“Genis, will you please quit pacing?” Nineteen year old Phoebe asked, exasperated. “Wearing a hole in the floor of the dock isn't going to make them get here any faster.” Phoebe's father, Eros, had sent word that he'd be arriving home today, bringing the twins' father, Mar-Vell, with him, and Mar wasn't simply making a brief visit as the young people had assumed, but apparently, he would be staying on Titan. For good.
Genis-Vell, now a tall, broad-shouldered young man of seventeen, with buzz-cut pale blond hair, glanced in the red-haired girl's direction, shrugged, then continued pacing, his fists clenched.
“It's OK to be nervous, Genis.” His twin sister, Phyla, currently sitting cross-legged on the floor, smiled at him, trying to look reassuring. “We haven't lived with Father for years. It'll feel as strange for him as it does for us, to have him living here on Titan all the time.”
“I'm not nervous.” Genis muttered. “I just don't understand why, now, suddenly, he wants to settle down here. He certainly wasn't interested in that six years ago, when Uma brought us here.”
“Wasn't he still part of the Kree military when Aunt Elysius brought you and Phyla here to Titan?” Phoebe contributed reasonably. She herself hadn't met her father and sister, and moved to Titan, until several months after that, so she could've gotten something wrong.
“Yes, he was.” Phyla confirmed. She tilted her head to one side, a strand of her chin-length platinum hair falling across her eyes. “Maybe he's just tired of adventuring all over the galaxy and just wants to try a more normal life?”
Genis snorted. “Sure- after all the hard work of bringing up kids is done and he can just waltz back in like he hasn't missed years of our lives.”
“Genis!” Phoebe snapped, bristling. “I know you've never asked him why he didn't come here to Titan with you six years ago, so don't act like you know what he was thinking back then.” She sucked in a deep breath, then exhaled, trying to calm herself. Comments about parents missing years of their childrens' lives always hit a nerve with her, since she hadn't had a single message from her own mother, Heater Delight, since she was thirteen. Heater had introduced Phoebe to her father, Eros, (informing Eros that Phoebe existed at exactly the same time) then vanished less than a month later. She'd left a note, apologizing, but that was it. Eros had eventually been able to trace her, so they knew she was safe, but she'd never attempted to make contact with her daughter again.
Genis, still in a combative mood, saw her tension and sneered, his lip curling. “Sorry, I forgot that parents who abandon their kids was a sore point for you, Phoe- OWW!” His head snapped forward at an unexpected slap to the back of his skull. Recovering, he whirled, scowling.
Gamora, Phoebe's younger sister, newly seventeen, several inches taller than Phoebe, lean and muscular, with dark red hair that fell to her mid back, stood there, looking unapologetic. She arched a brow at him. “You were about to apologize to Phoebe, right?”
He glared at her. “After you apologize for hitting me.”
There was an audible sigh that echoed oddly in their minds, transmitted telepathically to each of them. “Who hit who this time?” A cool female voice queried, as Heather Douglas, or Moondragon as she sometimes liked to be called now, floated down towards them from the upper storey of the docking bay. The artificial lights in the large open space glinted off her shaved head as she surveyed Genis and Gamora disdainfully- her default expression these days, it seemed.
Phoebe hid her grin as Phyla fairly leaped to her feet, darting over and twining her fingers with Heather's, whose expression immediately softened a little. These days, only Phyla, as her partner, had that sort of effect on Heather- to nearly everyone else, the prodigious Terran girl, recently granted the title of Priestess of Shao-Lom, was aloof and kind of arrogant. Phyla kissed Heather tenderly on the cheek, smiling. “I didn't think you'd be here to meet my father.”
Heather squeezed her hand. “You said you would like me to be here, so here I am.” Her voice was as cool and indifferent as ever, but her eyes were kind. She tucked a loose strand of hair back behind Phyla's ear, and the petite girl leaned into her touch, resting her cheek on Heather's hand.
Phoebe gave the couple a moment of privacy as the girls gazed at each other, turning her gaze back to Genis and Gamora. The former was still glaring, of course. Phoebe rolled her eyes, stepping between them and linking her arm with her sister's. “Come on, Gamora. Father's ship will arrive soon. We should probably let Genis and Phyla see Mar-Vell first on their own. Father will probably come straight to find us anyway.” She'd ignore Genis' comment about her mother for now- he was stressed and probably nervous, and she knew she was oversensitive about that issue anyway.
Gamora didn't protest as she was led away, though she did keep glancing back. She was gnawing her lip the way she often did when something was bothering her but she didn't want to admit it.
Phoebe kept walking, her gaze focused ahead. Gamora would talk when she was ready, she knew that. “Where's that bear of yours, anyway?”
Gamora laughed at the now-old joke about her (huge) dog, Sirius. “I left him with Aunt Elysius for a bit. You know he causes trouble if I bring him near the spaceships. And don't call him a bear, he's a dog. And in case you forgot, you got him for me.”
Phoebe grinned. “So... do you want to tell me what's wrong?”
Gamora shrugged noncommittally. “You know I always worry about Oba- Father,” she corrected herself, trying not to use the childish derivative name for her father any more, “When he isn't here.”
Phoebe, knowing full well why that was, slid an arm round Gamora's shoulder. “Hey. Nothing's happened so far, has it? Not once, in six years. There's no reason to think that-”
“I know, I know.” Gamora sighed. “But every time he leaves, the same thoughts come back and I imagine the worst.” She shook her head. “It's stupid, I know. But I never feel totally relaxed until Father's back safely.”
“Not stupid.” After all, Phoebe knew Gamora had good reason to fear her past, before their father had adopted her, coming back to haunt her. Gamora had improved a lot over the years, no longer withdrawing from others and working herself into a panic when their father went on a journey without her, but Phoebe knew she still didn't like it, and probably never would. “Just not something you should worry about all the time, OK?”
“Mm-hmm.” They walked a bit further in silence. “It's not just that, though.”
“I just... having a stranger living in our home is going to feel... strange.” Gamora laughed humorlessly at her lack of a better word. “I've never met Mar-Vell, and it's just... I don't know, I'm not keen on things changing.”
“I know. It'll be different having him here. But Phyla pointed out earlier, it'll be difficult for her and Genis and Elysius, having him back in their lives so fast, and even weirder for him, suddenly living on the same world as his ex and his children, who he hasn't seen in person for years, as well as staying at the palace with Grandfather, Father, you, me and Heather, when Mar-Vell's never even met us girls before.”
