the Downfall. He wasn’t too sure how that worked out, but again it mattered very little to him since nobody actually stepped forward to try.

In short, both he and his captain had other things in mind than dealing with pesky little Terrans and it was probably lucky that they got onto the M-Ship without killing someone.

“There’s the door, Capt’n,” he said but didn’t stop in approaching it with quick steps. He fingered his gun but knew that it wouldn’t be strong enough to chip a good ship’s door. Yondu’s Yaka arrow, however, ran hotter than most things. With a little whistle, the arrow shot out of its holster and hovered right in front of the access panel.

“Okay, boy, you got three seconds to open that door. I won’t have any of your cheek right now,” Yondu barked.

“One,” Kraglin started the counting with false cheer.

“Two..,” Yondu growled.

“Three-” The door opened with a soft hiss before they made good on their promise. The Ravagers soon crowded the small cabin that was the Captain’s Quarters of the Downfall. It was a room without any windows, but small holographic panels mimicked the effect. A narrow cot was welded against one wall, the space above and beyond used as storage, and the other side was dominated by a table, a stuffy chair and even more storage space. Stacks of materials, a couple of data packs, clumps of stones and metals and woods filled the cabinets and drawers. Discarded clothing was piled in one hamper next to the door and gun parts, as well as weapon’s care products, littered the table and the floor in equal measure.

Sitting on the bed was Harry, dressed in a loose pair of pants. His torso and his feet were bare, the wounds from the previous fight still dressed neatly in gauze, the smell of medicine mixing in the stale air with sweat and blood. He was looking pale in the artificial light of the cabin, with dark smudges underneath his eyes. His shoulders were tense, his face arranged in a frown.

On the shelf above the bed sat the head that Peter had talked about.

“Well, finally,” Kraglin said loudly, filling the air with noise and clatter. He stepped forward, not asking for permission before he shoved Harry to make some more place on the bed for him to sit on it. “I swear, every time we turn our backs to you, some kind of trouble happens.”

“And look at this mess. Do you know what this is? Ungrateful. Here we are, taking it onto ourselves to come visit you guys after days of boredom, and it's not even cleaned up,” Yondu chimed in, taking the other side of Harry, effectively sandwiching him. None of them mentioned the continuing silence from the young man, but they did notice the way he leaned against both of them, his frown easing away until he only looked unimpressed about their ranting.

The trick, Kraglin knew, was not to be bothered by the lack of answers. To keep on talking, to be there, no matter how long it took. It wasn’t the first time Harry had refused to speak. Nobody really knew why, or what caused it, just that it happened. Especially the early years had been marked by times in which Harry had barely talked for days or weeks. Back then he had isolated himself on the big Eclector, but he’d learned, slowly, to accept the presence of a few to the point where he was easily able to socialize while being mute.

“We might have flattened a few trees in the process. Least you could do is to welcome us proper,” the Centaurian continued his chide, throwing an arm around Harry’s bare shoulders and leaning forward to peer at the tight bandages around his belly. “Healing up down there?”

The young mage nodded with a sigh and sagged heavy against Kraglin, who wound his arm around Harry’s waist. Most of the tension has bled out off his shoulders already, his eyes drooping.

“You got us all pretty worried, kiddo. Peter’s through three fingernails already and if Gamora starts to stomp harder with each step she’ll break the stone tiles outside. Maybe you should show your mug to your friends or they will eventually run through that door.” Kraglin pointed at the still open door facing the hallway and the open space of the bridge. “Dunno what happened today, I guess you have every reason to sulk away, but you gotta keep them calm. I am not dealing with this shit, Harry.”

A halfhearted snort followed, but the sleepy expression on Harry’s face was quickly replaced with hesitation. Shaking his head he gestured towards the door, which promptly closed shut.

Neither Kraglin nor Yondu commented on the trembling hand.

“Don’t remind me why I hate young folk,” Yondu said, voice heavy with exasperation. “Okay, we will stay, but only for the night and then we will face the music. You better have some more space for us to crash on. Kraglin’ll hate sleeping on the floor.”

“Oh, fuck you too,” the former first mate said hotly, starting a bout of curses and bickering that went well into the evening.

Not one of them cared about the gathered people that waited outside, nor about the absolute fit someone threw over the giant Quadrant and the mess they had left behind.

Chapter Text

June 14th, 2015
Avengers Compound

He didn’t know what time it was when he finally woke up, but after hearing the sounds the other two occupants in his room were making, he was sure to be the only one awake yet. A small grin moved his lips and managed to stay there for a while before he made to get up, careful not to jostle either Yondu or Kraglin while doing so. It was quite a feat that he did not wake them, as they were practically piled on top of him, given the narrow nature of his cot.

