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A Song Among the Stars, Vol. 3 : Halcyon Rising

Chapter Text

The seasons on Xandar were quick in changing; just since Adam had moved in with the Guardians, they had finished out a balmy summer, watched the colorful passing of autumn, weathered a dry and chilly winter, and seen the new growth of spring bloom around them.  Then, another summer had passed seemingly in the blink of an eye, bringing with it long, hot days and humid nights. Now the autumn was upon them again, turning the trees on the Nova campus brilliant reds and golds and putting morning frost on the windows of the Guardians' apartment.  

As the year had progressed through its cycle of seasons, Adam had undergone his own metamorphosis.  The wide-eyed, wondering being that Quill had pulled from a downed Sovereign ship had grown considerably more independent.  He was studying laboriously under the tutelage of a bizarre being that he simply called Eternity; Peter had never met this being and knew very little about him, but the lessons he provided Adam with were apparently indispensable.  Just in the year or so since Adam had first met Eternity while on a journey in the Soul Realm, the former had developed not only a greater understanding of himself, but a grasp on his magical powers that was scarcely to be believed.

"I always had them," Adam had told Quill matter-of-factly after returning from one of his lessons (these he attended in spirit alone, leaving his body laying comfortably under Mantis' watchful eye).  "When I was reborn into this body, it was simply a matter of reactivating them."

Quill, who recalled the few times that Adam's powers had manifested rather explosively, was certainly glad that Eternity's lessons were effective.

Lately, Adam was entertaining himself by performing simple spells around the house- one to clean up a cup of coffee he had spilled, another that organized the refrigerator in order of expiration date.  It was all clever work, but Adam was clearly unsatisfied by it. "I'm capable of much greater things," he had once sighed loudly while he sat with his lover on the balcony.

"You'll have plenty of chances to practice," Quill had replied, planting a kiss on the being's warm golden brow.  "Just... not right now."

"You promised you wouldn't coddle me."

"I can't help it.  You're in a delicate state."

Adam had sighed even more loudly, but said nothing else.  His father had warned him several times that practicing magic in his current condition could be dangerous both to himself and the new life within him, and Adam was not one to argue with his father.

Today, a crisp morning bright with autumn sunshine, Quill was stretched out on his bed, watching Adam sort through their wardrobe in search of a particular piece of clothing.

"None of this fits me anymore," the being complained as he rifled through silk tops and linen robes.

"What did you expect?  You're huge."

Adam shot him a rather baneful look.  "This little monster of yours kept me up half the night, kicking me in my ribs."

Quill laughed a little.  "Dad said that's what Titan babies are like.  Squirmy."

Apparently giving up his search, Adam approached the bed and lowered himself carefully onto it.  He was nearly 8 months pregnant now, and while he was never an especially agreeable person, he had become particularly crabby as of late.  Quill could hardly blame him; while the Sovereign people were by all means a race meant for bearing children, Titan children were a different breed altogether.  Their unborn offspring was fond of kicking Adam at all hours of the day and night. There were also the random and intense food cravings as the baby leeched Adam's nutrients.  The being's ankles were swollen, and recently he had developed painful spasms in his back and middle which the High Evolutionary called "practice contractions". None of this left him in a very good mood.

"I can't wait to have this creature out of me," he said, stretching luxuriously.  "It will be so nice to have my body to myself again."

"And to meet our child."

"That, too."

Quill sat up, reaching to take Adam's bony shoulders into his hands.  He kneaded the tense muscles, and Adam sighed.

"Think about how much fun we're gonna have.  Feeding the baby, dressing the baby, playing with the baby."  Quill kissed his partner's curly hair, which had grown out into an attractive bob.  Leaning forward further, he wrapped his arms around Adam's chest, holding him tight.  "You're giving me everything I ever wanted."

Adam hummed in response.  Quill held him a moment, locking him in a loving embrace, until finally the being began to squirm like a restless cat.  Quill released him and he rose.

"I should like to go for a walk," he said, straightening his silky robe over his hips.  "The weather is very nice."

Quill got to his feet as well, saying, "Well, let's put a coat on.  You'll catch a chill."

When Adam had gotten himself bundled to his partner's satisfaction, Quill pulled on his jacket and offering his arm to the being.  Adam took it graciously and allowed Quill to lead him into the hallway, smiling dazzlingly at him.

"Everyone keeps telling me that parenthood is a look I'm well-suited to.  But I find that it looks rather better on you."

"Oh, please," Quill replied, nuzzling Adam affectionately.  "You're glowing."

"Would you two get a room?"

Both looked up; it was Gamora, standing in the open doorway of the apartment and watching them with a raised eyebrow.  After a moment of watching the pair with her usual disdain, she let a smile break onto her face. The scars that had resulted from her burning at the hands of the Matriarch had faded to almost nothing, Quill realized, simply a vague spider-web of lines over the smooth green of her face.  Her hair was still short, but that was because she had decided that she liked the look.

“What brings you here?” Quill asked, stepping aside to let her pass into the apartment.

“Just picking up a few things.  Drax was fixing a few of my tops for me, and I can’t use Richard’s shampoo anymore.  Are you two headed out?”

“Yeah, Adam wants to take a walk.”

“Well, don’t let me slow you down.”

As Quill and Adam made their way to the exit, Quill glanced one more time over his shoulder.  He found Gamora watching Adam in a rather appraising way. Her eyes seemed to stick at his middle, and she blinked slowly, smiling.  Quill had seen her look at Adam like this on several occasions- fondly, almost tenderly. Her demeanor towards him had changed drastically as well; when he had first been rescued from his downed ship, Gamora had suspected him of being a spy for Ayesha.  But the events following had done more than enough to prove that Adam was no such thing, and so Gamora seemed more than happy to accept him into the Guardians’ fold. And, since the incident aboard the Matriarch’s templeship, the two even showed signs of becoming friends.  This was an encouraging thought to Quill. Adam had a long road ahead of him, it seemed, and he would need all the friends he could get.

They left the apartment behind, eventually emerging onto the street below the complex.  As usual, it was bathed in sunlight and crawling with the denizens of Xandar’s capital city.  To their immediate left, a small commuter dirigible was taking off, carrying a crowd of workers to their various jobs.  To the right, vendors had overtaken the street in a bustling open-air market. They hollered and crowed the praises of their various products, some of them holding handfuls of fresh fruit or waving silk scarves in the air.

Adam headed immediately in this direction, pulling Quill along.  The being had developed a love for markets of all sorts, and an even greater love for buying any small, frivolous item that caught his eye.

“Perhaps we can find some baby clothes,” he said as they made their way into the crowd.

“More?  My dad just sent us a whole bundle!”

“And they’re very lovely.  But they’re all made from velvet and fur, much too warm for day-to-day wear.  It’s not quite as cold here as it is on Titan, after all.”

Peter conceded to that.  As they walked, the throngs around them seemed to part automatically, and Quill was under no false impressions that it was the presence of Star-Lord that commanded such respect.  Adam had become somewhat of a local legend: the beautiful and mysterious Sovereign who had appeared seemingly from nowhere, making himself right at home amongst Xandar’s resident team of crime-fighters.  Whenever he emerged from the seclusion of the Guardians’ apartment, everyone he encountered seemed to be dazzled by him. The faces that turned to him now were all alight with awe. Adam, who by all means reveled in this attention, was preening.

“I don’t think anyone even sees me,” Quill said good-naturedly.

They walked peacefully among the stalls and carts for a while.  Adam browsed the goods on display with only a remote sort of interest, although the shopkeepers were eager to welcome him.  Quill watched in amusement as they brought out their finest goods to show off, seeking the approval of the Sovereign. Most of these proffered items he politely declined, but once or twice, Quill caught a sparkle in Adam’s eye.  However, he refrained from buying anything until he came across a stall selling a vast array of miniature items of clothing. This he was properly entranced by, grasping Quill’s arm and humming.

“Oh, look,” he said, lifting a little silk shawl from the stand to admire it.  “How precious.”

The elderly Xandarian woman watching the stall was smiling at him.  “What are you having?”

“A baby, eventually,” Adam replied, barely looking up at her.

“She means, what gender,” Quill explained quietly.

“Oh.  We don’t know, we’ve decided to let it be a surprise.”

The woman gave a knowing nod, and went on to help Adam make a selection of tiny garments.  She packaged them and waved goodbye as the couple departed.

“Are people around here always so interested in expectant mothers?” Adam asked, watching her over his shoulder.

“Yeah, people seem to get a real kick out of it.  You being gorgeous doesn’t hurt anything, though.”

Adam laughed pleasantly.  Then he pulled a face, his brow creasing.  “By the stars, the little devil kicked me again.”

They left the market behind and took a lengthy stroll around the downtown area.  Eventually, Adam began to grow visibly weary; he was carrying a great deal of extra weight, of course, and didn’t boast the stamina that he had once had.  Quill turned for home at once.

“There are still so many arrangements I must make,” Adam sighed as they were reaching the foot of the apartment complex.  “Father wants to see me again.”

“Another check-up?” Quill responded nervously.  The prospect of seeing Adam’s father was not one he enjoyed- even after all the help the High Evolutionary had provided when Quill and Adam were attempting to conceive, Quill could not help but be anxious around him.  Adam, to his credit, understood completely.

“I suppose he is rather intimidating,” the being had said once, shortly after Quill’s first meeting with the High Evolutionary.  “But you’ll warm up to him eventually, I’m sure.”

Quill had not; the very thought of the great, masked man sent a chill down his spine.

“Another check-up,” Adam was saying presently, “and to finalize my plans for giving birth, when the time comes.”

That time was coming incredibly soon, Quill reminded himself, watching the great swell of Adam’s middle as they boarded the elevator.  In a few short weeks, he would be a father. Life would never be the same again; that thought was frightening, but it was also delightful.  He had longed since young adulthood for children of his own, for the responsibility of their care and the unconditional love they begot. He had given that dream up for many years, when it had seemed the Universe would never bless him with a lover.  Yet, here he was, carrying a bundle of baby clothes and wondering whether he would have a son or a daughter.

“We still haven’t decided on a name,” Adam said when they were back in the apartment, shedding their warm clothes.

“Meredith for a girl,” Quill replied at once.  It had been his response to this question from the very beginning.

“You seem very sure that I’m carrying your daughter,” Adam said, smiling at his mate.

Quill, reaching out for Adam’s elbow to pull him close for a kiss, grinned and whispered, “It’s just a feeling.”

Chapter Text

Adam stood before the full length mirror in the room he and Quill shared, contemplating his reflection at great length.  Pregnancy was not an unflattering condition from a distance, he decided. The people that cooed over him in the streets, the shopkeepers who inquired after the gender of his child, even the other Guardians-- they saw only the soft glow of new life on him.  The swell of his middle was endearing, and admittedly the condition brought with it some pleasant perks: his hair was luxuriously shiny, his skin dewy, and Quill insisted that he gave off a pleasant smell. What they did not see, however, was his aching back, or the hours he spent laying in bed, unable to sleep for the baby wriggling about inside him.  

His lack of sleep left him short-tempered, he knew; more than once he had snapped at poor Quill.  This, he chided himself for relentlessly. The last person who deserved to be the object of his ire was his incredibly gentle and patient partner.  He had taken Adam's array of hormonal changes in graceful stride. He rubbed Adam's back and feet when they were sore. He stayed up late to keep Adam company when sleep evaded him, and went obediently at odd hours to fetch whatever strange food Adam was craving.  Moreover, he was all aglow with the anticipation of fatherhood. He longed for the day he could hold and play with his child. Adam could not be moody in this face of his positivity for long.

"Are you at all worried that Peter doesn't realize what he's signed up for?" Gamora had asked a few days ago, while Adam was watching her practice with her staff.

"What do you mean?" Adam replied.

"He's excited, of course, but do you think he realizes just how much work babies are?  He said himself that he's never been around them before."

"Have you?"

"No, but I know what they're like.  Lots of screaming and teething. And excreting."

Adam had glanced at the swell of his stomach before steepling his fingers over it.  "I think he knows all that."

Gamora shrugged and resumed her practice.  Adam, meanwhile, had quickly withdrawn into thoughtful silence.  Gamora's question had been purely well-meaning, he knew, but they had stirred the already-existing insecurities in him.  He didn't worry so much for Quill; he knew that the man's enthusiasm and gentle, affectionate nature would take him far in the world of parenthood.  His concern was largely on his own behalf. He knew almost nothing of children; he had been raised in a world absent of them. His father had introduced him to young animals, of course, but how like a baby could they be?

He stared into his own coppery eyes.  Had he aged, he wondered? He was older, certainly, but did his face show it?  Looking at himself, he still saw a yellow-haired boy, doe-eyed and pretty but of little substance.

He tore his gaze from the mirror and looked around the room.  Dusk was falling, coloring the air a hazy golden. Adam gave himself a shake.

"Little one," he said, addressing his belly. "What do you fancy we should call you?"

As if in response, Adam felt the twinge of movement.  He laid a hand over the taut skin and closed his eyes.  Then, with a sigh, he said, "For your father's sake, I hope you are a girl.  Although from what I hear about Titan women, that may not be in my best interest."

There was a gentle tap on the door.  Adam looked up to find Mantis peeking at him around it, her long antennae twitching.

"Are you ready for our session?" She asked.

"I suppose.  Although I must admit, I would much rather have supper with my family than visit that old windbag for another lesson."

"Can't you miss a class?" Mantis stepped into the room, accompanying Adam to the bed.

"Not without getting an earful about my responsibilities the next time I see him."

Adam settled on his side in the bed, facing Mantis.  She smiled tenderly at him, reaching to place her hand on his forehead.  In seconds, he had drifted into a deep sleep, leaving his worldly troubles far behind.

 

He met Eternity in a pocket of space he had informally titled The Star-Hall.  This was an apt description; it was an enormous cavern made up of void, stars speckling the walls and floor.  The ceiling was lost in darkness. The room had to be tall, of course, because Eternity himself was a creature almost beyond comprehension in size.  

When Adam arrived, the titanic being was standing in his usual place at the foot of the great hall.  He watched Adam evenly as he approached.

"Nice of you to arrive on time," he said at length.

"It's nice of me to arrive at all," Adam replied tartly.  "Do you have any idea how much of my own life I have missed out on because you call me here twice a week?"

Eternity cocked his great, antlered head.  "I see you have yet to be relieved of your burden."

Adam glanced down.  He came to the Star-Hall free of all earthly encumbrance, clothes included, but he took his little passenger along with him.