That startled a laugh out of Gamora. “It'll be an adjustment, to say the least.”
“Yeah. For all of us.” Phoebe frowned thoughtfully as they walked aimlessly, with no real goal in mind, just keeping busy until they met the newest member of their household. “Though I do keep wondering why Mar-Vell would suddenly drop all his adventuring and just want to settle down here now...” She shook her head. “Listen to me, I'm getting as nosy as Heather!”
Gamora snorted. “No-one's as nosy as Heather. And I'm curious too, but I guess we'll find out eventually why Mar-Vell wants to make a home here now, after years of wandering.” She paused, then smiled, brown eyes shining. “I can't think of a better place than Titan to make a home after years of living without one.”
Phoebe, hearing the double meaning in Gamora's words, the veiled reference to her own past, took her little sister's hand and squeezed it comfortingly. “You've got that right.” I just hope having Mar-Vell around doesn't cause too much trouble. Just why had the Kree decided to relocate to Titan so suddenly, anyway?
Mar-Vell took a deep, steadying breath, inwardly bracing himself, hiding his unease and trying to look calm and approachable as he stepped down from the ship and came face to face with his children for the first time in over six years. Eros, just behind him, squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, and he threw his friend a grateful glance before looking properly at Genis and Phyla. It was all he could do to keep his jaw from dropping- these couldn't be his twins, surely! Somehow, in his mind, he'd always pictured them as the ten-year-olds he'd last seen, despite knowing full well how much time had passed, but standing in front of him were two strangers: a tall, muscular young man with a face like his own, but with blond hair cropped nearly to his scalp, whom, if Mar was not mistaken, would actually be taller than him, and a petite young woman with the same platinum hair and blue eyes, but with facial features more similar to Elysius'.
His mouth went dry and he couldn't move another step. What was he meant to say, to do, now, after having missed so much of his precious children's lives?
Genis stepped forward, his posture aggressive, his expression belligerent. “Good to finally see you again, Father.” His tone was acidic. There were reprimands of 'Genis!' from Phyla, Eros and a green-clad young woman standing beside Phyla, holding her hand, but the young half-Kree took no notice, continuing to glower at his father.
Mar actually took a step back, not having expected outright hostility, before common sense reasserted itself and he remembered that this was his son, a boy of only seventeen, and while Genis had a right to be angry with him, he wasn't about to be cowed by him. He nodded firmly, holding his son's gaze. “Genis.” His greeting was cooler than he had expected to give, but he had a feeling, for now, it was best to let his children approach him on their terms. Leaving Genis to scowl (and hearing but choosing to ignore Eros upbraiding the boy behind him, in whispers) Mar turned to Phyla, his smile now back in place, but less certain than before. “Phyla?” His greeting came out sounding far more like a question than he'd intended, and he cursed silently- what if she reacted as her brother had? He didn't want this reunion to be centered on anger and admonishment- his time on Titan shouldn't begin this way!
To his immense relief, Phyla released her companion's hand and stepped closer to him, her smile as nervous as Mar feared his was. “Hello, Father.” She was biting her lip, but half extended her arms, as if wanting an embrace, as she so often had when she had been a little thing, but was unsure if one would be offered. His own smile grew wider as he extended his arms to his daughter.
She settled into his embrace easily, and Mar let out a soft sigh. It felt... strange. Familiar, because this was Phyla, his little girl, and also odd, because this wasn't the child he used to hold as she fell asleep, but an almost grown woman. Though, he noted with some amusement, she was still fairly small- the top of her head only reached the bridge of his nose!
“I missed you, Father.” Phyla's voice was muffled as she pressed her face to his shoulder.
He rested his face atop her hair. “I missed you, too. Both of you.”
There was a derisive scoff from Genis, followed by a faint sound of a slap, and Mar looked up to see Phyla's bald-headed friend (he presumed, from what Eros had told him on their trip here, that this was young Heather, or Moondragon, Mentor's adopted Terran daughter and Phyla's lover) lowering her hand, and Genis rubbing the back of his head, as if she had struck him.
Before Mar could comment, Eros had strode over to both of them, hissing something that Mar couldn't hear. Both children hung their heads in response, though Genis was now glowering at the floor, and Heather simply looked uninterested in whatever Eros had told them.
Phyla stepped back, wiping her eyes on the back of her hand, and flushing slightly, as if embarrassed about crying. “Sorry about that.” She mumbled, lowering her gaze, as if unsure what to do or say now. Mar knew how she felt!
Eros, thankfully, broke the awkward silence, perhaps sensing that no-one knew what to say next. “Well, I'd best be off to see what mischief my daughters are getting up to. Come on, Heather, we should leave these three to get to know each other.”
Then again, perhaps not. Mar looked at Eros helplessly, resisting the ridiculous urge to ask Eros not to leave him alone with his own children, as Genis continued glaring at the ground as if it offended him, Phyla was shifting her weight from foot to foot nervously, and Heather, taking little notice of Eros, remained where she was, and simply stared at them all, her expression cold, as if she were assessing and judging them all at once. Eros gave Mar a sympathetic look before speaking again. “Phyla, could you and Genis show your father to his room, please?” He lifted his gaze slightly, addressing his next words to Mar. “You need to get some rest.”
“Why?” Genis and Heather blurted out the question simultaneously.
Mar wanted to glare at Eros for that, but refrained, knowing his friend only spoke out of concern for him. Still, he was far from ready to explain why he might need more rest than usual, so he simply feigned a yawn. “No reason, it's merely that the long journey here was exhausting. And I didn't get much sleep.”
Genis let out a sound that could have been a scoff. “So meeting Phyla and me was enough? You're not even going to greet Mother?”
Alright, now Genis' insolence was beginning to irritate Mar- did he speak to Elysius so disrespectfully as well? Just how much had she disciplined him, growing up? He certainly hadn't been this rude when he was ten! Mar, deciding to forgo politeness, as his son certainly wasn't showing him any, opened his mouth to reprimand Genis himself, when Eros, perhaps seeing something of his mood in his expression, quickly darted between father and son. Mar was somewhat relieved to see that Eros didn't look particularly pleased with Genis either, if the Titan's expression was anything to go by.
“Alright, new plan.” Eros caught Genis by the arm. “You're coming to have a talk with me before we find Phoebe and Gamora, and Phyla, Heather, can you two show Mar to his room? Thanks.” Not waiting for a reply, he hauled Genis from the dock, an arm slung round his shoulders, preventing Genis from storming off, talking rapidly into his ear.