The last night had proved exhausting for Harry, enough so that after hours of listening to his two favourite voices making a ruckus just for his sake, he had finally fallen asleep. It had certainly been calming, but he will not fool himself — he knew that he was still a mess and that this didn’t change simply because he was able to move again instead of silently freaking out on his own.

Careful not to look at the shelves above the cot — not now, not now, please not now! — he gathered fresh clothing from one of the drawers and moved out of the room and towards the modest washing unit of the Downfall. A proper water-shower had not been in the budget, not after demanding all-plasma tech to be installed in his ship and preferring the bigger cargo space over additional water tanks, but Harry had grown to enjoy the sonic showers, which were oftentimes not only quicker but just as sanitary without all the work. Now, however, he missed the luxury of water. Either scalding hot or freezing cold, he could use it to distract himself from any kind of shower thoughts and had to pinch himself forcibly to not think about the day before. That, he also knew, he wouldn’t be able to bear quite as gracefully as other people’s proximity to himself. It will be hard enough, he argued silently to himself, to bear the pity of his friends. He wasn’t sure if he could do it, anyway, so better not to tackle any more of the problems he currently head. He wanted to think about it as much as he wanted to talk — that is, not at all.

Refreshed and clothed in his usual way (protective faux-leather in blood-red and charcoal and steel-grey for trousers and a soft, dark-blue undershirt — he had decided to forgo the jacket for now), he took a few seconds to listen if the other Ravagers were awake yet, but all that greeted him at the door to his room were loud snores and whistling breathing. He didn’t bother to wake them up — it couldn’t be too late in the morning, and he wanted to enjoy a bit of silence, for as much as he had needed their presence and voices the evening before he couldn’t help but crave some alone time as well.

Alas, the moment he stepped out of the Downfall he knew that he wouldn’t get that.

The Compound was a beehive of activity, and while most of it was found around the hulking form of the Quadrant, which had landed right at the edge of the property, enough people were milling around the entrance of the main building to instantly become aware of Harry’s arrival. His first instincts were to turn around and dive back in, but he decided to try and simply slink away and towards the more deserted parts of the extensive grounds before any of his friends or tentative allies spotted him.

It was rather unfortunate that, before he even had a chance to try a bit of magic for concealment, he swiftly ran into Peter who had obviously milled around the Downfall himself.

“Harry!” he boomed and for one moment Harry thought that all would be well and exactly the same as ever. It was a given, seeing that Peter had long lost his shyness in the face of Harry’s silent bouts back when they had both been younger. The minute hesitation was therefore almost a slap to his face and a rude awakening — if even Peter had been affected by his behaviour that he would hesitate to hug or touch him, how would the others react?

There was a heady rush in his ears and cotton in his head — the panic started to rise again. It had been a mistake to leave the security of his room so soon, to risk getting out and about and now Peter wouldn’t touch him and the others will follow his lead, won’t they? They would pity him, think him damaged and fragile, and he was, wasn’t he, and he wanted to tell Peter that it was okay, that he won’t flinch away anymore, but no sound made it past his lips and all of a sudden, the grounds of the Compounds, the vast and blue sky and the distant tree line were too much...

And then the moment of hesitation was over and Peter, oblivious to Harry’s small meltdown, stepped forward to thoroughly hug him. Harry could tell how the older man relished the way Harry fell into the hug and for a moment they just clung to each other which was infinitely easier than an apology.

But it wasn’t to hold forever. They were both certainly touchy when it came to express their feelings, but even this was stretching it already, despite the safety Harry felt right then and there. A cough, however, forced them swiftly apart — the brothers were not alone, of course not.

Gamora stood behind Peter and next to her a frowning Tony Stark who was already talking, sotto voice, into his watch of all things, eyeing Harry with a kind of pitying suspicion that the young mage instantly resented.

“Harry,” Gamora said, eyes searching his face for something he didn’t know. She, too, was hesitating, and while it didn’t hurt as much as Peter’s former reluctance, it was a sting to see it. He was not that fragile. He was not.

But he didn’t know how to reassure her the way he could with Yondu or Kraglin or Peter. So he nodded and tried to smile, trying to ignore the prickling of his skin.

She startled a bit, again searching his face before she approached the brothers. “You worried us, brother,” she tried to explain herself, but she held herself back, eyes flickering to the short man she had left two steps behind her.

Again, Harry nodded, feeling foolish and stubborn at the same time. He didn’t even try to pry open his lips — he knew very well that he would stumble over the words, that they were lodged firmly in his throat and unwilling to come out. Blindly he reached for Peter’s hand and clung to it, trying to convey to Gamora through his eyes alone that it wasn’t her fault. Something shifted on his sister’s face — it softened around the sharp edges and he breathed out, slowly. He didn’t know if she understood, but something had come through. Enough to make this situation salvageable.