"Soon, with any luck," Adam replied.  "And then, you really will have to stop pestering me a while.  I refuse to miss time with my own child."

"My curse," Eternity sighed, "is being saddled with a champion who allows personal frivolity to come between himself and universal salvation."

Adam rolled his eyes.  "Let's get on with it, then."

With one last vaguely baneful look at Adam, Eternity turned away.  “Today, I wanted to touch upon the very nature of your being. I feel that it is something you still fail to grasp.”

Adam wished he had some sour retort to this, but Eternity was right.  Adam’s own existence was, to him, entirely a mystery. He knew that he had lived before, as a prince of the Sovereign and a galactic peacekeeper.  Through the efforts of the High Evolutionary, he had been reborn into his current shape-- in Eternity’s mind, so that he could continue his work battling evil the galaxy over.  This was the first among many points of contention between these two beings.

And so, Adam watched Eternity silently, awaiting further explanation.

“You and I are not so different, in the grand scheme of things,” the being said.  “We are both forces beyond the laws of Nature or the order of the Universe. Your soul, in all its shapes and forms, has existed for longer than time itself.”

Adam blinked a few times.  “I have lived more than twice?”

“Many, many times.  Not always as some galactic herald or prince of peace.  Not always as any recognizable creature. But you have always existed.”

Adam took a moment to look down at his hands, shimmering golden in the dimness of the Star-Hall.  Strangely, Eternity’s words did not come as a surprise. It was as though he had already had this information stored somewhere deep inside him, awaiting rediscovery.  He studied the tips of his fingers and sighed.

“What’s more,” Eternity went on, “is that you have not typically been an easy creature to get a hold of.  I have spent more time than I care to admit keeping track of you, attempting to guide you on the path you were meant for.  Sometimes I lost you for a century or two, only to have you turn up on some backwater at the other end of the Universe, reborn once more.  So imagine my distress when, shortly after getting my hands on you at last, you decide to run off with some half-grown Titan boy and beget a child.”

Adam was bristling at this.  “You are a more presumptuous thing than I at first gave you credit for,” he said coldly.  “What ever convinced you that my very existence was a means to your end? Whatever end that might be.”

“I have the best interest of the Universe at heart.  And you happen to be a key player in the-”

“I never asked to be!” Adam cut him off.  “Can’t you find someone else?”

“You are a wholly unique being, Adam.  And the Church has already put their sinister plans into motion; only you can stand against them.”

“Oh, confound it all, I don’t want to!  I want to go home to the apartment and call up my father so I can make plans for the birth of my child.  And after that, I want to spend time with my own family, unbothered by the outside world. Is that so much to ask?”

Eternity was looking down at him with an air of decided consternation.  “You are still young,” he said at length. “There is much you do not understand.  Suffice it to say that if you do not stand up against the Church, there will be no outside world for you to hide away from.  They will unmake the very Universe and rebuild it in their own image. An image, you will find, that looks startlingly like you.”

Adam threw his hands up in dismay.  “There is no end to this, is there? Send me home!  I have not the mind for one of your lessons today.”

Eternity gave an enormous sigh, so low and loud that it shook the walls of the Star-Hall and made the ground under Adam tremble.  “Very well, you blasted brat. Go home and make ready for the arrival of your child. I will let you be a while. Perhaps it will give you time to think on what I have said.”

“Indeed,” Adam replied, turning away from the being and closing his eyes.

 

When he opened them once more, he was back in he and Quill’s bedroom, with Mantis perched peacefully at his side.

“That wasn’t a very long lesson,” she said upon seeing that he had awakened.

“No lesson today,” Adam replied.  “We had a bit of a disagreement.”

Mantis nodded solemnly.  “I think it’s best if you get up now, anyway.  We’re all going to have supper, and Peter says he has a surprise planned for you.”

The thought cheered Adam instantly.  Quill’s surprises were always of the most pleasant variety- bouquets of flowers or beautifully frosted cakes, and once an unexpected trip to the zoo.  So he changed quickly into something suitable for dinner and made his way to the dining room.

The rest were there already- Drax, Rocket, and Groot, as well as Richard and Gamora.  Quill was nowhere to be seen.

Adam settled at the table, which was already being laid out with a veritable feast by Drax.  “I made your favorite stew,” the man said as Adam sat. Since the beginning of Adam’s pregnancy, Drax had been extremely attentive of him.  Quill had told him privately that this was because Drax had had a family of his own once- a wife and a daughter- so he was well-versed in domestic life.  The thought made Adam rather sad.

At last, Quill emerged from the bathroom, groomed to his absolute neatest.  Adam fluttered his eyelashes as the man approached, taken aback as he sometimes was by Quill’s handsomeness.

“My darling,” he said, beaming as Quill settled next to him.

“Hi, sweetheart.  After dinner, I thought you and I could go up to the roof for a while.”

Quill had taken him to the roof only once before, to watch a spectacular meteor shower in the early spring.  It was a lovely spot that commanded views of much of the city; it was also a spot that Quill reserved for special occasions.

All throughout dinner, the man seemed nervous.  He scarcely touched his food, and Adam noticed that he was drumming his fingers anxiously on the table.  At last, he grew a bit concerned. “Is everything alright?” He asked, reaching to lay his hand over Quill’s.

“Oh, yeah,” Quill replied, beaming at him.  “Everything’s just dandy.”

Adam smiled.  When they had finished eating, they said good night to their friends and started on the way to the roof.  It was slow going, with Adam in his present condition. The elevator only extended to the top floor- from there, it was a long flight of stairs to get onto the flat portion of the apartment complex’s glass roof.

“Are you doing alright?” Quill asked halfway up, laying his big hand on the small of Adam’s back.

“I’m perfectly fine,” Adam replied.  “I can still go up stairs!”

Eventually they reached their destination.  Outdoors, the wind was chilly, but not unpleasantly so.  The suns had just set, leaving a yellowish glow on the western horizon.  Directly above, the stars were beginning to show through, twinkling in the deep navy of the sky.

“Let’s sit down,” Quill suggested, guiding Adam to a suitable spot.  “There’s a real special show going on tonight.”

He helped Adam into a sitting position, then sat nearby and offered a hand.  Adam took it readily.

“Won’t be long now,” Quill said, motioning skyward.  Adam followed his gaze, up to the highest arch of the sky.  There, the stars were brightest. And there, as he watched, the show Quill had promised was beginning.  First, it was no more than a strange aura of pale light, as if a thin haze of clouds was catching the last of the sunlight.  But, as Adam watched, it became something else altogether: a ribbon of color, deep grass-green and tinged with pink. It shimmered and danced before his eyes, expanding until the sky above them was filled with the wavering hues.  Adam opened his mouth in awe.

“Pretty gorgeous, right?” Quill asked.  “It’s the aurora. You can only see it here for a few nights every year.”

“It is lovely,” Adam replied, tearing his eyes briefly from the phenomena above to look at his lover.  Quill was gazing skyward, his face lit by the heavenly glow from above. Adam thought suddenly of Eternity.  Was there any truth to what he had said? Adam wondered. Was he truly alone, the only being able to stand up the the Church and prevent them carrying out their wicked plans?

He shook himself of this negative thoughts, focusing instead on how the green of the aurora made the green of Quill’s eyes seem even more vibrant.  He had the same eyes as his mother. Adam had met her only briefly, in the Soul Realm. She had been a charming woman, if rather cryptic. She had left Adam with two riddles- one was simply a number: five .  The other was slightly more informative.  She had instructed that, when Peter asked a certain question, Adam was to tell him yes.  What the question would be, Adam could not begin to guess.

“Adam,” Quill said suddenly, shaking him from his reverie.

“Yes, my love?”

“I brought you up here to see the aurora.  But that wasn’t the only reason. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now.”

Adam watched with curiosity as Quill dug in his pocket for something.  Eventually he pulled out a small black box, no larger than the palm of his hand.  This, he opened and proffered to Adam. Adam was rather surprised to find that inside the box was a ring- a golden ring set with a large, glittering red stone.  It was a beautiful piece of jewelry, and Adam smiled. He looked from the ring to Quill, preparing to thank him for such a lovely gift. But Quill looked deeply and uncharacteristically somber.

“Adam,” he said, his voice hushed, but even.  “Will you marry me?”

Chapter Text

The ring that Adam returned from his brief outing with Quill sporting was an attractive gold band with a very large, glittering red stone set in it; Gamora wondered to herself if Quill had chosen it on his own. If he had been aiming for exactly the kind of showy thing that Adam was sure to be fond of, then he had outdone himself. It sat on Adam's second-to-last finger like a ball of fire, gleaming in the apartment's low light.

"This is wonderful," Mantis was saying, looking rather teary-eyed. "Our two dear friends, to be bound to each other in spiritual harmony."

Adam preened. Beside him, Quill looked nothing short of giddy. His cheeks were rosy, and he had been grinning since they had reentered the room. Gamora, of course, had known of his plan for weeks, and of how anxious he had been to ask Adam. She didn't entirely understand why; there had been no real question in anyone's mind that Adam would say yes. He had been Quill's pet since his arrival here, and had Quill wrapped around his little finger just as long. Their bond was a fierce one, and they had eyes solely for each other. But in the same measure, she remembered all of the heartbreak that Quill had experienced before their meeting. The hesitation was merely a symptom of all the disappointment he had experienced. Gamora watched them stand close, Quill's arm around Adam's waist and Adam's head resting on his shoulder.

"When will you do the ceremony?" Richard asked.

"We haven't decided," Quill replied. "There's so much to talk about. But I know that the autumn on Titan is starting soon, so maybe we'll do it then."

Adam smiled rather foolishly. To Gamora, he didn't seem to have heard Richard's question. He had turned his golden eyes to Quill and was watching the man as though hypnotized by him. Her gaze fell to the swell of his belly. He was due to give birth within weeks. The thought troubled her strangely. It was not that she didn't trust Quill and Adam to be loving and attentive parents, but simply that they were both deeply inexperienced in the area of domestic life. She hoped that it wouldn't be a decision either came to regret.

"Let us celebrate with drinks," Drax was saying. "Adam, I will make you something free of alcohol, in the interest of your child."

They drank, as they were wont to do, until the wee hours of the morning. By the time Gamora was dizzy to her satisfaction, the earliest hints of dawn were lighting the horizon. She looked to Richard.

"Ready to go?" She asked.

Richard, who was leaning in close to Quill and appeared to be giving him quiet advice of some kind, sat up at once. "Remember all that, okay?" He said to Quill, who nodded blearily. As he came to Gamora's side, he leaned in to peck her cheek fondly. "Getting tired?"

"A little," she admitted. That was not the real reason she was eager to depart. "I wanted to ask you something. In private."

He raised an eyebrow. Then, with a wave to the rest, he said, "Get to bed soon, everyone. And congratulations again, you two."

With calls of goodbye from the Guardians, they departed arm-in-arm. As they started down the stairs to head in the direction of their own apartment, Richard said, "What's on your mind, green bean?"

"Do you think Adam understands what he agreed to tonight?"

Richard was thoughtfully silent a moment. "About as much as he understood what having a baby meant when he agreed to that."

Gamora frowned. The decision to conceive a child had been a sudden one on Quill and Adam's part. Gamora had her suspicions on where the idea had suddenly come from; she had spent enough time around Adam's father, the High Evolutionary, during her convalescence to know that he had an almost unseemly interest in Adam's potential offspring. He was a being whose sole purpose in life was the pursuit of genetic perfection- his name alone made that clear, which was to say nothing of his laboratory littered with failed experiments, and his fierce love for the sum of his accomplishments thus far- Adam himself. What was more was his special fascination with the Titans. All of this was evidence enough for her to believe that he had influenced Adam's sudden desire for a baby. The thought was an unpleasant one, and part of Gamora hoped she was wrong.

"I think Pete means well," Richard was continuing as they reached the street. "He really loves Adam, and this is the next step in his mind. We're Terrans, after all, and when we fall in love we tend to get married."

"Oh?" Gamora replied, giving him a grin. He chuckled.

"What I'm saying is, Pete's got the right spirit. They are having a baby, after all, so it's not like they wouldn't be tethered together for the rest of their lives anyway."

"It sounds so serious when it put it that way."

"It is pretty serious, I guess. But I don't doubt that they belong together. Hell, I think they were made for each other. Two parts of one whole, you know?"

She nodded, glancing up at the continually lightening sky. "Do you think we're like that?"

Richard sighed. "Maybe. I won't lie to you, I don't think we have the same thing they do. I don't think I'd want to, honestly. It seems exhausting."

Gamora laughed. "I think you're right."

They crossed the quiet street to the Nova campus, where they had been living together for several weeks. Gamora had decided to move in with Richard while vacationing on Terra. They had done and seen a lot together, and it was enough to convince her to take the proverbial next step in their relationship. Besides, it was nice to move out of the crowded, noisy apartment she had shared with the Guardians before.

They passed the night guardsman and made their way into the tower. As they reached the door to their apartment, Gamora paused to glance over her shoulder at Richard. "Do I worry too much?"

"Maybe a little." He leaned in to kiss her, pushing a curl of short black hair behind her ear. "But that's alright. I love you anyway."

-----

Gamora was shaken abruptly from sleep by the keening beep of her transmitter. She groaned, rolling onto her back and extending an arm to the bedside table, where she groped for the small device. Beside her, Richard snored, apparently undisturbed.

She clicked the device to audio-only mode and said hoarsely, "Hello?"

"She's answering," came a small feminine voice from the speaker. "Everyone be quiet."

"Spirit, is that you?" Gamora said, sitting up.

"Yeah, it's us. We're calling because we got a lead to the Church."

Gamora was instantly wide awake. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood. "Well, start talking."

"We heard some people talking about a guy named Korvac, who apparently works for the Matriarch. She's sending him all over the place looking for young men to recruit as warriors."

Gamora's heart dropped. "That is bad news. Do you know where he is now?"

"That's why we're calling. We followed him to this old abandoned outpost on Rajak. He's all alone, no bodyguards or anything."

"What is he doing out there?"

"No idea. We figured now might be a good time for you to get the Guardians over here to interrogate him."

"Good thinking," Gamora replied, and despite not having a visual of the girl's face, she knew that Spirit was beaming. "Don't get too close. We'll be right over."

She hung up the transmitter and turned to find Richard sitting up in bed behind her. "What was that about?"

"It was the girls. They have a lead on the Church."

Richard bit his lip, looking uneasy. "Are you sure you're ready? We haven't bumped into them since-"

"Of course I'm ready. The sooner we get our hands on the Matriarch, the sooner no one will have to worry about the Church any more."