Mar shook his head. “Is he always like that?” He'd expected the twins to be reserved and uneasy around him, as Phyla was, but Genis' antagonism... Mar had seldom seen his own father, growing up, had hardly known the man, but he would never have dreamed of speaking to his own father the way Genis had just been speaking to him!
“Yes.” Heather stated, in a cool, unruffled tone.
Phyla shot a glare her way. “No, Genis isn't always like that, it's just... he's nervous, and he doesn't talk when things worry him, so it just builds up until he gets angry and loses his temper.”
“Every other day.” Heather added bluntly, rolling her eyes.
Mar decided not to comment further at present, not wanting to upset or alienate Phyla by speaking badly of her brother, whom she obviously knew far better than she knew Mar himself. He remained deep in thought, letting the soft voices of the two girls wash over him, as he was led from the dock to his new quarters in Titan's palace- far larger and more luxuriant than anything he was used to. After a few moments of awkward hovering, he had thanked Phyla and Heather for showing him the way, promising to see them later- probably at dinner. He knew that he'd see Mentor again then, and also be introduced to Eros' daughters, Phoebe and Gamora. He had to admit he was looking forward to that. Eros had changed a lot from the man he was when Mar had first met him- fatherhood suited him and Mar was curious about how his daughters had turned out.
He frowned slightly, wondering if Genis would join the rest of the 'family' for dinner, and, if so, would his attitude have improved? If not, Mar resolved, he would have words with the boy himself. Unsure of his father or not, he needed to understand as soon as possible that Mar was not going to be bullied or intimidated by his own child. Respect for one's elders was one of the first things the Kree taught their children, and regardless of how he now viewed Kree society, that one trait was worth passing on. But what if you cause Genis to hate you by doing so? A disconcerting voice in his mind asked. He quashed it firmly. He would not be too hard on Genis, but he would find a way to get through to him. Somehow. Wrenching his mind from that topic for now, he found his thoughts drifting to Elysius. How would it feel, facing her again, after he'd all but abandoned her to raise his children alone? And as of yet, she didn't know that he had found another love, on Earth- Carol... He had no cause to feel guilty about that, his relationship with Elysius was long since over, but...
An itch began in his chest, turning into a racking cough, and he pressed his hand to his mouth as he choked up mucus- or so he thought, until he saw blood splattering his hand. He stayed where he was, hunched over, until the pain in his chest subsided, then slowly stood, making his way to the bathroom to clean his hand. Leaning on the sink, he gazed at his own face in the mirror. He looked the same as he always had, there were no obvious signs of changes. Yet. He took a deep breath. How long should he wait before he told anyone? The shock, the denial and grief, the pity he would receive once they knew... No. Eros knew the truth, and like as not Mentor would have to be told, so treatment could be given, but he would not reveal his secret to anyone else, not yet. He wouldn't cause them suffering like that. Not until he had no choice.
Genis slumped against the wall, deep in the series of caves beneath Titan's city, his arms crossed. He was still angry from Eros' lecturing him earlier- so what if he was angry with his father for just walking out of their lives for over six years, then just dropping back in when he felt like it! He scoffed to himself when he thought back on how Phyla had acted- smiling and hugging Father like she didn't feel angry or upset at him at all for having abandoned them! Maybe she really didn't- his twin sister hardly ever got mad at anyone, he mused. But then why do I? He clenched his fists. It didn't matter. Phy might be willing to forgive and forget Father's absence from their lives for so long, but he certainly wasn't going to. Did Mar-Vell have any idea what it was like to be ripped away from the father he'd once idolized, then have to grow up, pretty much surrounded by girls, and to want a father around to talk to, desperately, and never have him show up?
Genis sighed. There had been Uncle Eros, of course, but he was always busy with his own daughters, and it wasn't the same- Genis had wanted his own father there, to show he still cared. And he never once did anything more than make brief calls a couple of times a year. As far as Genis knew, Mar-Vell hadn't even attempted to stop Elysius taking him and Phyla and leaving, back when they were ten. It's like he never cared about us at all. Well, fine! Genis scowled. If his father didn't care, then he would return the favor. He'd grown up now, he didn't need a father. So he'd show Mar-Vell how it felt to be pushed aside like you didn't matter at all.
His stomach growled, reminding him that he was hungry, but he ignored it. He'd deliberately skipped going to dinner, so he didn't have to see Father again. He'd probably get yelled at later, but what else was new? All his family did these days was get mad at him, pretty much. He couldn't do anything right, so why should he bother trying to please them?
A hissing distracted him from his thoughts, and he glanced sideways to see one of the numerous green-tail lizards that dwelled in these caves scuttling towards him. He spent enough time down here lately, whenever he wanted to be alone, that it didn't bother him. He casually stretched his hand out, sending a photon blast at the creature. It shrieked and scuttled away, leaving nothing but the acrid smell of burnt leather.
“Genis?” Soft, barely audible footsteps came towards him. He rolled his eyes- only one person knew he came down here, and would come looking for him.
“Go away, Gamora!” He knew, if she came and talked to him, he'd find himself calming down, and right now, he didn't want to. He was well aware that this was just him sulking, but he could do that if he wanted, thank you very much. Even if he did sort of want to see Gamora, as well.
“No. I will not go away.” Her voice was both amused and exasperated as she walked into the cave, and leaned against the wall next to him, her posture casual. He refused to look at her or speak. She didn't react. This was how it was with them, communicating without communicating, just being there. Gamora carried a wrapped bundle of some kind, and although Genis feigned disinterest, his stomach growled loudly when he picked up the smell of warm bread. Gamora offered it to him without a word. He considered refusing, except, well... he was hungry. He tore the covering from the food and dug in. In minutes, his hands were empty, and crumbs dotted the floor.
“The adults were worried when you didn't show up for dinner.” Gamora didn't look at him as she spoke. “They're all looking for you in the city or the fields.” Her lips quirked in a half-smile. “I'm the only one who knows you come down here when you're upset.”
“I'm not upset!” Genis retorted. “I'm just annoyed that nobody but me seems to care that my so-called father forgot all about Phyla and me for years, and all's forgiven and forgotten just because he's now decided he wants to settle down here!”
Gamora's eyebrow arched. “That's you not being upset?”
“Shut up.” Genis muttered. He eyed her from the corner of his eye. “I'm mad at you though. Or I should be.”
“You hit me earlier!”
Gamora's lips tightened. “That was because you tried to upset Phoebe. No-one hurts my family, not even you.”