“Still not talking, then?” Of course, Tony Stark would choose this moment to interrupt them, his white teeth displayed in part smile, part challenge. His dark eyes roamed Harry’s body up and down, halting shortly on his mid-riff — exactly where Harry had been hurt by…

His mind screeched to a halt and he swiftly shut down that line of thought. It was a struggle, and he felt a headache coming and he wanted to go back into his room and just sleep and sleep, but he knew it was of no use. Already he heard the steps of multiple people. The Avengers have arrived and were upon him within seconds.

It wasn’t that their questions surprised him. He had anticipated them, which was part of the reason why he had hidden himself away so quickly in the first place. Tony Stark wasn’t even the worst of them — that he had to give to Steve Rogers, the one Peter liked so much, with his idiotically blue eyes and ridiculously earnest face, who was at once serious, inquisitive and pitiful, talking to him like a broken thing when he noticed that Harry remained mute to the onslaught.

He hadn’t noticed the way his hand around Peter’s had hardened its grip, or how his face had clouded when Rogers tried to tell him how sorry he was for what happened yesterday (don’t think about it), but he saw how Clint Barton, the one with the sharp eyes and excellent humour, moved forward to shush the Captain who looked plenty startled by that. Even Stark stopped talking.

Peter’s hand moved, and Harry looked up to see that his brother was frowning even harder than he himself was.

“Could you be any more obnoxious?” he scolded them with rare thunder in his voice, protective and aggressive at the same time. Gamora was not far behind, moving closer to both men but with a more neutral expression on her face. “He’s barely outside and you start harassing him already! I know that you want your damn answers, but as you can tell he doesn’t talk right now, which is perfectly fine if you would just shut up and give him some space!”

“So how long is it gonna take, then?” Stark asked, seemingly just as annoyed as Peter.

“As long as it damn well takes,” was the answer, which seemed largely unsatisfactory for the group.

At this point, Harry really wanted to flee back inside. He eyed the ramp in the hope he could make the distance, eyeballing the space and trying to guess how rapidly he could escape his brother's grip.

“Maybe he can give his sister permission to talk freely, then.” The new voice rang out and Harry’s head turned. Mantis and Drax’s friend, Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch, side by side with her brother. As he took them in he saw: their hands holding each other just as Harry was Peter. Their eyes met his for fleeting seconds as he glanced; hers full of painful understanding, his with steely determination. There was no hint of pity. Her eyes flickered from his before his did hers, scanning over her comrades with piercing clarity. “If she can explain the situation there is no reason for Harry to feel pressured.”

Silence fell over the group. No one seemed to so much as take a breath and Harry stared at the woman who seemed scarcely older than he was. She offered, quite clearly, a way out. Perhaps it was a trap — perhaps, in telling them, they would learn how to hurt them, or learn something to fit with the knowledge that these Avengers had that they did not, something that would backfire on them and hurt them even more. He didn’t know. But she offered a way out, without judgement and without pity.

Their eyes, when he glanced again, held still the same. Understanding and determination. Perhaps it was their friendships to Mantis and Drax. Perhaps they did not wish to see their friends gone. Perhaps it was nothing but self-serving. But it was a way out. They would know, in the end, regardless of who told them. Why not allow it? What was the risk? They had done what they had come for (and his mind skirted away from the contents of his shelf, from what had coated his hands, from memories that echoed in the back of his mind for all he tried to avoid them) and the only thing left to do was Peter's private visit.

The thought of Peter and how he must feel about finally being home proved enough to sway Harry. Fuck them and what they thought — if they needed to know the truth about his past to let them go in peace he would give it to them, if only for Peter’s sake. In a couple of weeks, after they had seen enough of Terra, they would be on their way back to the Andromeda galaxy and these Terrans, these Avengers, could do nothing to prevent that.

Something must have shown in his eyes, because Wanda seemed to smile, however briefly. Harry took that as a good sign and, with a sigh, he turned around and nodded once, making sure that Gamora saw the gesture.

“So… that’s it? You gonna tell us everything now?” Stark eyed Harry’s sister a bit warily, which made him snort softly. He didn’t, however, stayed long enough to endure more of the suspicious and pitying glances. It made his skin feel itchy and too tight, and besides, he could clearly hear steps from inside the Downfall.