Gamora got dressed quickly, not bothering to smooth her hair or fix her makeup. She left Richard behind and hurried back to the Guardians' apartment. Her knocking was answered by Quill, who was looking tired but smiling readily.

"Howdy," he said. "What brings you here at... 6 in the morning?"

"The girls called me just now to tell me that they have a lead on the Church. We have to move quickly, because he's mobile."

"Damn," Quill replied at once, the smile falling from his face.

"What's wrong?"

"Adam and I were supposed to go see his dad for a check-up today. He's due in a month."

"It can't wait? We really need you."

Quill sighed. "Adam's gonna be pissed, but I guess we can push it back a few days."

With an approving nod, Gamora brushed past him to rouse the rest. Soon all of them save Adam were gathered, grumbling, in the kitchen.

"We finally get some action, and it has to be at the crack of dawn," Rocket mumbled, rubbing at his eyes.

"No complaining," Gamora replied. "We might have just had a lucky break."

"What do we know about this Morvac?" Drax asked.

"Korvac," Gamora replied, "and not much. Just that he's recruiting people for the Church. The girls tracked him to Rajak and discovered his hideaway. He doesn't know about them."

"Then we have an advantage."

"Hopefully."

There was little else said among them as they started off for the hangar where Aurora was docked. Quill moved ahead so as to be the first to the ship. Gamora smirked. If his relationship with Adam was close, it was only rivaled by the bond he had forged with Aurora's sentient navigator. When they had all climbed aboard, Quill said, "Did you miss me, honey?"

"You bet I did," SHIP answered. She had a sweet voice and a tender demeanor, especially where Quill was concerned. "Where are we headed?"

"To Rajak, chasing another bad guy."

"You've got it."

There was no call for anyone to man the cockpit while SHIP was in control. She was perfectly capable of guiding them where they needed to go. For this Gamora was grateful, because it gave them time to plot.

"We'll need a distraction," Gamora said, looking immediately to Rocket.

"My specialty," he responded with a fangy grin.

"I am Groot."

"You're right about that, buddy. It has been too long."

"Drax, send a message to Stellaris for their exact coordinates," Gamora continued. "We'll meet up with them when we get there." Drax moved quickly to obey.

"Mantis," Gamora said. "You stick with Peter and I. We might need your help subduing this guy."

They made the jump to hyperspace. It was about two hours to Rajak; Gamora was thankful that the trip wasn't longer. She was already itchy all over, anxious to get her feet on the ground in pursuit of this man. This was the first they had heard of the Church in months; apparently the direct attack by the Guardians had frightened the Matriarch, and she had decided to lay low until their forces were bolstered. But if she was recruiting, that meant she had plans of a reemergence in the near future. Now was their chance to stamp those efforts out.

Gamora settled in a low seat by the port window, where she could fix her gaze on the velvet-black void beyond. Soon, she felt something brush her shoulder, and looked up to see Mantis watching her with black eyes.

"What are you going to do if we get the information we need from this man?" She asked.

Gamora heaved a sigh. "I don't really know yet. I guess we'll have to get the Corps involved, because I doubt we'll be able to take the Church down alone."

"Perhaps if we found a way to take out the Matriarch first, the rest would crumble. A snake without a head?"

Gamora had considered this option thoroughly. "I doubt she left them unprepared for the event of her death. But it's worth a shot."

Mantis sensed that she was pensive and let her be. Gamora spent the remainder of the trip in thoughtful silence, contemplating the vastness of space.

Eventually, the bump of a drop from hyperspeed awakened her; she had dozed off with her head against the cool window. She got to her feet at once, making her way to the cockpit to look at at the green planet looming before them. She was familiar with the bustling, industrial cities that dotted Rajak, but its deep wilderness was largely unknown to her.

"I've got your friends' coordinates," SHIP said. "We're heading in their direction now."

"Thanks," Gamora mumbled. She sat in the pilot's chair and watched the surface of the planet close in.

As SHIP had promised, they were soon making their approach on a copse of particularly dense woodland. Aurora was a nimble enough vessel that SHIP was able to maneuver them between the trees, to a comfortably secluded resting spot in a small valley. As the Guardians disembarked, Gamora instantly caught sight of another ship among the undergrowth. It was a tiny Krylorian vessel with garishly painted wings-- telltale of the girls who it surely belonged to.

Gamora glanced around. The woods were still and quiet, save some distant birdsong. “Anyone here?” She called.

“There you are,” a voice replied. Emerging from the bushes was a tall woman with a shock of magenta hair- the leader of this little band, Cerise. “We’ve been sitting on this guy for hours.”

“We got here as soon as we could. Where is he?”

Cerise pointed to a barely-visible path through the forest. “He has some weird cabin out that way.”

“And you’re sure he doesn’t know that you followed him?”

“Pretty sure.”

Gamora glanced at her teammates. Quill, close behind her, was bouncing on his toes. “We ready?” He asked.

She drew a deep breath. “I guess so.”

So they started along, single-file, down the narrow path. They moved with as much silence as they could muster, but a large group was destined to attract attention eventually. A creeping feeling of dread began up Gamora’s back as they went.

It was a short walk; soon the trail ahead of them had opened up onto a wider clearing, at the far side of which was a small, shabby hut with a thatched roof. Gamora extended an arm to halt her companions. They watched from the protection of the woods, scanning the cabin and its surroundings for any sign of life. There was none; the windows were dark and no sound at all came from the house.

“Are you sure he’s in there?” Gamora asked Cerise.

“We’ve been watching him all morning. He hasn’t left.”

“Maybe he’s sleeping,” Spirit, a few paces behind, chimed in.

Gamora looked to Quill, who had his sharp eyes trained on the house. His nose twitched a little. “I can smell him,” the man muttered. “He stinks like that templeship. He’s definitely in there.”

Gamora reached for the handle of her sword. “There’s no way anyone’s going in there. We’ll try to draw him out.”

“Leave that to me,” Rocket said, climbing rapidly to Groot’s shoulder. Groot, blending seamlessly into the woods, effectively vanished. While the duo went to work, Gamora fell into a crouch. The rest followed suit. They sat in perfect silence, waiting for Rocket to make his move.

It didn’t take him long; in about 5 minutes, there was a sudden explosion that caused the ground under them to shake, and a fountain of yellow sparks to shoot into the air behind the cabin. The sparks cascaded over the dry roof of the structure, causing it to immediately begin smoking. Within minutes, there was a significant fire blazing.

Gamora watched the door. When, after a long moment, it did not open, she cursed softly. “He’s not here!” She said, getting to her feet. “He must have gotten away.”

“Oh, you should be so lucky.”

Gamora spun. From the shadows of the woods behind her, a man had appeared as though from thin air. He was tall and lean, with a sallow, unhappy looking face and deep-set grey eyes. Beside Gamora, Quill snarled. The man ignored him, staring directly at Gamora.

“Did you think we would make things so easy for you?” He asked in a hard, chilly voice. “How quaint.”

“It was a trap,” Gamora hissed, more to herself than to any of the others.

“How astute of you,” Korvac said with a toothy smile. “The Matriarch said that you were a clever one. Not clever enough, however, to avoid this little set-up. I hope you’re satisfied with yourself.” He drew a long breath, pulling from the scabbard at his side a long, cruel-looking silver blade. “I know that his Holiness will be delighted to hear that we’ve rid ourselves of our most troublesome little meddlers.”

 

Chapter Text

Korvac's motion as he swung his silver blade towards Gamora was almost too swift for Quill to follow.  There was a singing whistle as the sword cut through the still air- and a resounding clang as it collided with Gamora's own sword.  The sound startled Quill into action; he pulled his blasters from his belt and turned to train them on Korvac.  Korvac did not notice, too busy bearing down on Gamora with what appeared to be superhuman strength; her knees were bent and close to buckling as she attempted to withstand the weight of his sword against hers.  Quill wasted no time in firing.  His aim was true- both bolts found Korvac's upper back, where they preceded to bounce off as harmlessly as ping-pong balls.

Well, Quill thought with sour bile rising in his throat, there goes that plan.

Before he could calculate his next move, Gamora finally crumbled, her sword falling to one side.  Thankfully, Drax had apparently been prepared for this.  As Korvac raised his sword to bring it down on Gamora, the big man charged from behind Quill and tackled Korvac, sending them both rolling across the forest floor in a heap.  Korvac gave a shout of annoyance, and to Quill's dismay, had quickly wrested himself from Drax's grasp.  He staggered back to his feet, his pallid face creased in a smug grin.  Drax was quickly back on his feet as well, aiming a punch squarely at Korvac's jaw.  Korvac barely flinched.

Shit.  The word was quickly beating a steady rhythm in Quill's brain.  How could we have walked into this?

On Drax's next punch, Korvac caught the man's fist in his hand and twisted, overturning Drax as easily as if he weighed nothing at all.  At this, Quill shook himself from his stupor and aimed again, this time shooting directly at Korvac's head as he turned to look at Gamora.  The shot ricocheted off into the forest.  Quill glanced briefly to Gamora, who seemed to be stunned- she was still sitting on the ground with her sword at her side.  Korvac was advancing on her rapidly.

Quill chanced a look at the rest.  He saw that Mantis and Gamora's girls were in a huddle of sorts, clearly working out the best course of action.  With the confidence that Mantis would be able to subdue Korvac if worst came to worst, he holstered one blaster.  Clutching the other, he took a step back to find his footing, then took a running leap at Korvac.  He collided painfully with the man- it was like running into a stone statue.  Nonetheless, Korvac collapsed under Quill's considerable weight.  Quill landed squarely atop him, winded and smarting from their collision.  He placed the end of his blaster directly against Korvac's forehead.  Korvac merely chuckled.

"You can try it, half-breed," he sneered.  "But you and I both know it's meaningless.  You and your friends are as good as dead."

Quill set his jaw and fired.  At first, there was no obvious effect.  Korvac grimaced slightly, his cold grey eyes finding Quill's.  Quill growled in his chest, the hair on the back of his neck rising.  He became aware that, in the palm of his hand, the handle of the blaster was growing hot.  Soon it was scorching him through his glove, and just as it became too painful to grasp, there was a sudden explosion of light and sound.  Quill was sent flying backward in a blind daze.  He was aware of the cold leaf-litter under him for a few seconds, and then his world had gone black.

-----

When Quill came to, he became immediately aware of the fact that he was moving- and quickly.  In fact, he was hurdling along at a breakneck pace.  With his eyes closed, the sensation was dizzying.  He found himself groping for something, anything to hold on to.  But his hands moved through empty air, cold like a winter night.  He found himself beginning to shiver.

I must be hallucinating, he thought.  He tried to remember what had led him here.  The last thing he had seen before being knocked unconscious was a flash of brilliant white light, accompanied by a crack of thunder.  An explosion, he realized.  His blaster had exploded.

He wasn't hurting.  Surely the fire must have burned him, and being thrown backwards would have injured him, too.  But for the time being, he was blessedly free from pain.  The only thing he felt was the cold.

With a bit of a struggle, he opened his eyes- and immediately closed them again.  The world outside him, or lack thereof, was a nauseating sight; stars zoomed past as though he was on a ship travelling at hyperspeed.  But he lacked the protection of a ship; instead he was small and alone in the vast darkness of space, being moved along by some unseen force.

It began to occur to him that perhaps he wasn't hallucinating.  It had been a powerful explosion, after all, and he supposed that it was not out of the question that it had killed him.  Was this the path to the afterlife?

The thought was incredibly dismaying, so much so that he opened his eyes once more.  This time he kept them open, taking in the sights all around him.  He was passing stars and nebulae, massive planets and tiny moons.  He didn't recognize any of it.

He looked down at himself.  He was bodily present, and moreover looking much the same as he had moments before on Rajak.  He extended his hands to examine them.  They looked exactly like he remembered them, albeit the right palm was an angry red color.  When he ran his fingertips gingerly over it, it was hot and painful.  He winced.

He touched his face- it felt unchanged.  Then he reached to pull his jacket tight around himself, shuddering with the cold.

"I can't be dead," he said, his voice sound small and distant.  "I'm getting married."

He spoke these words as if they would somehow change the fact that the explosion had killed him.  He let out a great sigh.

"I guess I'll be more upset about his in a while," he murmured.  The shock would wear off, and he would be angry or indignant or heartbroken, maybe all three at once.  But for the time being, he was only cold.

Suddenly, he saw something that he recognized.  It was a tiny, icy planet that seemed to stand on its own, too distant from a star to receive its warmth.

"That's Pluto," Quill said.  He felt a strange kinship to the lonely ball of ice.  But as quickly as he had come upon the planet, he was leaving it behind.  It was clear the direction he was heading in- soon he was flying past Neptune, then Uranus.  He moved past the giant rings of Saturn and glimpsed the small, grey moon where the wonders of Titan hid.  Then he was watching the massive red Jupiter pass him by.  As he approached Mars, the blue glitter that was his home planet came into view.  He assumed this must be his destination; the place he was born would be the place he returned to in death.  He watched the cool blue oceans and brown-green landmasses grow larger and larger.  But he didn't slow.  Soon he had left Earth behind too.  Venus and Mercury zoomed by, and as they did, Quill realized his true destination.  The great yellow orb of the Sun was looming.  

As he approached, the deep cold began to leave him.  The strength of the star's warmth cut through it, leaving him awash in golden light.  He closed his eyes in enjoyment and felt a peculiar sense of peace overwhelm him.  Even with his eyes closed, the Sun's brightness filled his vision.  The heat increased, until it was nearly scorching.  When Quill opened his eyes, he was nearly at the Sun's fiery surface.  He did not fear the engulfing flames- if he was already dead, then surely nothing could harm him.  He watched in fascination as he touched upon the surface, a mere speck on its vast face.  But his journey did not stop there.  He found that, instead of being halted by the roving flames or simply burning up at their touch, he moved through them.  They parted like a welcoming crowd.  He was momentarily blinded once more- this time, when his vision returned to him, he welcomed the sight that he beheld.  Standing before him was a great city.  He saw high spires and gleaming rooftops, flashing glass windows and even trees.  All of it was glittering golden, bathed in the warm yellow light of the star that surrounded it.

Quill stared at the gilded city for a long moment, barely daring to breathe.  His flight was coming to an end; he was being carefully deposited by whatever force had carried him here on a smooth tile path between a pair of high towers.  He settled onto his feet and glanced around.  He was certain that such a magnificent city must be populated by any number of people, hopefully one of whom could tell him why he was here.  But as he looked around, he noticed something curious: he seemed to be the only one around.  The streets were deserted, the high-rises empty, and the vast golden park before him uninhabited.