Genis shrugged, now looking at the floor. “I didn't mean what I said. I just thought... if anyone knew how I felt, it'd be her. Her mother left her behind, so I thought she'd understand how I'm feeling, having to deal with Father just showing up again, but she's on my father's side too.”
Gamora sighed. “It's not about sides, Genis.”
“The hell it isn't.” Genis groused. “Seems like my father is the perfect one who can't do anything wrong, and I'm the only one with the guts to point out that he has screwed up where Phyla and I are concerned, then everybody acts like I'm the one with the problem!” His fists clenched again in frustration, and he whirled, letting photonic energy build, then slamming his hand into the cave wall.
Gamora stared at the smoldering, hand-sized, blackened hole now adorning the wall. “Feel better now?”
“No.” He hung his head. All he felt now was the same frustration and anger, plus a new pain in his hand. His eyes stung, but he blinked furiously. He was not going to shed a single tear over this mess.
“I thought not. Idiot.” Gamora shook her head as she took his wrist, to check the damage to his hand. “Nothing's broken, luckily.” She used the cloth she'd wrapped the bread in to bind his hand, without comment. That was one thing Genis really liked about her. She'd do what needed to be done, without asking pointless questions or blaming him for doing something stupid like everyone else would. She squeezed his fingers, gently, before dropping his hand. “We should head back soon. Before everyone realizes you're not in the city, and they come looking down here.”
Disgruntled at having to go home so soon, and deal with yet more lectures on failing to show up for meals and being irresponsible by disappearing without a word, Genis groaned. But he knew, if he stayed gone much longer, Heather would probably use her damned telepathy to find him, and his refuge down here would be lost (since the caves were technically off-limits in the first place.) He rolled his eyes, but began walking. “Come on then. If we have to.”
Gamora fell into step with him. Her brown eyes gleamed. “Race you to the surface?”
Genis eyed her. “OK...” He took to the air and flew off. “See you there!”
“Hey! I didn't say flying was allowed!” She took off running straight away, but Genis already had a head start. He couldn't help but laugh as he shot through the caves like a bullet from a gun. That would teach her to challenge him without setting ground rules! He landed in the first cave, from which the lights of the city could be seen, grinning.
Gamora raced into the cave less than two minutes later, and, without pausing, leaped at him, tackling him and knocking him to the ground. They wrestled for a few minutes before she had him pinned, his wrists beneath her hands. She leaned over him, her long dark red hair cascading down, brushing Genis' face. He stared up at her, his breathing picking up speed as the weight of her body, pressed against his, made his heart race and his face redden. She smirked, leaning closer. “Say I won.”
“I won.” Genis replied facetiously, grinning.
She rolled her eyes, then, glancing at the entrance to the caves quickly to make sure they were alone, gently brushed her lips against his. Genis' eyes slid shut as he savored the kiss, then, when she moved back, used one of his now-freed hands to brush her hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. They'd begun their relationship surreptitiously about six months ago, keeping it secret for now, as they weren't sure how the adults in the family would react- as Eros' daughter and Elysius' son, they'd been brought up like cousins. Heather and Phyla becoming involved was one thing- nobody had ever implied they were family, but Genis had a feeling that he and Gamora having a relationship would be viewed differently. Besides that, Eros was incredibly protective of his daughters, Gamora especially, and Genis highly doubted he'd want her seeing anyone! Least of all someone like Genis, who only caused trouble and embarrassment. Gamora, close to her father, hated hiding things from him, and had said as much, but she did agree with Genis that she didn't want this relationship forbidden, so for now, it was their secret. It was thrilling, somehow, to have something that only they knew about.
Gamora climbed off of him in one fluid motion, offering her hand to haul him to his feet. Genis didn't immediately release her hand as they made their way out of the caves, keeping their fingers laced together, enjoying how it felt, holding the hand of the girl he had feelings for, no-one there to judge or recriminate him for it. From Gamora's smile, she was enjoying it too.
They stepped into the city proper, blinking as their eyes adjusted to the brighter light, and squinting to make out the figure who had apparently just seen them step from the caves. Gamora dropped Genis' hand immediately when the person spoke.
Genis tensed. It was Mar-Vell. He ground his teeth at the suspicious look on his father's face as he regarded them- he'd been holding Gamora's hand, it wasn't a crime!
Gamora, however, was blushing, her cheeks a darker shade of green, as she brushed down her clothes, and only then did Genis remember that they'd been mock-wrestling on the cave floor, their clothing was rumpled and coated in dirt, and Gamora's long hair was tangled and liberally sprinkled in rock dust. And they'd been holding one another's hands... Genis swallowed hard as he realized what this probably looked like to Mar-Vell. He held his hands up defensively. “I...”
But it was clear from Mar-Vell's expression that he'd already made his mind up about what was going on, so what was the point of trying to explain? Still, for Gamora's sake, he figured he should try. “Father," the word stuck in his throat a bit, "This isn't what it looks like.”
“Mm-hmm.” Mar-Vell's tone was sceptical. “Then you both won't mind coming with me and explaining this to Eros.”
Genis opened his mouth to protest- they hadn't done anything wrong!- but Mar-Vell raised a hand, cutting him off. “Now.” And the way he looked at Genis then, disappointed and ashamed, made Genis cringe, wanting to curl up and hide. Despite the anger he still felt with his father, some small part of him still craved his approval. He highly doubted he'd get that now.
He'd already screwed up any chance of that.
Mar-Vell inhaled deeply as he waited for Eros and Elysius to respond to what he had just told them- that he had found his own son and Eros' youngest daughter in what could have been a compromising position. He had planned to make the children themselves confess, but, upon considering the situation, and taking into account Genis' protestation of innocence, had decided to speak to Eros and Elysius alone first. He had instructed Genis (and Gamora) to stay within the palace, but whether or not either of them listened was another matter.
Eros was shaking his head, his expression wry, his green eyes glinting with amusement. Elysius, seated nearby, had a hand pressed to her mouth- stifling laughter? Mar's brow furrowed. “Have I missed something?”
Elysius broke into peals of laughter at that: Eros followed suit seconds later. “Sorry, Mar,” he finally managed. “It's just that those two have been getting closer for months now, and we were waiting to see how long it took before they told anyone.”
“They've been attempting to sneak around and pretend they aren't together. I'm sure they think they've been very successful, but in truth they've rarely been unchaperoned, by one of us or by ISAAC.” Elysius explained when she calmed, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes.