Giving Peter’s hand a last squeeze, Harry let go of him and dashed back towards the ramp, not caring anymore how his flight could be perceived. Maybe later, when he felt better, he would try once again to make friends with these people (and feel guilty about leaving Gamora to them), but right now he had to keep some distance.

~~~

June 14th, 2015
Avengers Compound

“What do you think of it, Natashenka?”

A brief smile played on her lips as she leaned her head back to glance at the silhouette standing at the door of her room. It was already night, and late into it too, but she was not surprised to see Clint waiting for her to invite him in.

It only took a nod for him to move closer and join her on her couch. Tony had offered them all full suites when he showed them the Compound, but most of the Avengers had forgone that offer in favour of smaller quarters. Only Bruce, and Clint, who’d moved into the suite for his family, had the luxury of their own kitchens and sitting rooms. It was still comfortable and decorated to her taste, if bare from any personal decorations besides a small collection of books and a locked cupboard for her weapons.

“Do you ask me if I believed their story, or do you ask me if I understand them?” She scooted closer to him, dragging her feet onto the soft surface of the couch. They had similar taste when it came to their downtime — soft, loose clothing and homely meals, mostly. Used to the rough life of Agents, they knew how to value what little time they had to be comfortable, so much so that even after joining the Avengers they had not gotten rid of their habits.

Clint leaned back against the backrest, allowing her to rest her head onto his lap, and hummed thoughtfully. She waited patiently — they had time, after all, here in her room in near darkness. It was one of those moments where she felt as safe as she ever could, and she knew that for her friend it was the same.

“What it means for us. What it could mean,” he finally answered.

“As if you don’t already know my thoughts,” she teased.

"Oh, I wouldn't begin to guess what goes on in that head of yours, Nat."

She laughs, knowing it's just a tease. Of course he knew. Clint was one of the very few people that truly knew her. She felt warm at the thought that most of those people were currently here, at the Compound.

“I think that we should work hard to keep them as contacts. They know valuable information and the names of those that want to harm us if only to get to Vision.”

“Wanda has already made some friends with them, as has Vision. And you seem to like the woman.” Clint dipped his head closer to hers, a question in his eyes. She had always liked them, from the moment she had first seen them up close — sharp and attentive, eyes that caught every detail and would follow you wherever you go. It was his eyes that she had trusted first, that one decisive moment when they had changed from murderous intent to understanding.

Gamora, Natasha thought, was similar in some respects. During their second briefing, hastily set up after Harry had given her permission to speak fully for him, she had been impressed by how little the green-skinned woman had shown through them. It had been hard for her to tell if Gamora had been angry or nervous, happy or disappointed. Even her voice, clipped and coldly monotone, hadn’t betrayed her emotions.

Thought Natasha had a feeling that it was more for Gamora’s own protection, given the topic.

“She is a bit like me, сокол. You know the saying. And I don’t see why I should hate her — she is formidable.”

He laughed, but not mockingly. Clint knew her well enough to know a compliment when she gave them and he wasn’t surprised by it, either. The laughter died quickly, though. It was hard to feel merry, after listening to Gamora’s tale.

“As a kid, I always thought that, if we ever found something up in the stars, it must be better than the shit we got here,” Clint murmured. “Instead we got the same bastards, everywhere. No wonder this Azalel dude was so fucked up.” He fell silent at that and Natasha could feel the way his body tensed, how Clint ducked his head.

“Дорогой,” she murmured softly and gave his hand a squeeze which he returned after a moment. The history of the siblings, Gamora and Azalel and Harry, had been disturbing for them both and eerily close to their own experiences to the point where Natasha had asked herself how she had missed it the first time she had laid her eyes on them. The kidnapping, the training, the brutal and cruel methods used to break their spirits — during Gamora’s tale of little boys and girls, taken from their families and pitched against each other, it had been hard to keep her face neutral, to not show the understanding she felt for the green-skinned woman.

For Clint, it was Azalel’s part of this story, as short as it was told to them, that had been hard for him to bear — broken beyond recognition and enslaved by the very same Mind Stone that once had been used on him and now rested on Vision’s brow, it had hit too close to home for the archer. No wonder that he had sought her out. She knew that Clint loved his wife Laura dearly, that he trusted her just as much as Natasha herself, but some things he would never tell her if only to save her from the burden.

“I just wonder how many others had been used that way. She said that it wasn’t the preferred method, but in the same breath she could remember at least two others.” It took awhile for him to relax again but after a couple of minutes he finally loosened up with a deep sigh. “At least that psychopath doesn’t have it anymore, though obviously, he wants it back. I just don’t understand how they still call him their father.”

“I think you do understand very well, сокол.” She smiled, perhaps a bit smug around the edges, and laughed when he glared at her.

“Maybe,” he finally admitted, shoving her away from him. She relented, curling up on the other side of the couch and watched him get up.

“Get some sleep, сокол,” she said, stretching her legs out the moment he left the couch. “Don’t make Laura worry too much, or I will make you regret it, да?”

~~~

June 18th, 2015
Avengers Compound

The weather had taken a turn and instead of the merry sunshine that had blessed this part of New York, Tonks was greeted by a light but steady rain.

That, and a whole lot of broken tree stumps, mixed with heavy muggle machines.

It had taken her a couple of days to prepare for this. Though trained in infiltration, as every Auror was, infiltration into Muggle territory had proven to be quite a task in the last decade. Almost every year the classes had to be updated, what with the numerous new features of home security that the Muggles invented by the dozen and no end in sight. The fact that the home in question was more of a fortress and designed by one of the most brilliant and tech-savvy Muggles of the last century didn’t make the task any easier, which was why Tonks had taken her time for this, despite Snape’s increasingly thin patience.