He sniffed.  The air smelled of ozone, but little else.  The city was deeply silent.  A strange discomfort began in Quill's belly.

He looked down at the tile path below him.  It was an elaborate mosaic depicting hundreds of animals- Terran animals, at that.  Lions, deer, whales, insects, wolves, birds, and snakes, among many others.  The whole animal kingdom seemed to be on display, and they were all heading in the same direction- running, flying, swimming.  Quill, of course, followed.

He kept his eyes on the mosaic as he began to walk in the indicated direction.  As he watched, the animals began to change.  Soon he was walking over sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths.  Then, dinosaurs, which were replaced by small, unidentifiable creatures that Quill had only seen in fossils.  The animals got smaller and smaller until they had been reduced to protozoa.  Quill realized then that he had reached the end of the path, and looked up.

Before him was a giant throne at the center of an idyllic courtyard.  There were plants growing in abundance here: ivies overwhelming the stone walls, and flowers in the millions.  The blooms were all turned to face one spot- the throne, upon which sat a man of supernatural size and grandeur.  He was an older man, with copper skin and a great leonine face surrounded by an equally leonine golden beard.  He was watching Quill with brilliant yellow eyes.

Quill stared back, mouth slightly open.

The man laughed, a noise that seemed to echo in the courtyard.  "There you are, my boy.  I was beginning to think I had sent you the wrong way."

Quill swallowed several times, trying to find his voice.  "Are you- are you God?"

"Do I look like him?" The man replied.  He was smiling; his face was wide and jolly.  "No, Peter Jason Quill.  I am not God.  I am the Master of the Sun."

"The Master...  how did you know my middle name?"

"I know many things about you, my boy.  I've watched you for a very long time."

"Why?"

"Because- in case you haven't figured it out for yourself- you are a very special being.  You were born to Eros of Titan, who I considered as my Champion when he was young.  But he was too selfish, too eager to pursue his own heart's desires.  And your mother was Meredith Quill, who was a special type of being herself."

Quill watched the giant man carefully.  "You know my mother?"

"I know all of Earth's creatures. They are all my children, as you are my child.  And your father's people, too, are my own."

Quill considered this a moment.  "Am I dead, or not?"

"You are not," the Master replied.  "And I apologize if I led you to think that.  I suppose it must be quite a shock."

"Yeah," Quill replied with a weak chuckle.  "A shock, alright.  How did I get here?"

"The Master of Rajak's star did me a favor."

Quill waited, but it did not seem that the Master was going to elaborate further.  At last, Quill asked, "What do you want with me, anyway?"

"I want you to be my Champion, Peter.  It has been a very long time since I had a Champion."

Quill chewed the inside of his cheek.  "What does that entail, exactly?  Because I've got kind of a lot on my plate.  I'm having a baby, and getting married."

"I know, my boy.  I've seen it all.  And trust me when I tell you that you are already doing half the work yourself- I would simply offer you my aid."

"Like a benefactor?" Quill asked.  "What are you going to offer me?"

"Well, you have already received one of my gifts.  I assume that you and the ship are getting along well?"

"SHIP is from you?  But- how?"

"It was no dumb luck that won you that wager," the Master replied.  "Nor was it merely chance that you found the activation button when you did.  She has been my loyal servant for many years, that one, and she will serve you just as well."

Quill took a moment to digest this.  He had not taken for granted that SHIP seemed more powerful than any old navigation system, but this was unexpected.  "She's great," he said lamely.  "But what kind of thing are you going to have me doing?"

"It's as I said- nothing I ask of you will be terribly different from what you do on your own.  My Champions have been known the galaxy over for their heroic acts, and you have a head-start."  He saw Quill's hesitation, of course.  "You have no obligation to tell me yes," he said at length.  "But know that I would consider it a great honor, to call you my Champion."

Quill bowed his head.  "Sir, if it's not too much to ask- can I talk to my fiance first?  He's really the most important thing to me right now, and I wouldn't make such a big decision without his blessing."

"Of course, my son.  Take as much time as you need.  Here."  He rose from his throne to his full height, which was nine feet or more.  As he approached, he proffered something- a glittering sun-shaped medallion on a leather cord.  "Take this.  When you need to contact me, this will be your gateway."

Quill took the medallion, finding it strangely weightless, and placed it around his neck.

"For the time being," the Master said, "it seems that you and your friends are in a bit of a pinch.  Allow me to help you.  Only a temporary solution, I'm afraid, but it will do for now."

Before Quill could say anything in response, he was being thrown backward with incredible force.  This time, the journey seemed to take only a fraction of a second.  He was once again colliding with the hard earth, scattering fallen leaves as he fell in a heap.  He grunted with pain.  His right palm was on fire, but otherwise it seemed he had escaped injury.  However, the explosion from his blaster had left a fiery crater where Quill had landed atop Korvac.  Quill scrambled to his feet, searching for the man.

The crater was empty.  There was no trace of Korvac, or any remains of him.  He wasn't dead, Quill knew at once.  The Master of the Sun had called it a "temporary solution".

He looked around at the Guardians, who were in various states of distress all around him.  Despite this, all eyes were trained on him in expressions of surprise and amazement, as if he had performed a miracle.

Had he performed a miracle?

He looked down at his chest.  The medallion was glowing faintly.  He could feel its warmth through the fabric of his shirt.

"Okay," Gamora said as she clambered to her feet.  "What the fuck just happened?"

Chapter Text

The Guardians gathered around the bench where Quill sat with his burned hand held out in front of him, chattering excitedly away.  Adam, sitting close to his partner, heard little of it. He was far too concerned with what Quill had told him about his new friend to worry about whether or not the man had singlehandedly defeated this Korvac fellow.

"What else did he say to you?" The being demanded, leaning in close to examine the great gold medallion hanging around Quill's neck.

"Well, he was really insistent that I wouldn't be doing much more than I am now.  He just wants to help me out."

Adam raised an eyebrow.  "That doesn't seem at all suspicious?"

"I mean," Quill said, chewing his lower lip, "maybe a little."

"Where do you think you sent him, Peter?" Gamora asked suddenly.  Quill looked harried.

"I said I don't know.  It wasn't me who did it, it was the Master of the Sun."

"But he didn't say anything about where he was sending Korvac?"

"Step aside, all of you," a voice said suddenly.  The crowd of Guardians parted at once, allowing a diminutive woman of about 45 to pass between them.

"Hey, Dr. Fenne," Quill said, smiling at the woman.  "Long time no see."

"You can say that again," the doctor replied.  "You've missed your last three appointments."

"Sorry.  I've been busy."

Fenne gave Adam an appraising glance, her eyes settling for a moment on his middle.  "I can see that. I suppose congratulations are in order. Anyway, what seems to be the trouble?"

"I burned my hand."  Quill showed her his raw palm.  She took his hand in hers to better examine the injury, tutting.

"How did you do this?"

"My gun exploded."

Fenne raised her eyebrows.  "Exploded? And this is the worst of the injuries you walked away with?"

"The Master of the Sun protected me from getting hurt any worse."

Fenne heaved a sigh, giving the surrounding Guardians a glance as if to confirm the validity of Quill's statement.  When they all looked sternly serious, she said, "This cosmic business is all beyond me."

"It's really not that bad," Quill said.  "Adam wanted me to get it looked at."

"It's a second-degree burn.  Nothing that some topical treatment and a bit of rest won't fix."

Adam was satisfied with this answer.  "Rest," he repeated as they group was leaving the infirmary, Quill with his hand carefully bandaged.  "That sounds like a wonderful idea. You can rest while we prepare ourselves of the birth of this child.  No more outlandish adventures."

"But Adam," Quill said, "what if the Church shows up again?"

Adam gestured to Gamora.  "She and the rest are perfectly capable of handling it on their own.  You are about to be a father."

Quill gave an anxious whine.  "But after the baby is born, can I give the Master my answer?"

" That is another matter entirely."

Adam had already decided that Quill would not be giving anyone an answer until Adam had given the situation his own thorough investigation.  "We're going to see my father," the being said, "and while we are there, I plan to do some research of my own."

Adam did not miss Quill's look of disappointment.  He ran his fingertips over the medallion.

"Don't fret, my love," Adam told him.  "I only have your best interest in mind.  The last thing I would want is for you to wind up in a situation like mine."

They departed the company of the other Guardians and headed towards the hangar.  As they went, Quill's uninjured hand came to rest in the small of Adam's back. Adam was grateful for the contact.  He smiled at his fiance.

"Did you think of any names for a boy, yet?" Quill asked.

"I'm having a rather hard time with it.  What if we named a boy after you?"

"You wanna call him Peter?"  Quill pulled a face. "Maybe as a middle name?"

"I meant your Titan name.  The one your father gave you."

"Oh."  Quill's hesitation at this was obvious.  "You really like it, huh?"

" Florianos is a very handsome name.  And I rather like the idea of keeping with Titanian tradition..."

"Well, it sure would make my dad happy.  And my grandfather."

Adam brightened at this.  He adored Quill's father; Eros was a gentle, kindly man who cherished his son above all things, and who extended that affection readily to all of Peter's companions- especially Adam.  Quill's grandfather, a man called A'lars, Adam had yet to meet. He was a rather mysterious being who had been in seclusion since the death of his wife- and the vast majority of the Titan people- at the hands of his first son.

"That reminds me," Quill was saying.  "We better get over to see Dad. We have to formally announce our engagement.  He's gonna want to throw us a party."

With a smile, Adam replied, "I like the sound of that ."

-----

It was not a long journey to Sovereign.  In a few hours, the pair had landed in the glittering golden Capital and were leaving Aurora behind in the hangar closest to the home of the High Evolutionary.  Adam was glad that it was such a short walk; he did not care to draw the attention of Ayesha, particularly now that it had come out that she had connections to the Church.  She would not try anything, Adam knew, with the High Evolutionary in such close proximity, but it was a risk he had no desire to take nonetheless. Besides, the people of Sovereign could prove to be somewhat of a hindrance all their own, albeit for entirely different reasons.  They hailed him as their up-and-coming savior, who would free them from the Enclave's tyranny.

Someday, Adam thought as he and Quill crossed the street in the direction of the High Evolutionary's compound.  He was not yet prepared, physically or emotionally, to shoulder the burden of leadership. But it was clear now that it was his destiny, whether he liked it or not.

Quill ushered Adam through the high gate and guided him down the long walkway to the front door.  His arm was slung around Adam's waist as they went, so Adam felt him grow tense.

"You would think that after all he's helped us through," Adam said softly, "you would be less uncomfortable with my father."

"I can't help it," Quill replied at once.  "He's been real nice to me, don't get me wrong.  But he smells like a hospital."

Adam kissed Quill's prickly cheek.  Soon, the front door swung open, and they were beckoned inside by a dog-headed butler who gave a polite bow at the sight of Adam.

"Your grace," he said.  "His lordship awaits you in the study."

"Thank you," Adam replied.  "Peter, you don't have to come along if you don't want.  I can handle an exam on my own."

Quill looked torn; Adam knew that he would much rather be in the kitchens or the garden.  But he was also an anxious father, one who was very concerned for his baby's health and undoubtedly nervous for the birth.  Adam gave him another kiss and said, "Really, I'll be alright. Go and get something to eat."

At last, Quill relented.  As he turned to head to the kitchens, he said, "I'll come find you in an hour.  I'm sure your dad's gonna want to talk with me."

Adam continued on down the long hallway, towards the study.  Soon he had reached the grandly carved wooden door, reaching out to lay his hand on the cool surface.

“Father,” he said, “it’s me.”

“Do come in, my child.”

Adam entered, finding the High Evolutionary in one of his favorite spots: seating in a large armchair by the window.  The window overlooked the gardens, which made a peaceful backdrop to long hours of pouring over books and handwritten notes.  The masked figure looked as though he had been in deep thought, one large hand under his chin.

“You look well,” he said at length, after a moment of looking Adam up and down.  “You are getting very close to your due date, now.”

“I know,” Adam replied.  “Believe me, I know.”

The High Evolutionary got to his feet.  “Come, let’s get you somewhere to rest. You must be quite sore.”

“It’s my back, mainly,” Adam replied, allowing himself to be ushered back out of the study and further yet down the hall.  His father had set up a special exam room when Adam had first become pregnant, one that was more private and comfortable than the laboratory.  It was small and warm, with lush curtains to limit sunlight and lots of embroidered down pillows for support.

The High Evolutionary helped Adam onto the examination table, which was cushioned generously.  Adam let out a sigh as the weight was taken off his back at last.

“Father,” he said, as the man went about gathering his supplies.  “Have you ever heard of a being called the Master of the Sun?”

The High Evolutionary considered this in silence a moment.  At last he said, “I can’t say that I have.”

Adam was troubled at this.  He considered his father to be one of the most knowledgeable and worldly people available; he seemed to have dealings all over the galaxy.  For him not to have heard of someone was worrying.

“This person has contacted Peter,” Adam went on.  “He promised all sorts of fanciful things, if Peter agrees to be his champion.”

The High Evolutionary approached Adam now, lifting the hem of his silk blouse to place the end of a stethoscope on his belly.  They were both silent a moment while he listened.

“A strong heart,” he said approvingly.

“I don’t want to quarrel with Peter over this,” Adam went on, “especially not so close to the birth of our child.  But I am worried.”

“What sort of things did this Master of the Sun promise?”

“I’m not certain, exactly.  He said that he would support Peter in continuing as a Guardian.  Whatever that means. And the way Peter describes him, he’s a rather grand and celestial personage.  He snatched Peter back to the Sun of his home system in a matter of seconds, and defeated an agent of the Church remotely.  It’s all very suspicious, if you ask me.”

The High Evolutionary looked thoughtful as he went about measuring Adam’s belly.  “That sounds like a Luminary- those that control the stars. I have never had dealings with one directly, but it is said that they are very powerful.”

“A Luminary,” Adam echoed.  “Are they troublesome?”

“They are… individuals.  No two are quite the same, so I am told.  I can certainly direct you to some of my texts regarding them.”

Adam smiled thankfully.  He patiently allowed some of his blood to be taken for testing, and then sat back to let the High Evolutionary examine his cervix.

“Well, Adam, it seems as though things have progressed a bit more quickly than I anticipated,” the man said at length.  “

“But I’m not due for nearly a month.”

“Gestation is a rather difficult thing to determine, when a hybrid is involved.  I think you ought to stay here with me, in case you go into labor unexpectedly.”