Mar was somewhat relieved to hear this, that he hadn't uncovered something that could cause problems between the children and their family, but on the other hand... “And, their... relationship, doesn't worry you at all?” This was more aimed at Eros, as Gamora's father. “The state they were in when I saw them, clothes askew, hair mussed...” He knew what his first thought had been, but maybe he had misunderstood something.
Elysius waved a hand dismissively. “More likely than anything, they'd been mock-fighting again.”
“They've bonded over sparring since they first met.” Eros added. “And, to be perfectly honest, they're seventeen, not that young. We'd be naïve to think that.... things... won't progress between them.” He sounded like he had to force those words from his throat, however, and his face contorted, as if he were trying not to scowl. Mar hid a smirk. Despite Eros' words, he clearly was not pleased at the idea of his younger daughter growing to womanhood, and all that entailed.
“Besides, none of us tried to prevent Phyla and Heather's relationship,” Elysius added in a reasonable tone. “It would be hypocritical if we now tried to force Genis and Gamora apart.” She snorted. “And believe me, those girls tried their level best to conceal it from us as well, to begin with. Adolescents seem to relish keeping their personal lives from their parents. Stars know we always did. I suppose we're paying for it now.”
Mar felt a great weight lift from his shoulders now this had been explained, and he saw that there was no true problem here. Still, he decided he should have a talk with Genis about women and relationships, particularly if there was a chance that his son could become intimate with Gamora. And, as Eros said, given the children's ages, it would be utterly naive to presume it wouldn't happen. Though from my old friend's expression, he'd rather his daughter never knew of such things! Mar chuckled to himself at that thought- an act he quickly regretted, as it became a deep, racking cough. He struggled to stop, afraid he would cough up blood as he had before, not something he yet wanted to do in front of others. Eros would only grow more concerned about him, and Elysius, who did not yet know of his condition... he did not wish her to find out this way! Or at all, yet. With extreme effort, he quieted himself and straightened up. “Sorry about that.” His voice was hoarse, and he swallowed, trying to moisten his throat.
Eros stepped forward, his brow furrowed, hand outstretched as if to support him. “Mar-”
“I just need a drink. I'll fetch some water. Then I think I may seek out Phyla. I've hardly been able to speak with her yet, and she might be able to help me smooth things over with Genis, later.” Avoiding Eros' eyes, he left the room. He couldn't help but overhear Elysius as he departed, however- she was asking Eros if he had perhaps contracted some virus during the journey to Titan. Mar didn't wait to hear Eros' answer- he trusted his friend to keep his secret, and he wanted to be away from here before too many questions were asked. Walking at a brisk pace, he had soon left the royal apartments, but the coughing fit had left an irritating itch in his chest, and he soon grew short of breath, and had to stop. Leaning against a wall, he closed his eyes, trying to will himself more strength.
His eyes flew open again instantly when he heard Phyla's voice. His daughter stood a few feet away, eyeing him with concern. He pulled a reassuring smile onto his face and stood up straight. “Phyla.”
She stepped closer, peering at him anxiously, clearly trying not to fidget. “Are you alright? You look pale...”
Mar shook his head. “It's nothing.” Then, realizing she'd probably seen him using the wall for support, closing his eyes, added, “I'm just.... thinking. About Genis.”
Phyla wrung her hands. “You're not angry with him for how he greeted you, and then skipping dinner, are you? I promise, he really isn't always that bad-tempered or rude.”
It took a few seconds for him to even remember Genis' antagonism when he had first arrived, but, catching on, he shook his head once more. “No, it isn't about that. His anger towards me is understandable. No, the thing is...” He trailed off, thinking. Eros and Elysius had said that they were aware of Genis and Gamora's relationship, but were the other children? And if not, was it his place to reveal it to Genis' sister? “I saw him with Gamora earlier, and.... got the wrong idea. I spoke rashly.” He stopped there, unsure if it was even right to spell out his failings to his daughter in this way. Parenting was so much easier when there were clear lines concerning parental conversation, and child's conversation. How do I know what's saying too much, when dealing with a seventeen year old?
Phyla smothered a giggle with a hand pressed to her mouth, a gesture that made her look even more like Elysius, Mar noted. He arched a brow, querying what she found amusing.
“Sorry, it's just... I'm not sure you did get the wrong idea.” Phyla worried at her lower lip with her teeth. “Genis has been vanishing a lot lately, and quite a few times, I've gone looking for him, and there's no sign of Gamora either. Then they both seem to show up, about five or ten minutes apart.”
Mar had to struggle not to laugh- this was Genis' idea of subtlety? He tried to keep humor from his voice as he replied. “Do you think there's something going on between them, then?”
Phyla's cheeks flushed pink. “Maybe? I don't know... Gamora doesn't talk much about personal stuff, except with Phoebe, and Genis...” She sighed. “He used to tell me everything, but the last couple of years, he's.... changed. Around me and Uma, he's either withdrawn, or just.... angry.”
Mar put a hand on her shoulder, trying to convey sympathy, not knowing what to say. It had to be hard, having one's twin, your other half, grow away from you and shut you out for no apparent reason. It was also becoming increasingly obvious to him that despite what Phyla had tried to assure him of a few minutes ago, Genis' angry, defensive attitude was his typical behavior nowadays. No doubt some of it could be chalked up to Genis' growing up, and struggling with hormones, but Mar was fairly certain he had never been that aggressive in his own adolescence, and the teenage girls here on Titan (from what he had seen so far) didn't act as Genis did. So what made his son different, and what could he do to help him? “I'm sorry.” He said eventually. The words felt useless, and no doubt Phyla had heard them before. She shrugged, trying to smile.
“I'm sure he'll be kinder to you once he's gotten used to you being here, Father.” Her voice was bright, as if cheering him was the only issue here, not any problems she might have with her brother.
Mar slid an arm round her shoulder. “I'm sure he will.” He wasn't, actually, but right now, he sensed he should focus on his daughter, not his son. “So, Eros was telling me you take quite an interest in missionary and charitable work on planets in crisis.”
Phyla's whole face lit up. “Yes, I like to arrange and supervise what help we can give to populations affected by war, or natural disasters like floods or volcanic eruptions. Titan supplies medicines if they're needed, and sometimes we send people out to help the first responders, if the distress call has just gone out. Places like Xandar welcome our help, though sometimes we go anonymously, if aid is needed in a disputed territory. And of course, we have to keep our heads down- all of us- if we travel to a world in Skrull or Kree jurisdiction-” She clamped a hand to her mouth. “Sorry.”