A hand on her elbow pulled her out of her thoughts. She couldn’t see the Professor, but she could definitely feel him right beside her, his long and dexterous fingers digging slightly into the flesh of her arm before he made to pull her out of the way of a group of workers. It was shortly after midday and there was a lot of activity around them, with people shouting at each other while working on removing the wooden debris and stumps. It looked, Tonks thought, rather like a very small hurricane had gone through the forest Snape had spoken of.

Good thing that we had put the Disillusionment Charms on before we apparated here, then, she thought firmly, already looking forward to tell Remus about that — it had been her idea, as the place Snape wanted to apparate to had been quite close to the fence surrounding the premise. Well, had been — a large portion of the fence was gone now, probably to make enough room for the machinery to move in.

Again the Professor tugged at her — she had slowed down a bit to watch the Muggles work. Turning away, Tonks made to catch up with her old Professor’s longer legs and nearly tripped over an errant piece of wood while her eyes took in the sight before her.

It was, she had to say, a very nice place. The Compound, as it was called, was a collection of multiple buildings and vehicles separated by long and leisure stretches of lawn. The grass was a bit slippery under her boots due to the rain, and the colours a bit bleak under the grey clouds, but the design was very Muggle indeed, sleek and modern and made out of smooth steel, dark glass, and white concrete. The coloured glass panels made it hard for her to see any movement behind, but she got the impression of a beehive in full activity.

“You’d better go now,” she murmured under her breath when they reached the middle of the lawn in front of the main building. “Any closer and they might catch onto us. I need to place the spells.”

She didn’t receive an answer, but Snape hesitated for a split second before he let her go. Another second later she heard a soft pop and knew that he was gone.

“Showtime.”

The three had laboured long nights over what spells to use. Too many, and she might cause some problems with the smaller appliances — it usually took a good many spells and charms to really ruin Muggle technology, but she couldn’t take that risk. She needed time to properly search the building for her target and thus couldn’t afford to be caught because she destroyed anything important.

In the end, however, they had come up with a number of spells that would hide her from curious eyes long enough until she was able to assume one of the workers. Calor Laquearia to form a thin layer of isolation around her body, coupled with a cooling charm so that she wouldn’t overheat; Silencio Omnio and Fonpondus to avoid triggering microphones or sensible floors; Inodorus to mask her scent, in case they had guard dogs; Sacrorume to disillusion herself. Lastly, she morphed into a thin and tiny form, almost childlike and with smooth fingertips, to better slip past others.
Years of learning under Mad-Eye Moody does leave its marks, she thought wryly, glad that Remus wasn’t there to see her in this awkward body. It was perfect for spying, but at the end of the day she was still a woman, one who preferred to have hair, thank you very much.

Entering the northern building was easier than she had thought — a lot of people were moving about that part of the Compound, from menial workers to sharply dressed PR folks to slightly stressed looking scientist, which made it easy to catch an open door to slip in. Tonks couldn’t easily spot cameras and other surveillance equipment, but she remembered the long hours of study she had to undergo, together with other hopeful Aurors, about the wonders of Muggle technology and how well they could be hidden, which was why she still moved about very carefully, minding not to jostle any of the people she encountered.

One of the workers, dressed in rather plain darkish-blue attire, quickly gained her attention. He was an elderly man, with a strongly tanned face and well-worn hands that pushed a cart full of various pieces of equipment.

Cleaning equipment.

“They ain’t have House Elves,” her instructor had said. She remembered it well. “So companies and rich folks hire others to clean after them. They’re everywhere and nobody takes notice of them.”

She felt a bit bad, watching the elderly man and following him, for what she has to do to him. He may as well lose his job over this. Tonks winced and gritted her teeth — her inner Hufflepuff bristled at the prospect of putting the man into harm’s way, but there was little she could do, running around under heavy spells. Five simultaneous spells were draining even for her and she knew that she was running out of time.

Luckily for her, it didn’t take too long until she spotted the opportunity she needed — after only a couple of minutes the man entered a long hallway, and on the right-hand side was a door with a sign on it.

Performing the spell non-verbally was taxing, but the Confundus took hold over the man, who minutely shook his head before pushing his fully stocked cart towards the supply room. He fumbled with his keys while blinking a bit too often for Tonks taste, but after a couple of seconds, he had the room open and stepped into it. Tonks was right at his heels and slipped behind him, already preparing for the next couple of spells.