Adam swallowed.  “Well, Peter will be pleased.  He’s getting impatient to meet his child.”

“I urge you not to worry.  By all accounts, the baby’s development is just as it should be.  Birth at this point would be quite acceptable.”

“I’ve not had the time to prepare myself.”

“Well, you may have some days yet.  And wouldn’t you rather spend that time here, where you have all the comforts you could want at your fingertips, and not in that cramped apartment?”

“I certainly would.”

“That settles it, then.  You’ll find your room just as you left it.”

He moved to help Adam down from the table.  Adam caught the glinting rock on his finger from the corner of his eye and said, “Oh!  I nearly forgot. Peter asked me to marry him.”

“You said yes, I assume?”

Adam extended his hand to show off the ring.  The High Evolutionary reached to take his hand at once, placing a chilly kiss on the knuckles.  “My sincerest congratulations, my child. You know how thoroughly I approve of Peter.”

“I know.  I must go and find him now.  He’ll be very interested to hear what you’ve told me.”

Chapter Text

"Are you coming to bed, or what?"

Gamora looked up from her transmitter at Richard, who was standing in the bedroom doorway wearing nothing but his boxers.  He was watching her with a suggestively raised eyebrow. She sighed.

"I've been talking to the girls all day," she said.  She was draped languidly over the sofa, propped up on her elbows in order to give the transmitter her full attention.  "They haven't found anything."

"All the more reason to turn in, right?"

When she didn't respond, Richard heaved a sigh and padded over to perch on the arm of the sofa.  She glanced at him briefly, but said nothing.

"We could always get Pete to give his new buddy a call," he suggested at length.

"No, he won't be any use," Gamora replied.  "I got a message from him earlier-- Adam's father says that he could go into labor at any moment.  Peter's not going to leave his side."

"Well, I guess we can't exactly begrudge him that."

"No."

A few moments passed in silence.  At last Richard asked, "Are you alright?  You've seemed a little off ever since you got home."

"I'm fine."  After a pause, she went on, "It's just, Korvac was powerful.   Very powerful.  We couldn't even put a scratch on him.  And if the Master of the Sun hadn't intervened when he did, Peter would probably be dead."

"So, you're worried that you might not be a match for him?"

She nodded, chewing her lip.  "I'm trying to think about this rationally.  I want to defeat the Church, and I want to do it as soon as possible, but I think we're going to need some help."

"Maybe you should talk to this Master of the Sun fella, too.  He must have the resources to back you guys up."

She considered this.  "I'll call Peter in the morning.  Hopefully the Church doesn't try anything while we're waiting on this baby."

With this, she turned off her transmitter and got to her feet.  Richard hopped up as well, clearly eager for her to accompany him to the bedroom.  She did not; instead she made her way to the kitchen, where she poured herself a glass of wine and drank it in a few gulps.  She caught Richard watching her rather anxiously.

"I'm alright," she said.  "Really. Just tired."

Richard hardly seemed convinced, but he didn't press the issue any further.  Eventually Gamora resigned herself to following him to the bedroom. He clicked the lights off and practically pulled her into the bed, immediately covering her face with kisses.  She closed her eyes, letting the tension leave her back.

"Sometimes there's nothing you can do," Richard whispered, as if he could sense her continuously churning thoughts.

"I know," she replied.  "I can't help it. It's just the way I was raised."

-----

In the morning, sitting by the window with a cup of coffee in hand, Gamora watched the throngs of commuters that bustled below her.  She had slept poorly, wracked with feverish thoughts and muscle cramps. Halfway through the night, she had moved from the bed to the sofa to prevent from disturbing Richard with her tossing and turning.  There she had laid awake, watching early morning news programs and checking her transmitter.

As sunrise came around, she heard Richard stir in the bedroom.  She got up and started the coffee maker again. Then she hurried to the bathroom to wash her face and comb her hair.  By the time he had emerged, bleary-eyed and buttoning his shirt, she was peacefully cooking eggs on the stove.

"Have you been up long?" Richard asked as he came to sit at the kitchen table.

"Not really.  I wanted to watch the sunrise."

He shrugged.  "Sleep well?"

"Yes." She handed him a mug of coffee.  "Why do they schedule your meetings so early?"

"Beats me," Richard replied, taking a long sip from the mug.  "I'd love to stay here with you a few more hours..."

She made a sympathetic noise and said, "That's alright.  I'm headed out today, too."

He raised an eyebrow.  "Where are you headed?"

"I was going to visit my sister.  I haven't seen her in a long time."

Richard seemed unsettled by this answer, but he said nothing.  He finished his coffee and ate the eggs she set in front of him, and then he was getting to his feet and hurrying around the counter to kiss her cheek.  "I gotta go," he said, brushing a strand of hair from her face. "Say hi to Neb and Krag for me."

"Will do."

She watched him leave.  When the door had shut behind him, she turned and gave the apartment a quick once-over.  Everything was quiet and in order; so she quickly packed a bag and set off on her way.

There were several spare ships in the Nova hangar that her status as a correspondent gave her access to.  She selected a sleek black vessel usually reserved for stealth operations and boarded it, quickly leaving Xandar behind her.

It was not a long trip to Knowhere-- just enough time, in fact, for Gamora to engage the autopilot and catch up on some of the sleep she had missed last night.  For a few hours her mind was still and quiet; no dreams haunted her. When she awakened, the great head was looming before her.

Knowhere, she noted as she guided the ship in amongst the processing plants and storage warehouses, had never looked better.  She didn’t pay it much attention while she was away, but she heard talk that Nebula ruled the place with an iron fist. Crime was low- crime that Nebula herself did not sanction, that was to say- and trade with other planets was booming.  Much of the poverty here was thusly remedied, and efforts had been made to repair the areas where the indomitable rot of the head was most noticeable.

Gamora guided the ship to a spot she had come to know well: a seemingly abandoned high-rise which sat close to the left eye socket.  This was the spot Nebula and her ever-growing Ravager band called home.

She was not intercepted as she flew in for a careful landing on one open, empty floor.  She saw no sign of anyone, in fact, until she had descended several floors into the heart of the building.  Here it was warmer, brighter, and louder. Even before she came upon the Ravagers, she could hear them shouting and laughing.  For a moment she counted herself lucky; the Guardians were a raucous lot, but at least they took showers.

Gamora effectively followed the sounds, eventually coming to a large iron door decorated from top to bottom with lewd graffiti.  She pushed through into the chaos beyond, finding exactly what she had expected: large, smelly men in filthy uniforms as far as the eye could see, drinking and roughhousing.  None of them so much as batted an eye as she passed. She saw no sign of Nebula or Kraglin.

She turned to one individual nearby-- a tall, blue-skinned man with large tufted ears.  “Where is Nebula?” She demanded.

He gave her a bleary look, clearly far from sober.  “The cap’n? She’s upstairs.” He pointed to a narrow staircase at the back of the room.  Gamora made for it at once, shouldering her way through a gaggle of men gambling on a dice game.

She mounted the stairs in silence, glad to leave the noise behind.  The floor she ascended to was darker and smelled a great deal more pleasant.  The air was heavy with incense and lit by hundreds of small, floating orbs.

Gamora paused, looking around.  Her eyes cut effortlessly through the dimness, seeking breathing or a heartbeat.  She found it towards the back of the room, near a large window that overlooked the city below.

“Nebula?” She called as she approached.

The woman stood, looking surprised.  “Gamora? How did you get in here?”
“You don’t have the greatest guards,” Gamora replied.  “They pointed me right to you.”

“That’s because they know you,” Nebula said rather defensively.  “If you had been a stranger-”
“Don’t worry about it.  I didn’t come here to insult your circus monkeys.”

There was a moment of silence.  Finally, Nebula said, “Well, why did you come here?”

“I need your help with something.”

Nebula raised a brow.  “ You need my help?”

“That’s what I said.  You know I wouldn’t bother you if not for a good reason.”
Nebula seemed to concede to this.  She waved Gamora closer, holding up one finger.  “Don’t be too noisy. The girls are sleeping.”

“Girls?  As in, more than one?” Gamora recalled that the last time she had seen her sister, she and Kraglin had recently taken in an orphan.  As she approached, she saw that the child asleep in the bed Nebula had been guarding as a different creature entirely.

“Are you starting a collection?” Gamora asked, watching Nebula skeptically.

“She needed help.”

Gamora shrugged.  “So do I. I need you to lend me some manpower- preferably some you don’t mind losing.”

“What for?”

“The Church is making a comeback.  And this time, they aren’t going to get the better of me.”

-----

Before the great altar, Korvac stood cradling one arm in the other; he had been injured when Star-Lord's gun exploded and, by some unseen force, Korvac had been sent careening through space to a rocky outcrop in the O'erlanii wilderness-- a very long way away from where he meant to be.  He still didn't understand quite how, although he suspected that the remote forces of Adam Warlock had been at play. At any rate, it had given his quarry ample time to escape. He knew, of course, that it would nigh impossible to lure them like that again.

The Matriarch, naturally, was displeased.  She did a lot of cold, haughty berating from her place on the altar.  "Why we trusted you with such an important mission, I can hardly guess," she sneered.  "If it had been up to me, I would have sent Raker."

Korvac gave her a slow, apathetic blink and said nothing.  He did not especially care that she was angry; she had already proven herself little more than a power-hungry nag.  He would not grovel or plead with her.

It was her companion on the altar that made Korvac anxious.  The being was sitting in the massive throne at the center of the dais, the one which had been constructed specifically for him.  He had his head propped on a fist, looking bored. His pale eyes lingered briefly over Korvac before flicking away, uninterested.

"If it makes you feel any better," Korvac said when the Matriarch had finished her diatribe, "I did injure a few of them."

"Oh?" The Matriarch replied with a hollow enthusiasm.  "I don't suppose it was mortally, in any case?"

"Star-Lord's gun exploded in his hand," Korvac replied.  "Unfortunately I wasn't around to see the aftermath, but I would imagine he was significantly injured."

"So," said the being on the throne, speaking for the first time since Korvac had arrived here.  "Clearly you weren't listening when I gave you your orders."

Korvac turned to look at him, a sense of unease beginning to creep up his spine at once.  He couldn't recall anything said specifically about Star-Lord.

The being got to his feet, descending a few steps towards Korvac.  He trailed a long cape of sorts behind him- lavender in color and made of silk.

"I told you before you left that I wanted Peter Quill alive and intact .  I have uses for him."

"But-" Korvac began.

"Allow me a guess," the being interrupted.  "You failed to realize that the man you encountered was Peter Quill."

Korvac swallowed anxiously.  "Your lordship..."

"Oh, save it.  Now I suppose I'll have to send a spy over to assure that he wasn't disfigured."  He fixed Korvac with a sardonic look before sighing and returning to his throne. From there, he gave a grand sweep of his arm and said, "Begone.  I will call upon you when I have further need of your services."

"But your lordship, if I could-"

"That is enough," the Matriarch cut in.  "The Magus has spoken, and you will do as he bids."

Korvac glared at her, but said nothing else.  He turned to leave the throne room, feeling those cold pale eyes on his back the whole way.

Chapter Text

Quill sat on the chaise in Adam's bedroom, Rune perched in his lap, and watched the gardens gleam and sway in the early morning breeze.  Adam, who had been awake for most of the night, was seated behind him and running his gentle fingers through the hair at the base of Quill's neck.  He was humming softly to himself.

"Do you feel any different today?" Quill asked-- it was the same question he had asked every morning since it had been decided that they would stay here.

"No," Adam answered, as usual.

They had been languishing in the home of the High Evolutionary for nearly a week.  He had assured them, upon seeing Quill's great hesitation at this prospect, that Adam was showing all the signs of going into labor soon.  But aside from a little extra kicking from the baby, there was little to indicate this.

"Don't be too bothered," Adam had said to Quill over their supper last night.  "He's simply worried that if I'm not here, I'll go into labor somewhere far off and we won't get back to him in time.  He's protective of me."

Quill sighed, but he didn't argue.  He would have much preferred be out with his team as they chased the Church than sit in an immaculate library or a manicured garden all day, but more than anything he wanted to be close to Adam.  Every time the being winced or sighed suddenly, Quill's stomach clenched. He was anxious for the moment labor finally began, and that anxiety was making him fractious.

"You'll have to get used to all this sitting around, you know," Adam said presently, twisting a bit of the hair behind Quill's ear around his finger.  "You aren't going to be able to wander all over when there's a baby to look after."

"I know," Quill replied at once.  "I just hate sitting around while nothing is happening.  What if the Guardians need my help, or..."
Adam leaned in to kiss the back of Quill's neck.  "I know why you are so on edge," he whispered in the man's ear.

"Oh yeah?"

"You want to give your answer to the Master of the Sun."

Quill rolled his shoulders.  "I don't have an answer yet."

That was not especially true.  He had had plenty of time over the past several days to think about exactly what he would say to the Master when he could at last return: it was simply too good an offer to pass up.  Adam's research on the Luminaries had yielded little; they were by all accounts a mysterious and rarely-studied species. This left Quill with nothing to go on but the brief time he had spent in the company of the Master.

"He seemed really nice," the man said now, stroking Rune's tufted white ears with a gentle finger.  The cat purred. "I know I'm not historically the best judge of character, but maybe I should give him a chance."

Adam sighed lengthily, and then began the arduous process of getting to his feet.  Quill rose to help him upright. "What's to say that, if he decides to show his true colors after you've entered his service, it won't be too late?"

Quill twitched his mustache.  "Sometimes you have to take a chance."

Adam stretched luxuriously, then took a moment to massage the great swell of his middle.  "Any time you're ready, little one," he said. "Your father is anxious to leave me."

"Don't say that."  Immediately Quill had gathered Adam into his arms, nuzzling the being's golden hair.  "The Master can wait. He knew I was about to be a dad when I talked to him. Nothing is more important than that."

Adam hummed with pleasure.  "I know, oh king of my heart.  I'm only teasing." Adam peppered Quill's face with kisses, purring in his ear.  After a moment, he said, "Father said

something about intercourse encouraging labor, you know."

With a smile, Quill stepped away to close the door of Adam's bedroom.

-----

As evening approached, Quill found himself lingering in the great hallway that led on to the High Evolutionary's library.  He wasn't sure what stopped him here; it wasn't an especially interesting part of the compound. The walls were white and featureless, the only thing to break up all the space being a large painting of a golden-furred dog reclining on a carpet.  Quill had examined this painting a hundred times already, never finding it more interesting than the last time. But he was standing before it once more nonetheless- not for a sudden, renewed interest in the art, but because a strange feeling had taken him over.  His neck and back were prickling with unease.