Mar brushed this off. “I am well aware that the Kree government does not often think of its border territories, and that they don't welcome what they view as interference.” He looked at his daughter, feeling pride swelling up within him. “It's good, honorable work you take part in, Phyla.”
She went red again. “Thanks. Though, well... I say 'we'. All I've been allowed to do so far is organise what supplies and such get sent out, and maintain contact with the travelling parties. I'd like to do more, but I'm always told it's 'unwise' for me to travel far from Titan.” And for the first time, Mar saw an expression of displeasure on Phyla's young face.
He hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “I'm sure that decision was made to keep you safe. Some of the places those groups travel to are exceedingly dangerous.”
Phyla snorted. “I've had the same defense training as everyone on Titan. I might not be as skilled as some people, but I can look after myself.”
Not against the likes of beings you would face if Thanos' forces caught you off Titan. Mar thought but didn't say aloud. He wasn't certain how much Phyla knew about Thanos, and didn't want to reveal something he shouldn't. He should have spoken to Eros about this before they arrived here- what he could and couldn't mention in front of the children- but discussion of Thanos always pained and angered Eros, though his friend always hid it. Mar never liked doing that to him. Phyla, however, still looked mutinous. He fished around for a safer subject, settling for a slight deviation from topic. “Have your mother and Eros never mentioned the estate that Titan owns, on Xandar?”
Phyla blinked. “No...”
Strange. “I've never seen it, but Eros told me once, that when he and several friends were young adults, they were allowed to spend a few weeks there, with an adult chaperone, to get a taste of what life is like off Titan.”
Phyla's eyes were already gleaming with excitement. “That was a long time ago... do you think the place even still exists?”
“I see no reason why not.” Unless Thanos made a point of destroying it too. But realistically, why would he have?
Phyla was beaming now, clearly thrilled with the idea. “If we could all go.... Heather and I, Genis and Gamora and Phoebe... just spending time together like we all used to...” Her eyes were dreamlike, probably already picturing a nearly adult-free zone and the freedom that implied.
Mar grinned at her still-childlike enthusiasm, but held a hand up in caution. “I think you should check with your mother, and Eros and Mentor, before you start making plans for your trip.”
Phyla's grin widened. “Oh, I'll get Gamora to ask Mentor. He hardly ever says no to anything she suggests. And Mother and Eros won't mind when I tell them it was your idea, and you volunteered to come with us.”
Mar blinked. “I- what?”
“Well, you told me about this estate, and you said there had to be a chaperone.” Phyla gave him a wide-eyed innocent look. “I thought you meant you wanted to come along. Besides, it'll be a good way for you to spend time with us, and for us all to get to know each other properly.”
Mar couldn't argue with that. “Yes, but, Phyla-”
“I knew you'd agree, Father! Thank you!” She spontaneously hugged him, then raced off. “I'm going to go find Gamora and Genis, then the others, tell them the plan!” She took off running, and was gone in minutes.
Mar shook his head in exasperation. I suppose I walked right into that. Then again, why shouldn't they do this? Xandar was one of the safest worlds in the galaxy, and every precaution could be taken to make sure the children were protected. He knew that was the biggest risk with Gamora, at least, that she might be recognized by less than friendly forces. And if he was honest, he wanted to go. To have relative freedom, no-one fussing over every little cough and pain he felt, and time to bond with his children and their significant others (and young Phoebe, of course). At present, he was still reasonably healthy, strong enough to lead an excursion like this and enjoy it.
In a few months, he might not be.
Genis hefted the satchel on his shoulder as he looked around the large home that he, his father and sister, Heather and Gamora would be spending the next month or so in. It wasn't anywhere near as ornate as the palace on Titan, nor as technologically advanced, but he supposed the point was to allow those who stayed here to blend in with the residents of Xandar. And, to be quite honest, considering the amount of rules that Eros and Mother had insisted on, he was amazed they'd even been allowed to come here at all! The trip to Xandar, chaperoned by Father, had apparently been Phyla's idea, and Genis had balked at that, not liking the idea of weeks alone with Father, who probably didn't think much of him, and Phyla, who everyone tended to like more than him. He had been relieved when Phyla suggested that Heather and Gamora come along as well. But that had been when Uncle Eros had started insisting on rules about not getting too close to strangers and not taking chances. Genis didn't really know what that was about, unless it was just Eros being super protective of Gamora, but when he'd asked her, she'd looked worried and only said that he wanted them all to be safe.
Safe from what, Genis wondered now, as he made his way upstairs, checking out the bedrooms. This was Xandar. What could possibly happen? Footsteps sounded on the stairs and Genis turned to see Gamora coming to join him. Like Genis, she still carried her bag of clothing, plus an extra bag with Sirius' supplies. Sirius himself, whose presence had been extensively debated, but ultimately allowed, trotted at her feet, tail wagging as he took in the scents of this new place.
“Had enough of Heather and Phyla already?” Genis queried. When he'd excused himself, they'd been fretting that they hadn't bought enough clothes- because of course the three packs they had each brought weren't enough.
Gamora rolled her eyes. “They're trying to talk your father into letting them share a room. He wants one of them to bunk with me instead. I'm staying out of it.” She met Genis' eyes for a minute, then ducked her head as her cheeks darkened.
Genis swallowed. Sleeping arrangements. Right. This place had four (large) bedrooms, so obviously someone would have to share, as there were five of them. An image of him and Gamora in the same bed jumped into his mind out of nowhere, and heat flooded his face. He looked at the floor hastily, trying to will the blush away. He cleared his throat, trying to think of something appropriate to say. “Shame Phoebe didn't come. It might've made things easier- one of you could've shared with Heather, the other with Phyla. Why didn't she want to come with us, again?”
Gamora shrugged. Genis glanced up and saw a flicker of hurt in her eyes. “She just said she didn't want to join us. I don't know if she foresaw something to put her off, or....” Another shrug. Gamora's expression was unreadable.