Five minutes later, an elderly man in dark-blue clothing with “CLEANING SERVICE” stitched on his back and a plastic ID clipped on the front exited the supply room, pushing a cart in front of him. Inside said room the same man was sitting upright behind the door, clearly unconscious and wrapped tightly in ropes.

~~~

June 18th, 2015
Avengers Compound

She couldn’t truly describe the way she perceived things — it was an endless flow of data, put together by not only the countless cameras and sensors around all the buildings Boss had granted her entrance but also by the workers of Stark Industrie. Friday was the nexus of many parts of the company, gathering and sorting through every little bit that people fed her, as well as what she herself collected through other means like the internet or the satellite data (never mind that she wasn’t exactly allowed to do so with the satellites that weren’t part of Stark Industries private net). Her eyes were everywhere, and she was very attentive.

The single most important source of data, however, was one person alone. Her Boss and creator, Anthony Edward Stark, always enjoyed Friday’s full attention, especially so when he was not alone. Though through time she had come to somewhat trust Bruce Banner, the favourite work partner, she never gave herself a rest when it came to her Boss’ well-being.

The presence of the raccoon didn’t help.

Friday wasn’t exactly sure how it happened the first time around, more than a full week ago, but the raccoon had managed to weasel its way into her Boss’ good graces and form a friendship which, under its abrasive and very rude exterior, had been very tentative and almost shy. They were a bit alike, she conceded — poor social manners, not much in the way of understanding other people. They were both brilliant and instinctive in their understanding of machines, something that Bruce Banner could not replicate, being stronger as he was in other scientific areas, and the raccoon shared the same guise of loud noises and insensitive jokes that her Boss liked to use to blunder through any kind of emotional situation.

But other than those tiny, miniscule details, Friday just couldn’t see how they had become friends so fast. And after the chaos following the coordinated fight against the terrorist Azalel, she had thought that it couldn’t survive the animosity.

She had been dead wrong, which meant that the private workroom in the Compound was once again a constant danger to her Boss’s wellbeing.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Boss,” she said, modulating her voice to a thicker brogue to indicate her growing worry. After the last debrief, in which the alien Gamora had shared her and her brother’s private history, her Boss and the raccoon had shared an awkward moment in which she was sure both were trying to apologize for their behaviour. But instead of following through, they had tried to simply forget about it, so naturally one thing had led to another and now the two mechanics, after downloading and translating a huge package of engineering data for Boss, were trying to put together a sub-dermal translation transplant based off of a model most of the Guardians had been equipped with.

“I don’t see what the problem is, it’s perfectly safe if done right,” the raccoon scoffed while fiddling with a list of ingredients they were putting together. “Terra doesn’t have the right stuff, it’s only logical to see if we can substitute some.”

“Hear, hear,” Boss chimed in, far too gleeful for Friday’s taste. Not that being gleeful was anything she wouldn’t encourage, mind you. If only he wouldn’t be gleeful over this.

“Boss, need I remind you that the combination suggested is highly explosive when not treated right during not only the entire process of production and assembly, as well as afterwards? It is known to combust due to high temperature and high velocity of the compounds, which means that it might very well explode when shaken too hard.” This time, she tried her most deadpan voice, but to no avail. They only shared another look before adding even more dangerous elements to the list.

“We just need to find the right proportions and design the whole thing to absorb vibrations with an inner chamber for the elements itself… We could use vibranium for the outer shell! Won’t make it any cheaper, but mass production can wait. By the time we need these in larger numbers, we can probably set up some trade routes for kraghziev anyway.”

“If it’s true that you Terrans are loaded with silver, I won’t be surprised by that,” the raccoon said with a hint of greed. He never cared to hide it, otherwise Friday would have been even more suspicious of him. He was a bad enough influence on her Boss without him having hidden ulterior motives.

“I still don’t recommend the compounds used, Boss,” she insisted, already searching for alternatives to provide them with a safer solution. “Even with a vibranium corpus, the risk is simply too high. One tiny fracture would be enough to destabilize the whole design to the point where a simple train ride could prove lethal.”

“That’s what trial and error is for, Friday,” her Boss said dismissively, waving a hand at one of her cameras. “Relax, I won’t implant it first thing without testing the limits.”

Friday relented, if only with great reluctance, when one of her sensors went off. Curious, she followed the signal to its origin and located the source of the brief energy spike in the secondary R&D complex, first floor, right-wing side. After checking nearby security cameras, which didn’t provide her with footage of the room the spike had been registered in (she took note of the lack of cameras for her to use inside supply rooms), Friday notified security to go and check it out.

“Probable energy leakage in area 4, Boss,” she said, her brogue softened to a degree to indicate professionalism. “The reading is a bit weak, but there was a bit of Gamma radiation in the mix.”

“Contamination?”

“Too weak for that, barely above standard value.”

Her Boss rubbed his chin in contemplation. Friday idly followed the progress of the security personnel who made their way towards the supply room. “Maybe someone smuggled compounds from one of the laboratories. Tell security to be careful. When they find something suspicious they should call one of the supervisors of lab 10. Better not take the risk.”

“How very wise of you, Boss,” she said drily and sent the message to the two security men. One of them checked his phone and read the message aloud — they were now moving a bit more cautious towards the hallway. Friday changed to the body camera of the slightly taller man when they rounded the corner.

In the workroom, her Boss and the raccoon had started to squabble with each other over the overall design of the implant (which, in her opinion, was not nearly as important as the actual composition of the energy cell) when security opened the door. It took all three of them (both humans and Friday) a couple of seconds before they noticed the almost naked man behind the door, stripped to his underwear and bound and gagged quite firmly in smooth ropes.

“Intruder on the Compound. Silent Alarm engaged, following security code 12A.”

This time, it was her being just a little bit gleeful when both her Boss and the raccoon jumped at her calm announcement.