He looked around, his keen eyes moving over the white walls to the door nearest to him.  It led on to a pantry that he had already thoroughly investigated. The door was shut tight, the small gap under it was dark.  Nevertheless, Quill suddenly became quite sure that he had heard movement inside. He reached for the door handle slowly, ears pricked up.  As he turned the handle, there was a distinct shuffling. He fairly flung the door open, a growl starting in his chest.

But the small room was empty.  At the back, a sack of apples had tumbled to the floor from its spot on the shelf.  One rolled into his foot.
With a sigh, he said aloud, "You're getting restless, Pete."

He closed the pantry door and continued on to the library.  Adam was there, spread magnificently on a large chaise. He was engrossed in another book, holding it against the swell of his belly as he read.

Quill approached, circling the chaise once to admire his fiance.  Adam was dressed in layers of silk, having abandoned all attempts at getting into his old clothes.  His hair was tied back with a ribbon to keep it off his neck- he had been suffering hot flashes all day.  His golden skin was glowing faintly.

At last, he looked up at Quill, smiling vaguely.  "What brings you here?" He asked. "I thought for sure that you would be out in the gardens."

"I dunno," Quill answered honestly.  "I feel weird."

"That's no surprise," Adam replied.  "This state of limbo we're living in is doing neither of us any good."

"No, I mean I've got a bad feeling.  I'm on edge."

"You're about to be a father.  That's quite understandable."

Quill sighed, unable to give words to the strange unease that was sitting like a stone in his belly.  He gave himself a little shake and sat on the edge of the chaise. "What are you reading?"

"It's a book about the Titans.  I found a useful section about how it is they name their children."

Quill leaned in to examine the page Adam was on.  It was a list of various Titanian names, which Adam was running his finger thoughtfully up and down.  "There are so many

handsome names," he said at length. "What do you think of Athanasios?"

"What do I think of it?  I can barely say it."

"What about Xenophon?"

Quill chuckled.  "Why don't we agree to meet the kid, first?"

Adam chewed his lower lip.  "I'm anxious. We'll only get to name them once."

Quill leaned in to place a kiss on Adam's cheek.  He fully intended to sit there and rest a while, but at that moment, the window behind the chaise caught his eye.  He could swear that he caught a flash of movement from behind the lower pane. Immediately, he was back on his feet, rumbling.  Adam looked up in alarm.

"Whatever is the matter?" He said.

"Don't worry about it," Quill replied.  "Stay here."

He left the library at a trot, hurrying down the long hallway and through the foyer to the front door.  Outside, he hopped over the low fence into the garden, quickly seeking out the window that looked on to the library.  As he reached it, a smell struck him that made the back of his neck prickle like static electricity. It was the heady aroma of incense- the kind the Church burned.

In his haste, he had come without a blaster or any means of defending himself.  He was standing, perfectly vulnerable, facing what he assumed to be an enemy, and furthermore one that he couldn't see.  His good vision in the gloom did not help him now; he could make out no trace of an intruder. But the smell was so heavy on the air that he was certain he was not wrong.  Someone, or something, had been watching them through the window.

His heart pounding in his ears, Quill gave the garden a once-around.  The scent lingered, acrid in his nose. But after checking the bushes and examining the cloister, he found no evidence of a living thing save the rabbits who inhabited the gardens.  He had just made up his mind to head back inside when he heard a window open.

"Peter," Adam called.  "Are you quite well? What are you doing out there?"

"I thought..." Quill replied, trailing off.  Now he was questioning himself. Was his anxiety over the baby making him hyper-vigilant?

"Come back in here, please," Adam went on.  "You're behaving very strangely."

"I'm okay.  I thought I saw something."

He approached the window that Adam was now leaning out of, smiling prettily at him.  Quill grinned. But before he could make any move to return inside, something caught his eye again: this time, it was the shape of a shadowy figure, moving at full speed across the front lawn in the direction of the street.  Without another word, Quill took off running. He heard Adam call out behind him, but his eyes were fixed on the figure. He watched the intruder dart across the street as he pursued, headed in the direction of the palace. Whoever it was had had a decent head start, but Quill was swift.  Soon he was closing the gap between them, racing across the street and along the sidewalk.

"Stop!" He hollered uselessly.  The figure turned for a split second to look at him, then doubled their speed.  Quill felt a pang of indignant rage start up in his chest. He charged ahead, giving no thought to what he would do if he managed to catch this intruder.

The figure dodged suddenly down a side street.  Quill followed closely, but by the time he had rounded the corner, the figure was gone.  Quill cursed loudly- and then, he heard the sound of an engine starting. As he watched, a small, silver vessel- almost invisible against the evening sky- rise from an alley.  As it started for the atmosphere, Quill wasted no time. He doubled back, running as quickly as he could, and made his way to the hangar where Aurora was docked. He hurried up the ramp and boarded her swiftly.

"Hello, Peter," SHIP greeted him with all her usual enthusiasm.  She quickly picked up on his distress, however, and said, "What's going on?"

"There's a ship I need you to follow.  Hurry!"

SHIP did as he said, quickly pulling Aurora out of the hangar and into the night sky.  By now, the ship in question was a distant gleam in the stratosphere. "That one," Quill said, pointing.  "We've got to catch it."

"Why?" SHIP asked, even as they accelerated towards the vessel in question.

"It's the Church.  They sent out a spy or something."

"Understood."

SHIP applied a burst of speed that got them close enough to their quarry that Quill could see the insignia of the Church emblazoned on the vessel's underside.  He cursed again.
They broke the atmosphere just as SHIP had activated Aurora's tractor beam.  For a moment, it seemed that they had caught the ship- it stalled momentarily, simply hanging in space before them.  But in seconds, there was a flash, and they were at hyperspeed. The vessel had made the jump, and, by virtue of the nature of hyperspeed, Aurora had been taken along for the ride.

So, for as long as it took them to get where they were going, Quill was helpless.  He stood in the cockpit staring at the smaller ship and growling to himself.

"I can't tell where we're headed," SHIP said, unhelpfully.  "I hope you didn't have any plans."

Quill sighed enormously.  But he said nothing else; there was little that could be done now that they had made the jump.  They would wind up where they wound up, and he could go from there.

He settled in the pilot’s chair, cracking his knuckles one by one.  SHIP said nothing, clearly sensing his unhappiness. Quill took the opportunity to study the ship before him; the windows were tinted, preventing him from getting a good look at the pilot.  Eventually, he lost interest in examining the silvery flanks of the vessel and leaned back in the chair. He blinked a few times, his eyes suddenly heavy. The excitement of the chase had left him tired.

As he dozed, he found his pocket suddenly buzzing.  He reached to fish the transmitter out, holding it in front of him.  It was Adam.

“Hi, sweetie,” he said when the being’s golden face was displayed before him.

“What do you mean by running off like that?  Where have you gone?”

“Sorry, Adam.  I was chasing a spy from the Church and I got pulled in-”

“A spy from the Church!  And you’re pursuing them alone?”

“It wasn’t on purpose.  I got caught up in their hyperspeed jump…”

“Well, do get back here as quickly as possible.  I don’t want to go into labor and have you absent!”

Quill pressed his lips tightly together.  “I’ll be back in time, don’t you worry.”

Adam looked desperately uncertain at this.  His large amber eyes gleamed anxiously. “Don’t get yourself into too much trouble, my love.”

Chapter Text

In an anxious fit, Adam heaved himself up off his chaise- where he had laid for the better part of a week in a stupor of aches and exhaustion- and began to pace his chambers. His ankles were swollen and his back stiff, but this did not impede him. He was filled with the sudden, irresistible urge to move. He felt eaten up with fever, his nerves electrified and his blood boiling. Sweat beaded on his brow and cooled on the nape of his neck. If he had remained reclined on the chaise he may have gone mad, he mused. But now he paused in his restless pacing to stand before his full-length mirror, admiring the massive swell of his middle. Even swollen practically to bursting with this monstrous child, the tender glow of pregnancy became him.

He all but limped to the small basin by the window, splashing his face with cool water. He stood there for a moment gripping the sides of the basin, suddenly dizzy. Then, his head swimming, he looked around for the transmitter. He was certain that it would be today that he delivered his child, and he had to let Quill know as soon as possible. He found the device sitting on the edge of his bathtub and dialed the familiar number. In seconds Quill had answered the call, his splendid handsome face lit by his navigation screen's soft glow. "Hi again, sugar plum," he said. His voice was buttery with fondness, but he looked strained and tired. "What's up?"

"I don’t know where it is you’ve run off to, but I am going to give birth today," Adam replied evenly. He brushed his sweaty hair out of his face, suddenly conscious of how dreadful he must look.

For a moment Quill did not respond, simply studying his face. Then, at last, said, "Don't freak out, okay? I’ll be there as soon as I can. Just stay calm."

"I'm perfectly calm."

"I promise I'm gonna be there. I just have to-" he disappeared for a moment, and there were a few crashes from the background. Faintly Adam heard him call out in an odd, strangled way to SHIP. Then he reappeared, eyes wide and bright. "Just try to relax and take deep breaths. The important thing is not to panic."

"I'm not panicking, Peter."

"Okay, I gotta go. I'm coming. Don't freak out."

He ended the transmission and for a moment Adam stood, bemused. Then his body seemed to remember that it wanted to be moving; a shudder of adrenaline passed through him. He decided that now would be a good time to find his father.

The High Evolutionary, as Adam has anticipated, was in his laboratory, pouring over one of the many enormous notebooks filled cover-to-cover with his neat, blocky handwriting. He didn't at first react to Adam's approach- although Adam was quite certain that his entrance hadn't gone unnoticed. Adam padded up, the cool metal of the floor strangely soothing under his bare feet. "Father," he said quietly, and at last the High Evolutionary looked up.

"Adam, my dear," he said. "Are you well?"

"I'm going to have the baby," Adam replied.

"Are you having contractions? Did your waters break?"

"No. I can feel it, though. It will certainly be today."

The masked man nodded solemnly. "Let me examine you."

Obediently Adam made for the exam table he had spent so much time on already. He winced as he laid back, pain shooting up his spine. Silently the High Evolutionary proffered a small cushion, which Adam gratefully tucked under him. With practiced ease he spread his legs and reached to lift his robes. The High Evolutionary stroked the outside of his legs soothingly. Adam by now was accustomed to his co-creator's gently exploring hands, and hardly flinched when the metallic coolness of those careful hands found his bare skin. He was also quite used to the speculum by now, although he had never developed a fondness for it. He played absently with the hem of his robe while the High Evolutionary went to work.

“You've not even lost your mucous plug yet,” he said at length. “Perhaps it's time I induce you.”

“No, thank you,” Adam replied politely. “We shall let things progress naturally.”

“Very well. If you're quite sure that it will be today, I hope you won't mind me keeping a closer eye on you.” He removed the speculum and Adam covered himself again. He rose from the examination table, massaging his stomach.

“I've told Peter already,” he said. “I'm quite afraid he won't be here in time. I wish I knew where he was.”

“It would be regrettable, for him to miss the birth of his first child. But you aren't in labor, so he still may have time yet.”

That said, the High Evolutionary extended his arm to Adam, and Adam accepted it graciously. Together they made their way- slowly, for Adam's benefit- from the laboratory to the gardens. It was a pleasantly cool day, the trees beyond the wall just beginning to change from green to gold and scarlet. Soft birdsong and the chirrup of crickets filled the garden. Adam inhaled the crisp air and thought that it was a lovely day to be born on. Hopefully the child squirming restlessly in his womb felt similarly; he could hardly bear the thought of being pregnant for even another day.

They walked in peaceful silence a while, until they came to a secluded nook by the north wall where Adam often came to read. Had it been any warmer, he may have given real consideration to delivering out here, among the fresh air and the singing birds.

“In the future I shall have a child in the summer,” Adam said, more to himself than to the High Evolutionary. “That way I can sit beneath this lovely tree here and give birth. The way nature intended.”

His companion laughed pleasantly. “I shall make note of that when next you need my help in conceiving.”

Adam settled on a little stone bench under the tree. In the shade it was quite chilly, and he wrapped his arms about himself.

“Have you given the date for your wedding any further thought?” The High Evolutionary asked suddenly.

“I haven’t. I’ve been too distracted, and it all seems terribly overwhelming. Maybe after the baby comes.”

“Just know that you have my full support and approval. Peter will make you a charming husband.”

Adam beamed, that strange prickly feeling beginning in his eyes. It seemed an odd time to cry, but he had been doing it so often and at the most random of moments lately. He supposed that, too, could be blamed on the child.

And with that, Adam gave a little yelp of pain. It felt as though someone had prodded his abdomen quite hard just under his navel, and now the spot began to ache. “Ouch!” He exclaimed, laying a hand on his middle. He looked to the High Evolutionary, who, having knelt beside him, laid a hand beside his own.