Genis shook his head. “Oh well. Her loss.” He guessed that Gamora felt kind of rejected by her sister not coming with them. He would if Phyla hadn't wanted to come along on a holiday with him, though he'd never admit it. He reached for Gamora's hand, lacing his fingers with hers. “I'm sure it's nothing to do with you.” He wasn't sure if he should have said that, but he knew Gamora- she tended to assume anything that went wrong was her fault in some way, though she hid it well and most people didn't see it. She squeezed his hand, managing a small smile. Meeting her eyes, he stepped a bit closer, listening for a second- he could hear Heather and Phyla speaking downstairs, so they must still be trying to sort out rooming arrangements with Father. He pushed a strand of hair out of Gamora's face, then let his hand cup her cheek, leaning closer. Her deep brown eyes flickered towards his lips, and that was all the incentive he needed to brush his mouth against hers. He closed his eyes as the kiss deepened- and Sirius whined, nosing at Genis' free hand and ruining the moment. At that precise second, Genis could happily have flung a proton blast at that dog, Gamora's pet or not. He was glaring at the huge animal when Mar-Vell's voice made them both jump.
“Genis? Gamora?” From the sound of it, he was calling from the foot of the stairs. Probably only just noticed that neither of us are in the room, Genis thought, trying not to scowl as Sirius barked as if responding to Mar's words. Seconds later, the Kree had made his way up the stairs, looking pointedly at the (lack) of distance between Gamora and Genis. Gamora dropped Genis' hand immediately and stepped back. Genis resisted the urge to yell at his father to go away. His annoyance only grew when he clearly heard Mar murmur 'Good dog' to Sirius. Then, as if he hadn't interrupted anything in particular, Mar addressed Gamora. “I can't get Heather and Phyla to listen to me. I don't suppose you'd like to just tell them you'd prefer to share a room with one or the other, to solve the problem?”
Personally, Genis didn't see the harm in letting them share a room, but then it dawned on him, as he saw the way his father was looking worriedly between him and Gamora- if Heather and Phyla were allowed to share a bed, then there would be no way Mar could prevent him and Gamora from doing the same, as it wouldn't be fair. Another image of that scenario sprung into Genis' head, and he just knew he'd gone red again, and certain muscles were tightening in his stomach. He hoped nothing else that his body was currently doing was obvious... Gamora looked a little flushed as well. Genis wondered if she was picturing the same things he was...
“I don't really mind.” Gamora's speaking broke into Genis' thoughts, and he forced himself to concentrate on the here and now, and to remember that his father was standing two feet away. “Tell them I'll share a room with Phyla, if it helps.”
Mar looked relieved. “Thank you.” He glanced around, taking in the location of the four bedrooms. “I'll take this one,” he nodded towards the third door along the corridor, some distance from the first two. “Genis, you can have the one next to mine. Gamora, you and Phyla can choose whichever you want. Heather can take the other room.” He gestured at the two doors nearest to the top of the stairs.
Genis looked along the winding corridor and realized that his father had probably done this on purpose- the way the rooms were arranged, there would be no way for Genis to slip from his room without his father hearing him in the corridor. Um, not that he'd have any reason to slip out at night, where had that thought come from? Besides, Phyla would be in the same room as Gamora, and his sister being there kind of killed any chance of- Genis stopped that thought in its tracks and mentally slapped himself. Get your mind out of the gutter, Genis! Honestly, why did he keep thinking about things like that lately? He shuffled his feet, wishing someone would say something to break the silence. He got his wish in a way- Sirius began pacing the corridor, sniffing the walls, walking in a circle.
Gamora caught his collar. “Oh no you don't!” She began tugging him towards the stairs, casting an apologetic look back at Genis and Mar. “Sorry, but he needs to go outside.”
“Wait up, I'll come with you!” Genis jumped in, glad to have the excuse not to be left alone with his father, knowing all they'd do was stare at each other awkwardly. “Maybe we can go exploring after?”
Mar frowned as Genis followed Gamora and Sirius downstairs. “Wait, not without- Genis!”
But Genis didn't wait to hear yet another variant of 'Be good' or 'Be careful'. He'd heard enough of that from his mother, before they left Titan and he didn't need to hear it again- he wasn't stupid, and neither was Gamora. He followed Gamora outside, ignoring Heather and Phyla's calling after them.
Gamora had led Sirius down a dimly lit alley just down the street so he could relieve himself. Genis caught up with her waiting for him to come and rejoin his mistress, as he always did, and, wanting to enjoy the fact that there were no parents here to catch them, Genis slid his hand into Gamora's again. She hadn't been facing him, but squeezed his hand anyway. “So you want to explore, do you?”
Genis wondered how she'd heard his suggestion- she'd been halfway towards the front door when he'd said that, but decided it didn't matter. He grinned. “Well, when else will we get a chance to look around without someone saying where we can and can't go?”
Gamora glanced around, taking in their surroundings, clearly tempted. They were in an affluent residential area, as quiet and peaceful as Titan, but there had to be more to Xandar than this. Sirius, his collar held tightly in Gamora's hand, strained, obviously wanting a walk. But Gamora was hesitating. “We promised to be careful. Heading off when no-one knows where we are is kind of the opposite. This isn't Titan, Genis. Our safety isn't guaranteed.”
He rolled his eyes. “Seriously? You're the best hand to hand fighter on Titan, and I have photonic powers. I think we can look after ourselves.”
Genis sighed. He really wanted to explore, but it wouldn't be as much fun on his own. He closed his eyes, gritting his teeth in preparation for the conversation he was about to have. 'Heather?' He pictured her in his mind as he 'called' to her telepathically.
'What?' Her reply were terse as always, her disdainful tone grating on Genis' nerves.
'Gamora and I are taking Sirius for a walk and having a look around. Tell my father we'll be back soon, will you?' Having passed on his message, Genis then focused on blocking his mind as best he could, so Heather couldn't yell at him.
Gamora blinked when he suddenly opened his eyes again. He resumed smiling. “Heather will tell my father we'll head back soon. Now, are you coming along, or not?”
Gamora considered, then nodded. “Why not? If Mar-Vell doesn't mind, it can't hurt.”
Well, Mar hadn't actually said it was alright, but Genis saw no need to pass that on yet. What harm could a walk do, anyway? Especially on a world constantly patrolled by the Nova Corps.
They set off, hands still intertwined, Gamora's free hand holding Sirius' collar so he didn't go bounding off. Soon, they found their way from the residential area to a large market, with stalls selling everything from clothing to exotic livestock to medicine. Genis looked around, amazed- there was nothing of this size on Titan, and this market was teeming with people, of species from all over the galaxy, some of which he had only seen in books! He hardly knew where to look first. He was ready to run to the nearest stall just to see what they had, but Gamora's hand was clammy in his, and she stood frozen. Genis turned to look at her, puzzled. “Are you OK?”