~~~

June 18th, 2015
Avengers Compound

Tonks is already on her way towards the main building of the Compound when her detection spell went off, alarming her that someone had found her stunned victim. Cursing her bad luck, she jogged the rest of the distance between both buildings and hastily ducked into the entrance hall of the main building.

Soon enough, just a couple minutes after her entrance, things started to change. The security details were in a state of alert, walking about in little groups of three or four people softly talking to each other and into their little earpieces. Tonks had to slink away more than once and even changed her appearance after noticing that they were looking for something or someone. Knowing that her victim had been found, it simply became too risky to walk around wearing his face, but the ID on her clothing was too obvious as well.

She cursed again when an announcement was broadcast throughout the Compound — a calm, female voice with a noticeable Irish accent asked all cleaning personnel to gather in some room or another, under the guise of a staff meeting which Tonks didn’t believe for a second. Taking a good look at one of the more well-dressed staff, she entered a toilet and started transfiguring her overalls into a crisp office outfit, copying the knee-long pencil skirt, the creme-coloured blouse and the dark woman’s blazer she had seen on a pretty red-head. After a moment of thought, she took the looks of her mother, Andromeda Tonks, with her heavy-lidded eyes and long, dark hair.

Making sure that nobody else had come into the men’s bathroom, Tonks then performed the Four Point spell yet again. This time, the direction was much more precise, pointing her to the north and upstairs. A fresh paper towel ended up as a suitcase which she took and then, after another moment of making sure that nobody would see her exit, she took off with a brisk pace, if a bit unsteady on the higher heels she wore.

Again the announcement of a gathering of the cleaning staff was made when suddenly the female speaker cut off. Clutching her suitcase like a possible blunt weapon, Tonks walked as fast as she could without breaking into a run. Something had gone terribly wrong, but she couldn’t rightly know what had given her away. She had counted it as bad luck when security had found the stunned man she had left behind, but now it seemed like someone had sniffed her out.

It was a subtle movement that caught her attention while contemplating how much the people working her already knew — one of the visible cameras, mounted high in a corner of the stairway she climbed up, changed its angle and was now directly pointing at her. She stopped, spooked by the sudden movement, and eyed the camera for a moment before she cautiously moved along. She was close to her goal, but it wouldn’t do to give herself away just yet, but she had a very bad feeling which skyrocketed into outright alarm when the camera followed her movements a bit too precisely.

When she heard the sound of multiple people closing in from both downstairs and down the hallway, she knew that she was busted and promptly took off in a run, kicking her transfigured shoes off. She heard a shout behind her.

“Oh, blast!”, she grunted and whipped out her wand. She had to be fast now. “Point me!”

~~~

June 18th, 2015
Avengers Compound

“Friday, update!”

“The intruder is moving along the eastern staircase, Captain. You should see them in a moment, just around that corner.”

The first silent alarm hadn’t bothered the Avengers themselves — it only notified security, not the residents of the main building. When the second silent alarm rang, however, Steve had been notified too, as well as his other team members. He had been in the gym when Friday told him that an intruder was making their way towards the Avengers, and warned him that said person was apparently able to change their appearance.

“You better hurry, Cap. Friday told me they came prepared — found them wearing Pepper’s outfit, of all things, after they ditched the cleaning guise!” Tony’s voice sounded mighty annoyed to Steve, but he couldn’t begrudge him that. The Compound was supposed to be as safe as can be, and yet this was the second time in a week that outsiders had made their way into it. Granted, the first time it had been friends of their again-allies and they had used a giant spaceship to boot, but he knew Tony well enough to know that that barely counted as an excuse — the man was already muttering something about an enforced dome to enclose the Compound with (or better yet, the whole planet, which was why Steve had taken Pepper to the side just yesterday to forewarn her on that notion).

Skidding around the corner, with Sam and Peter Quill behind him (both had accompanied him to the gym, though poor Sam had to explain most of the equipment to Peter for the most time), Steve quickly caught a glimpse of their intruder — it was a woman, and a tall one too, currently kicking her high-heeled shoes off her now-naked feet. There was a curtain of long, dark hair hiding her face and she didn’t bother to look up before taking a run.

Well, Steve didn’t wait either. “Wait! Stand still!” he shouted, legs and arms pumping as he tried to catch up with her. She certainly was fast, but he was faster.

He had nearly caught up to her when she whirled around. He caught a glimpse of heavy-lidded, dark-grey eyes and a classically beautiful face before his attention was drawn towards a wooden stick in her hands. She muttered something under her breath and suddenly his feet locked up, the momentum of his run dragging him forward into a fall. Catching himself with his outstretched arms, he only just avoided falling face-first onto the cold marble-floor — the woman was already running again and was around the next corner when his feet finally moved again.

“She’s running towards the guest quarters,” Steve realized. A muttered curse made him hesitate just for a moment, and then Peter sprinted past him, a panicked look on his face.

“Friday, give them a warning!” He knew that Wanda and Vision were visiting with Mantis — both her and Drax had healed up quite fast and had decided to rejoin their friends in their quarters. It was a very real possibility that the intruder was after the Stone. Who else was there right now?