“A contraction,” he said approvingly. “It seems you were quite right, my son. With any luck, you'll have the child out today.”

~~~~~

By the time night was falling over the High Evolutionary's lair, Adam was back in his bed, a cool cloth on his forehead. He had suffered contractions all afternoon and by now was properly exhausted. The High Evolutionary was sitting by the window, and Adam was comforted by the notion that he was watching for Quill. After his water had broken a few hours before, Adam had suddenly been struck with the possibility that his mate night not be here in time, and at this he had begun to weep pitifully. The High Evolutionary had come at once to soothe him.

“Calm yourself, now,” he had murmured, petting Adam's damp hair. “It won't be the end of the world, will it? He'll still by the child's father, after all. Hush your crying, now, the last thing you need right now is to be putting any more strain on yourself.”

Obediently Adam had gulped for air and dried his face, putting thoughts of Quill out of his mind while he hissed and moaned his way through another spasm. But now he felt almost ready to cry again. His contractions had grown very close, with barely five minutes between them, and still there was no sign of Quill. Internally he was chiding himself for being so dramatic, but as it stood he was facing the agony of childbirth without his beloved mate- and that thought alone was terrifying enough to constrict his breathing. He began to pant, forcing himself into a sitting position. Across the room, the High Evolutionary rose at once.

“Deep breaths, Adam. Don't hyperventilate.” His great hand was quickly laying on Adam's back, rubbing gently between his shoulders.

“He's not going to make it, Father,” Adam cried, vision going watery once more. “What shall I do without him?”

“He will be the last thing on your mind when you are delivering his child, believe me. It may even be lucky for him that he wasn't present.”

Adam wheezed, grimacing as his middle seized up once more. He gasped and balled the duvet in his fists, his temples throbbing, for several minutes. When at last the contraction abated, he let fat tears roll down his face. “I am afraid, Father,” he whispered.

“Of course you are. It is only natural to be frightened. But you are going to make it through this, with or without Quill. Come, now, we're going to draw a bath for you. It will help with the contractions.”

Adam allowed himself to be helped to his feet. He paced the floors restively while the High Evolutionary filled his great soaking basin with warm water. He made his way to the window, looking out plaintively at the slowly appearing stars and feeling desperately sorry for himself. One hand came absentmindedly to his middle, massaging gently. “Oh, little one,” he crooned, “I pray that your foolish father will be here to see you born.”

“Come now, Adam,” the High Evolutionary called. “Come and rest a while.”

Adam came to the basin, letting his silk robe slide from his shoulders. The High Evolutionary aided him climbing into the basin. The warm water was instantly soothing. He sank in up to his waist, and then lowered himself the rest of the way onto his rump. He leaned back into the smooth porcelain rim and let his breath out.

“That's it,” the High Evolutionary murmured. “If if comes to it, you'd do just as well to give birth right here.”

“In the water?” Adam replied. “I don't fancy that idea.”

His father pouring handfuls of water over his neck and back, Adam let his eyes drift shut once more. But he couldn't relax for long- soon he was in the throes of another contraction, hissing a curse under his breath. It was by all means the worst pain he had ever experienced, like a million needles being sunk into his abdomen at once. His nails bit into the palms of his hands and he groaned, only vaguely aware of his own echoing voice. When at last the pain began to recede, he looked down and noticed that his bathwater was clouded with red. He gasped in fright, getting to his feet again at once.

“It's normal, Adam,” his father said at once, but Adam had already climbed out of the basin. He stood shivering for a moment, dripping water and blood on the tiled floor. The High Evolutionary came at him with a towel, wrapping him deftly and scooping him up. “It's about time, then. Let's come to our bed, then, shall we?”

Adam, who was in the midst of his worst contraction yet, did not struggle. He only keened in misery, spine arched with the pain. The High Evolutionary situated him among the pillows and blankets; all the while he went on writhing with agony. Any time now, the contraction would let up and he could get back to worrying about when Quill would be here. But then a new sensation began in him, the urge to push, and he realized what was happening. “Father,” he breathed. “I cannot! Peter isn't here yet!”

The High Evolutionary actually laughed. “Don't be foolish, Adam. Your body won't wait.”

With a despairing moan, Adam relented and began to push. It was far from a pleasant feeling, and he heaved with the pain. His belly was aching tremendously with the contractions, and now a newer, sharper pain had started deep in his pelvis. Reflexively he leaned back, parting his legs.

From there it was slow going. Minutes seemed to swim by, while Adam was drowning in agony. He pushed with all his might, and yet he seemed to be getting nowhere. Nothing he did eased the pain- in fact, it was slowly intensifying. He let out a soft, low moan, looking up blearily at the High Evolutionary. “Father, I can't...”

“You can,” the man replied firmly. “You are! Reach down and feel, my love. You're crowning.”

Adam did as he was bid, albeit warily. Sure enough, he could feel what progress he had made- and worse, what he still had to go.

The contractions were constant now, one leading directly into the next. It was all Adam could do to maintain consciousness, at this point having let his body take over. The High Evolutionary was close by him, hands gentle on his shoulders, his belly. Faintly Adam heard his words of encouragement. “That's it, Adam, you have the whole head out now. Keep going, pet, you're almost there.”

With the last of his effort, Adam gave one final push, and then he knew little else besides the muted, happy exclamation from the High Evolutionary, and the fact that his pain had been instantly relieved. He laid back, clinging to wakefulness, as his father reached between his legs. Then there was a weight on his bare chest, warm and slickly wet. Adam worked up the energy to look down.

There was a creature curled up on him, writhing vaguely. It was a big creature- much bigger than he had expected. Rather squashed and purple and alien, he thought. Was this his child?

“It's a male, Adam, a son,” the High Evolutionary was saying as Adam roused a little. “A big thing, a terribly big thing indeed.”

Adam let out a massive breath. “Is it over?”

“Not quite. You must still pass the afterbirth, but that will hardly be a feat after birthing this... this very sizable child.”

The baby gave a soft, unhappy sound. Adam blinked several times, still staring helplessly at the thing. “It's rather ugly,” he said. “Why is it so very ugly?”

“They always look like that,” the High Evolutionary responded. “He will be quite charming once he's healed a little, I'm certain. He has two very attractive parents.”

Adam said nothing. At last be brought up a hand to touch the child, who started a little. He ran his fingers over chubby arms and legs, and that odd mushy-looking face- that little button nose and those fat cheeks, and the pouting mouth. The baby cooed softly at his mother's touch, nestling all the more firmly into Adam's bare breast.

“Let me clean the boy up a bit, and see to this cord. Then you can feed him, and give him his name.”

Adam watched mutely as the High Evolutionary lifted the baby, who squawked with alarm. He stared as the man made his way from the nest to the sink, and as he warmed a washcloth to clean the baby with. He was deft at handling infants, Adam realized, and wondered briefly where he had learned.

Then- almost immediately, it seemed- the infant was being returned to him. Adam reached to hold him sheerly out of instinct. The High Evolutionary, busying himself cleaning up the bloody mess that Adam had made, said, “You're dissociating, Adam. You'll feel back to normal in a while. Let's get this afterbirth passed. Then I want you to feed your son. The name can wait until his father gets here, if you'd prefer.”

“Peter,” Adam murmured vaguely, and then burst into tears once more. “He didn't make it in time! He'll be heartbroken!”

“Hush, now, you're going to upset the baby. He'll be here soon, I'm sure, and you two can decide on a name.”
Adam duly did as instructed and stopped crying, and instead laid in a numb stupor while the High Evolutionary helped him to pass the afterbirth and situated the baby at his breast. He barely felt the child’s eager suckling. He fixed his eyes on the ceiling above his bed and was quiet.

It seemed that only a few minutes had passed when there was a commotion from outside the bedroom door. There was a hurried knock, but before the door could be answered, Quill all but burst into the room. He was panting and shiny with sweat, his eyes wide and panicky. “I’m here!” He exclaimed. “I’m here.”

“Oh, Peter,” Adam began, sitting up slightly and immediately groaning with pain. His middle was on fire. “I’m sorry, my love…”

Quill said nothing else, his gaze fixed on Adam magnetically as he approached. He wrestled his way out of his coat, never taking his eyes off of his partner. His mouth was slightly ajar.

“It’s a boy, Peter,” Adam said softly. “You have a son.”

Quill fairly collapsed to his knees at the bedside, eyes falling now from Adam to the bundle at his chest. “Jeez,” he murmured, his mustache twitching as he sniffed. “Jesus…”

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Quill responded absently. He reached out with a great hand and carefully touched the whorl of the newborn’s ear. “God… he’s perfect, Adam. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

“Beautiful,” Adam echoed vaguely, looking from Quill down at the wrinkly, purplish creature kneading his chest.

“He’s huge… how are you feeling?”

“Wretched,” Adam replied earnestly. “I thought I would die.”

Quill gave a soft laugh. “I can’t believe it. I’ve got a little boy.”

Adam nodded, sighing quietly. “That’s right. And we must name him.”

Quill looked up. “Right. A name. What were you thinking?”

“There was one name from that old book that I quite liked for a son-- Aurelian. It means ‘golden one’.”
Quill repeated the name a few times, as if getting used to the feel of it on his tongue. “Yeah,” he said at last. “Yeah, I like that.”

“Aurelian Petros?”

Quill blinked a few times. “That’ll do, alright. Aurelian Petros.”

Chapter Text

Quill sat on Adam's bed with his legs folded and watched the Guardians closely as they entered.  He did not smile or look particularly happy to see them; in fact, as they neared he gave a quiet growl.

"Peter," Adam scolded from his spot on the chaise.  "It's just our friends!"

"It's okay," Gamora responded immediately.  "We know what Titan fathers are like."

Nevertheless, she approached the bed.  Laying on it, wrapped in a silk blanket and wearing a little knitted cap, was a very large infant-- perhaps the largest Gamora had ever seen.

"Damn," she murmured.  "How are you feeling, Adam?"

"Very sore.  He weighs almost eleven pounds."

Gamora looked to Quill, who was all but beaming with pride.  He shifted a bit to stroke the baby's head. "He takes after me.  I was real big, too."

"I believe it," Richard said, peering over Gamora's shoulder at the infant.  "He's a bruiser."

The baby, who was at this point almost 48 hours old, was beginning to lose the swollen, bruised look of the newly born.  The gold of his skin was tempered by a peachy hue, and the sparse curls sticking out from under his cap were pale blonde.  His eyes were tightly shut, and per the High Evolutionary would remain so for a few days. He grunted softly at his father's caress.

Mantis was the first to reach out, and although Quill rumbled defensively, he did not protest.  She laid one hand on the baby, cooing. "He is so beautiful, Peter. What is his name?"

"Aurelian," Quill responded.  "I guess I'll call him Auri for short."

The baby peeped quietly, wriggling in his swaddling.  Quill gave a muted whine. He reached to gather the infant carefully into his arms, looking down at him with almost overwhelming tenderness.  Mantis sat on the bed beside him, leaning in to continue admiring Aurelian. Drax came forward as well, and though he was not spared Quill's anxious eyeing, he made a small sound of wonder at the sight of the baby.

"A healthy son," he said approvingly.  "This is a happy day."

Gamora turned away to look at Adam.  He was sitting with his legs daintily crossed, watching his fiance and child from the chaise.  He noticed Gamora watching him, and smiled faintly. She left her cooing companions behind and walked to his side.

"Hey," she said.  "How are you?"

"Perfectly well," Adam replied, but his tone was flat and hollow.  "Never better."

"I bet it's a relief to have all that weight off you."

He nodded.  Gamora sighed.

"Well, something's bothering you," she said.  "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not particularly."

She pursed her lips and turned her gaze back to Quill.  He had finally let up, it seemed, and was letting Mantis hold Aurelian.  The baby looked comically large in her arms.

"I hear Peter missed the birth.  Is that why you're upset?"

"Not in the least.  I'm quite glad he wasn't there to see me in that state.  But on that note, there was something he wanted to talk to you about."

Gamora turned to look at Quill once more.  He had risen to stretch, leaving the baby with Mantis.  "What about?"

"He says he chased some spy down and got some information out of him."

At this, Gamora perked up.  She called quietly to Quill, who started a little and turned to look at her.  He grinned.

"Hey," he said, coming around the bed to pull her into an embrace.  "Are you happy for us, or what?"

"Of course," she replied into his shoulder.  "He's a beautiful baby, Peter."

"You haven't said hello to him yet."  He released her from the embrace, taking hold of her wrist and hauling her to the bedside.  She yielded to him. As she settled on the edge of the bed, leaning against Adam's numerous plush pillows, Quill was retrieving Aurelian from Mantis' arms.  The baby made a small, unhappy sound at being disturbed once more. Quill cradled him carefully, murmuring comfort.

"Here," he said, transferring the infant to Gamora's waiting arms.  He was heavy; she pressed him immediately to her chest. For a moment he squirmed, and she was rather alarmed by his strength.  Eventually, however, he calmed. When he was still in her arms, she could admire his velvety cheeks and button nose. He grunted.

"Wow," she said, more to herself than to Quill.  "He's so... fat."

"Thanks," Quill responded, panting.

"What did you want to talk to me about?"

Quill looked blank for a moment.  Then he said, "Oh! Right! I caught a spy from the Church."

"What?"

"Yeah!  He was snooping around outside here while we were waiting for Adam to go into labor.  I followed him in Aurora and wound up getting sucked into his hyper-jump. We wound up on some little moon somewhere, and I got him trapped.  He didn't put up much of a fight."

"What sort of information did you get from him?"

"Not much.  He kicked it pretty fast.  He must have had a poison pill or something."

"What did he say, Peter?"

"I thought the Church must be here trying to see what Adam was doing-- but he told me that he was there to  check up on me."

"You?  Why?"

"I don't really know.  Something about the leader of the Church wanting me."

Gamora frowned.  Her thoughts were interrupted, however, by Aurelian's tiny hand finding the neck of her shirt and curling into a tight fist around it.

"Sorry," Quill said.  "He clings."

"That's okay," Gamora replied.  She stroked the little fingers, for a moment overwhelmed by the child's beauty, and the weight of him over her heart.  She hadn't been around a baby in ages-- not since she was a girl, come to think of it. She had largely forgotten how pleasant they were.

Aurelian gave a sharp noise, suddenly, startling her to attention.

"Whoops, he's hungry again," Quill said, reaching for the squawking infant.  "Time to give him to his momma."

Gamora relinquished the baby, watching as Quill carried him to Adam.  Adam, taking the baby, looked around at his visitors meaningfully. Quill said, "He likes a little privacy for this."

Obediently, the Guardians filed out of the room.  Richard found Gamora at once.

"What do you think of the baby?" He asked.  "I saw that big smile when you were holding him."

Was I smiling? She thought.  She hadn't noticed.

-----

Adam did not make an appearance at dinner that evening; per Quill, he was still having trouble getting around and preferred the quiet of his room.  Quill left the baby with him. Dinner was fairly noisy; the Guardians hadn't seen their leader in a week and a half. The others were eager to catch Quill up on all that had occurred during his absence-- which was to say, not much.  Quill, meanwhile, seemed much more interested in relating every tiny detail about Aurelian that he could muster. The result was an enthusiastic but difficult to follow conversation that Gamora only half heard while she ate. She was busy thinking about what Quill had told her about the spy.

"Did he say what the Matriarch wanted with you?"