~~~

June 18th, 2015
Avengers Compound

The door was wide open, which was the exact reason why she slashed her wand downwards the moment she entered. Something fierce and red, like a knife made out of scarlet mist, hit her shield and splashed across it.

Tonks only had a moment to assess the situation before she dove behind the next piece of furniture, which proved to be a large, charcoal-grey armchair. There was lots of shouting going on, but she didn’t bother to listen to it.

She had seen Harry, next to a burly blue guy and a bit away from two slender women and a hulking red-grey man wearing only a pair of pants.

“Show yourself!” a female voice called her out. Tonks didn’t comply right away — instead, she adopted a slightly different look, one that wasn’t so akin to her mother but similar anyway.

“Okay, I give in!” she then cried out, just as two other people burst in. One was the blonde man that had chased her through the hallway; the other one was similar in high, but not nearly as muscled. Both wore loose training outfits and had no weapons on them, which was why she chose to rather face the others, one of whom had fired the scarlet stuff at her.

When she peered around the armchair, she noticed quickly that another person had joined the fray — it was the Vision, just as red and steely as he had been on the pictures, floating next to the brunette woman who had her hands raised, the scarlet mist twirling between her fingers.

Scarlet Witch, her memory supplied. She clung onto her wand, which was still hidden behind the furniture, and eyed Harry, who had brought up a mean-looking firearm.

“She has a weapon, too,” the blond man supplied. He had stepped behind her, still a few feet away. She was surrounded, but that didn’t bother her too much. All she needed was one good shot.

“Yeah, I’d rather keep that if you don’t mind,” Tonks said easily and jumped into action. Ventus! She whirled her wand above her head, sending a brisk wind exploding outwards. The motion ended in another slash for a silent Protego, catching both an energy bolt from Harry’s weapon (and had he just aimed directly at her head? Rude!) as well as another from the Vision. Her shield cracked audibly and she let go of it when the strain became too high. A soft “Fumos” poured a thick smokescreen into the room instead and she crouched low.

“Homenum Revelio,” was but a whisper on her lips. Curiously enough, only half of the people lit up in a faint, golden light.

She knew her target, however, and amidst the confused and alarmed outcries, Tonks used the seconds she had gained for a more intricate spell that Dumbledore himself had taught her before her trip to America. “Conscientia Monitor Totalis!!” she cried, and a bolt of light shot out of her wand and hit Harry’s silhouette dead-centre. Then, just as the smoke was clearing out (the Scarlet Witch was at fault for that, using her powers to move the smoke away), Tonks spun around on the spot, nearly escaping capture by supersoldier, and popped away, only to reappear moments later at the Apparition point of Wand Street.

Chapter Text

Thank you, dear readers, for your ongoing love and support. Without your help, it would have been very hard indeed to keep writing this story, but you kept me motivated, something I can only repay you in one way: continuing to write.

Thank you, dear beta-readers! There have been a few that helped out in a pinch, for one chapter or the other. Thank you, Nalla and NeonKnight - Nalla for staying with me for a long way and NeonKnight for offering me your help from here on out.

But most of all, thank you, dear EssayOfThoughts. You have been the one main reason for this story to still exist. Without you, I would have given up a long time ago, but you continuously kicked my lazy arse and helped me with the plot and with the characters. Especially Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, Clint Barton and Vision (but also others, if not that strongly impacted) are more yours than mine, and I never once regretted that.

This story will continue on the 18th of August. During the last weeks of July and the first weeks of August, there are multiple birthday parties and other meetings I want to attend to, so I will use this chance to take a break and prepare (and pre-write) the next part of the series. We will take a look at the past of Magical Britain and introduce a few characters that may or may not become important for the main story later on.

Hope to see you soon and stay tuned,

your Kiterou!