Quill shook his head.  "He was too busy foaming at the mouth to answer that question."

Gamora sighed.  She stabbed at a bit of roasted meat, not feeling very hungry.

"Hey, lighten up," Quill said with a laugh.  "We'll figure it out in time. Right now. we're celebrating."

The High Evolutionary's servants brought sweet wine and pastries when they had finished their meal.  The High Evolutionary himself had not been seen since the Guardians' arrival, which came as somewhat of a relief;  Gamora shared in Quill's sentiment that he was an unsettling person in every regard.

When she had eaten her fill, she left the noisy dining hall behind and padded down the hall to Adam's bedroom.  She tapped on the door, hoping that the baby wasn't sleeping.

"Do come in," Adam answered at once.  She opened the door slightly and peered around it, knowing that she was probably not who Adam was expecting.

"Oh, Gamora," he said.  He was sitting on his bed now, his long silk robe gathered in crimson pools around him.  "Come in, come in."

She closed the door gently behind her, making her way to Adam's bed.  The cradle was close by, and in it, Aurelian was wriggling restlessly.

"He won't go to sleep," Adam said vaguely as Gamora sat beside him.  "I fed him and gave him a warm bath, but he doesn't seem to be tired."

Gamora studied the infant's chubby hands as they kneaded the air.  "Have you tried rocking him?"

Adam blinked at her a few times.  "No, but perhaps I should."

"I can do it, if you want."

He looked instantly grateful, but said, "Are you experienced with babies?"

"Not really, but how hard can it be?"

She leaned into the cradle, sliding her arms under Aurelian.  He made a small sound of alarm, and for a moment she feared that he would cry, but that was as much as he protested.  She moved him instinctively to her shoulder, bouncing him gently. Adam watched in silence, folding his hands in his lap.

The smell of the baby filled Gamora's nose.  It was an indescribable smell, simply sweet and clean.  Between that and the sound of his breathing, calm and even, she suddenly felt as if all her troubles were very far away.  Quill was right: they could worry about the spy later. Now was a happy time, a time full of hope and promise.

Aurelian made small, content noises as he nestled into her shoulder.  She closed her eyes, focusing on keeping a steady rhythm, and found herself unexpectedly awash with feelings.  She was brought back to her very first adventure with Quill and the other Guardians, back before they had been family, or even friends.  She had been cold and angry then, having little interest in bonding with these strangers. But despite herself, she had been won over by Quill.  He was gentle, friendly, and generous with his affections, which had at first made her balk-- she had never experienced those things from a man before.  

But she had come to trust him, and love him.  Now he was her best friend, and although he seemed far removed from that foolhardy, overeager youngster now, she found that she could not imagine her life without him.  She turned her head slightly to kiss the brow of his newborn son, thanking whatever powers had kept him so many times from death.

Eventually, she realized that Aurelian had fallen asleep.  She slowed her rocking, letting a careful breath out. She looked to Adam.  He was blinking slowly, as though fighting sleep himself. But as she made her way back to the cradle to lay Aurelian with painstaking care in it, he said, “Well, you seem to be a natural.”

The statement came like a blast of cool air on the back of her neck.  She stood upright, looking over her shoulder at him. He brushed a flaxen curl off his forehead and smiled faintly.  “Why are you looking at me like that?”

She shrugged a little.  “I don’t think I’m a natural.”

“Of course you don’t.” He sighed, and began to get gingerly to his feet.  Gamora watched him carefully. His middle was still swollen a little, and his breasts-- which before he had given birth had been scarcely noticeable-- were more evident.

“There is so much I didn’t know,” he said softly.  “So much I wish I had realized.”

“Do you regret it?”

Adam stared at his son for a moment, lips pursed slightly.  “No. I think in time I will get used to the sensation of having created another being, but at the time, it is all very strange.”

Gamora nodded, stepping out of his way as he headed for the bathroom.  “Thank you for getting him to sleep,” the being said. After a long pause, he went on, “Have you ever thought of having children?”

Before she could properly think out that answer, Gamora found herself replying, “A long time ago, when I was young.  Before…”

“Before life got in the way.”

She nodded.  “Now I don’t even know if I can.”

Adam looked at her rather forlornly.  “I think my father could help you, if you wanted.”

That idea was perfectly horrifying.  “No, thank you. I don’t think I’m at a place in my life where I could even take care of a baby, especially not alone.”

He raised an eyebrow.  “Alone? What makes you think you are alone?”

“It’s not like that, with me and Richard.  We don’t have what you and Peter have.”

“You know, I’m not an expert on these things, but if I had to guess, I would say that Richard would disagree.”

Gamora heaved a sigh.

“Even if not Richard, then surely you must know that you have us.  I saw how the Guardians were with Aurelian today. Do you think they would treat your child any differently?”

Gamora shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable.  “It’s not right for me, Adam.”

He didn’t look fully convinced, but he said no more on the subject.

Chapter Text

By the time Aurelian was 5 days old, Adam was back on his feet and growing visibly restless.  He left his bedroom behind and-- with Quill following closely-- wandered the halls of the compound and the gardens outside.  Winter was approaching, and while it was mild on Sovereign, twice they had awakened to find frost glittering on the grass. It reminded Quill of the cooler climate of Titan, and in turn of his father.

"We've got to go visit Dad on our way home," he said while Adam was sorting through some of his clothes in anticipation of packing.  "He'll want to meet his grandson."

Adam nodded absently.  Quill watched his face with some concern; his partner had been despondent since the birth.  Quill had already tried to ask him what was bothering him, but Adam insisted that nothing was wrong.  It was troubling, but in the end, Quill decided not to pester him about it. Adam was hormonal and adjusting to parenthood, and in a few days time would be back to normal.

Instead of worrying, Quill turned his attention to the baby.  Aurelian was yet to open his eyes, but he was alert nonetheless.  He had a good sense of smell, as all Titan young did, and when his father leaned into the cradle to fetch him, he would wriggle and chirp excitedly.  His tiny hands were quick and clever, grasping Quill's collar or tugging at his beard. He was also very strong. He had proved a challenge for the Guardians to handle, between the squirming and the grabbing.  He had a tendency to free himself from his swaddling and latch on to any available appendage. He also had a tendency to bite, much to Adam's chagrin. He had no teeth yet, but the Sovereign still yelped when Aurelian got too enthusiastic while nursing.

"I can't even imagine what my mom must have gone through with me," Quill had said, watching Adam wince and sigh as the baby suckled.  "I'm even more Titan that Auri, and she was all on her own."

"She must have been a remarkable woman, truly," Adam replied.

Given that he had nothing better to be doing, Quill spent a great deal of time simply watching his son as he napped or wiggled about in his cradle.  He felt a bit dazed himself, as if at any moment he might awaken from this warm and pleasant dream. He could scarcely believe that he had a child of his own now-- of all people!  He had spent years thinking that he would never get the chance to be a father or a husband. Now, thanks to the sweet golden creature he had chanced upon, he was going to be both. The thought overwhelmed him with fondness, and he fell upon Adam to cover the being with kisses.  Adam laughed and tolerated this affection.

Now, they were just about ready to leave.  They had seen blessedly little of the High Evolutionary since the birth; Quill got the impression that Adam's father understood that a Titan man needed space so soon after a birth, which was more than could be said of the Guardians.  They had seemed taken aback when Quill had growled at them, but he could not help it. Anyone save Adam approaching his child filled him with an instinctive unease. That wasn't to say he hadn't warmed up to his friends quickly, enough to let them hold and cuddle Aurelian.  And yet, when they had left the previous morning, Quill had felt a curious relief. "We're gonna have to look for a place of our own," he told Adam as he stood by the bedroom window, Aurelian dozing in his arms.

"Why couldn't we live here?" Adam asked, looking up from his folding at last.

"Well," Quill replied, "I guess we could.  We're kind of far from everyone, though."

"And close to my father."

"Yeah, and that."

"You will have to get used to him eventually, you know.  He's going to be your father-in-law. And speaking of which, we must decide on a date for the ceremony."

Quill leaned in and kissed Adam's cheek.  "We need to give my friends from Terra plenty of time to get here."

"Which friends?"

"I want Scott and Little Peter to be here, at least.  And Sam."

"I don't know any of those people.  Little Peter?"

"You'll love him, he's a real sweet kid.  You and I should really take a trip over there before the wedding.  I want everyone to meet the baby."

Adam did not seem particularly convinced.  But before he could say anything further, there was a gentle knock at the door.  Quill's heart sank.

"Come in," Adam called.  The door opened, and the High Evolutionary stepped into the room.

"Good morning, everyone," he said.  "If I could borrow Peter a moment."

"Certainly," Adam said, turning to Quill to gently wrest Aurelian from his arms.  "Go on, then, Peter."

Quill swallowed, but did as instructed.  He did not care to be alone with the High Evolutionary, even after all that they had been through together.  Adam often teased that he should be more comfortable around the person who helped them to conceive a child.

Clearly sensing Quill's unease, the High Evolutionary said, "Don't worry, Peter.  I think you'll quite like what I have in store for you today."

Quill followed him from the bedroom down the long hall to the laboratory.  The cold antiseptic smell of the room made Quill shudder, but he contained himself.  Inside, there was a large, decorative box sitting at the center of a metal table. The High Evolutionary beckoned him towards it.  "I have been preparing this gift for you since Adam became pregnant," he said. "And it is finally ready for you to take with you."

Intrigued, Quill approached the box.  It was large, several feet across, and a lid covered the top.  He lifted it hesitantly-- and gave an exclamation of delight. Inside the box, there were four wiggling, long-furred puppies.  As soon as the box was opened, they began to yip and whine, scrambling for Quill at once. Reflexively he reached in to lift one, holding it to his chest.  The puppy was a soft cream color, with rust-red ears.

"That is the only female of the litter," the High Evolutionary said while Quill cooed over the animal.  "I had initially only tried for two, but wound up with four. I suppose you can distribute them as you see fit, if you don't care to keep them all."

"Four would be a bit much," Quill said, reaching into the box to fetch another puppy.  This one was solid black. "I bet Rich and Gamora'll take one."

"I thought you would be pleased.  And besides, you've a son now, and I am of the opinion that all boys should grow up with dogs.  I certainly did."

Quill, who was quite distracted by the puppies, still managed to be caught off guard by this statement.  "You did what?" He asked.

"Grew up with dogs."

Quill cocked his head, glancing at the tall, metal-plated being over his shoulder.  But he decided not to question this curious statement. Instead, he returned the two puppies he was holding to the box to fetch their remaining siblings.  One was the same cream-and-rust color as the first, and the other was solid red. They touched their pointed snouts to his face and wagged their feathery tails.  Quill beamed. "I think I like these two," he said. "I'll find somewhere for the others. Thanks a bunch-- I love dogs."

-----

In a few hours, Quill had loaded all of their belongings, all of the necessities for the baby, and a box of puppies onto Aurora.  Adam was taking a moment to say goodbye to his father while Quill got Aurelian settled. Over his shoulder, SHIP was cooing at the infant.  "He's beautiful, Peter! Wait until your father sees him."

Quill grinned.  Then, suddenly, he remembered the medallion hanging around his neck.  He brought his hand up to it; he had not taken it off since the Master of the Sun had given it to him.  "I'll have to give the Master an answer soon, won't I?"

"Have you reached a decision?"

Quill nodded.

Adam boarded the ship now, coming to sit on the cot where Aurelian was laid.  "Sleeping well, my little elf?" He said gently.

"Like an angel," Quill replied.  "Hopefully he'll nap until we get out of here.  I want him to be nice and alert when we get to my dad's place."  He reached to stroke Aurelian's fuzzy head, listening to the child's tiny purr.  Eventually he withdrew to the cockpit, leaving Adam to tend the baby, and settled in the pilot seat.  "What should I call our dogs?" He asked, more to himself than Adam or SHIP.

"Call them whatever you like," Adam replied.  "I've never been one for dogs. I would much rather have brought my cat with us."

"Aw, Rune would hate the apartment.  When we move out, we'll bring him home."

"What's all this talk of moving out?  I should quite like to stay with our friends."

"Yeah, I would too, but we've got a baby and two dogs now.  I don't think we're all gonna fit."

Adam turned his attention back to Aurelian, who was stirring.  They were leaving the atmosphere of Sovereign behind by now; this was the first time Quill had left the planet since his little outing before the birth.  It would be nice to see his father on Titan, and after that get back home at last.

“Maybe Hall and Oates,” he said.

“What does that mean?” Adam replied.

“They made some great music.”

Adam raised an eyebrow.  Aurelian had awakened now and was grunting, his small hands waving wildly in the air as he sought Adam out.  Adam lifted him duly, stroking his head and murmuring gently.

“What about Sam and Frodo?”  Before Adam had a chance to ask, he elaborated, “They’re characters from a book my mom used to read to me.”

Quill spent the next hour or so pacing between the cockpit and the cot where his son laid, having been fed and changed.  The puppies, when he leaned in to check on them, were sleeping in a peaceful pile of limbs and tails. As he looked down at them, he was suddenly reminded of what the High Evolutionary had said while Quill had admired the dogs.

“Hey, Adam,” he said.  “Your dad said something really weird today.”

“Oh, yes?” Adam, who was perched in the pilot’s seat while he combed his hair, replied.

“He said something about growing up with dogs.  Do you know what he meant by that?”

Adam looked confused.  “That he grew up with dogs, I’m certain.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.  He’s a robot. They don’t grow.”

Adam laughed.  In fact, it was the hardest Quill could ever remember seeing him laugh.  He doubled in his chair and cackled, until his cheeks were flushed and his eyes filled with mirthful tears.

“Why are you laughing?” Quill asked, truly bewildered now.

“A robot ,” Adam replied, gasping for breath.  “You think that my father is a robot?

“He’s not?”

“No!  What in the world gave you such an idea?”

“He looks like a robot, Adam!”

Adam, finally beginning to collect himself, said, “Oh, my poor darling.  How confused you must be. I suppose you’ve plenty of reason to believe that, but no.  He is as flesh and blood as you or I. He wears an exoskeleton.”

“But… why?”

“I am not entirely certain.  He told me when I was very young that his experiments left him disfigured, and the suit supports him as he ages.  And before you ask, no-- I’ve no idea what he looks like underneath.”

This was certainly a revelation.  Quill made his way to the cot, scratching the back of his head.  “This whole damn time I thought I was dealing with artificial intelligence .  He’s just a guy?”

“Yes, dear,” Adam replied.  

Aurelian, who had been awakened by Adam’s laughter, was peeping for attention.  Quill leaned to scoop him up, kissing his cheeks, before settling the infant into the crook of his arm.  Adam, meanwhile, said, “Goodness, I think I made myself bleed with all that laughing.”

“Are you okay?”

“Perfectly.  I’ve been bleeding on and off since the birth.  Nothing to worry about-- although I am feeling ready for a nap.”

“Go ahead.  I can look after this little fella just fine.”

Adam rose, giving Quill’s shoulder a loving stroke as he passed.  “I trust that you can.”

When he had disappeared into Quill’s quarters, Quill made his way back to the cockpit.  He sat down, admiring Aurelian’s peachy face as he did. “You’d better get used to flying now, little man.  You’re gonna be Daddy’s wingman when you get bigger.”

Then, after a moment, he said, “That’s it!  Goose and Maverick! What do you think, Auri?”

The baby wiggled his nose and quirked his mouth into a tiny smile.