Her eyes were locked on the seething mass of people. “The crowd is so huge... anyone could recognize me, and I wouldn't know until it was too late.” Her voice was vague, like she was only half aware of where she was.
Genis could only think to say “Huh?”
His voice made her start, and she quickly looked at him, as if just remembering he was there. Her grip on his hand had tightened to almost be painful. Abruptly, she blinked, then shook her head. “Sorry, I'm acting weird. I'm just not used to crowds, and I don't like them.” She relaxed her hold on his hand, and Genis flexed his fingers to restore the feeling in them.
“What did you mean 'anyone might recognize you'?”
Gamora laughed, though it sounded a bit forced. “Nothing. Just that we're not meant to draw attention to ourselves, remember? People associated with Titan aren't exactly popular, because of...”
“Thanos, right.” Genis shrugged. He paused when it looked like Gamora flinched at that name, but it was so fast, he could've imagined it. “But it's not likely that anyone will know we're from there, is it? Or that the first time we're on our own, one of his minions will spot us?” He thought, most of the time, that Mentor, Eros and his mother were too paranoid about the exiled member of their family- the galaxy was huge, the universe larger. Surely Thanos wouldn't bother himself with a world as small as his former home?
Gamora visibly took a deep breath. “You're right. Ignore me. I'm being silly.” She glanced around, appraising the market. “Want to do some shopping? I've got some units, even if you haven't.”
Genis went scarlet. How dumb was he, to bring her to a market and not have units to spend? Gamora snorted. “I knew it. OK, I'll treat you this time. Next time, you're buying for me.”
Genis laughed. “OK. Better you than Heather and Phyla. They'd only want clothes! At least you like interesting things.”
That made her laugh along with him, even as her eyes scanned the stalls. “Which way shall we go first?”
They walked up and down the rows of stalls for a while, looking out for anything that caught their attention. But honestly, there was very little they didn't already have or could ask for, back at home. Genis also got handed a piece of paper advertising some kind of private party that night, which he'd pocketed, thinking it might be fun. Eventually, Genis saw a stall presided over by an elderly blue Kree woman, covered in pastries and delicacies he remembered from his early years on Hala. “Over here.”
Gamora followed his gaze, then rolled her eyes. “You and your stomach.”
“Please. You're as greedy as I am about food, and you know it.”
Gamora's incredibly mature response was to stick her tongue out at him. He responded with a rude noise, and they were both laughing as they approached the stall. They bought a selection of the goods, one of everything, to take back to the house, since they did need food, and this would do for a start. Genis ended up holding most of the packages, while Gamora struggled to prevent Sirius eating them as she paid for their purchases.
The Kree stall owner, while thanking them profusely, watched Gamora closely. “Odd to see a Zen-Whoberi round these parts. Thought all of your kind went extinct almost twenty years ago. Suppose you're only half, with hair that red color, though.”
Gamora looked at the floor. “Yeah.” She half mumbled, as if she didn't want her species discussed. She walked away fairly quickly after that, forcing Genis to nearly run after her.
“Hey, what's wrong?”
“Nothing! I just want to get this stuff home before any of it gets dropped, or melts.” She headed back the way they'd come, walking rapidly.
Genis didn't totally buy that, but it was true some of the treats needed to be chilled, and quickly, so he dropped the subject. Besides, it was probably just that being reminded of her dead mother's species upset her.
Two thoughts hit him like lightning, though, making him stumble. He quickly recovered himself, but his brow furrowed, and he stole a glance at Gamora. The Kree woman had said that the Zen-Whoberi went extinct nearly twenty years ago, but Gamora was only seventeen, like him. Her mother must have died when she was a baby, so how come Eros, her father, hadn't come for her until she was ten? Who'd looked after Gamora until then? He realized suddenly that her life before Titan never got talked about. He'd known it wasn't good, but that was all. And- he looked at Gamora's wine-red hair- when he'd first known her, her hair had been dark green. He was sure of it...
He shook his head minutely. Whatever this was about, it couldn't be bad. Gamora wouldn't hide anything important from him. She was the only one who never made him feel stupid or useless, or annoying, the only one who really listened when he talked. He trusted her more than some senile Kree who'd probably just gotten the dates wrong anyway. As for the hair colour change, the inky green must have been a dye of some kind that had grown out or been removed. Reassured by his own logic, he pushed thoughts of the past from his mind, and re-focused on not dropping any of the food packages he carried as they headed back inside the holiday home.
Mar-Vell stood just inside the door with his arms folded, a stern look on his face, and only then did Genis remember that he'd kind of run off without saying just where he and Gamora were going, and he had a sinking feeling that simply telling Father, via Heather, that they would be back 'soon', wasn't good enough.... Oops. He made a valiant effort to look relaxed. "Hello, Father."
Mar barely looked at him. “Gamora, could you please take those parcels into the kitchen? Phyla and Heather will help you unpack.” His voice was perfectly calm and reasonable. “Genis and I need to have a discussion.”
Gamora glanced at Genis, unsure, but after another glance at Mar, she quickly took the food packages from Genis, squeezing his hand in reassurance, then made herself scarce.
Genis forced himself not to squirm under his father's piercing blue eyes. He hadn't done anything wrong, and wasn't going to act like he had, thank you very much. Still, as his father regarded him, he found himself fidgeting. “Sorry,” He found himself saying eventually, without meaning to.
Mar just shook his head. “Do you think that an apology that you don't mean is good enough?”
Genis cringed, avoiding looking up. “We were only looking around the market.” He muttered. “And we're seventeen, not seven. We can look after ourselves.” Feeling braver as he spoke, he met his father's eyes defiantly. “You don't need to treat us like babies.”
Mar was silent for a minute. Genis pictured him mentally counting to ten, and resisted the urge to snigger- that wouldn't help.
“Fine. So your trip was harmless. But how was I meant to know that, when I had no idea where the two of you were, and had no means of contacting you? What, exactly, were you going to do if you had gotten into some sort of trouble, or even been hurt? No-one would have any idea how to find you. Did you even think about that?”
Genis' fists clenched at Mar's tone of voice- firm, but calm. Didn't he ever actually get angry? He laughed derisively. “Hurt? How could anyone on Xandar hurt either of us? Half Titans can heal from nearly anything! You're being ridiculous.”
Mar frowned. “Firstly, Titan blood doesn't make you invulnerable, Genis. Secondly, you may have the resilience of your mother's species, but Gamora doesn't. If something had gone wrong, if you'd encountered an enemy, she would be in more danger than you.”
Genis, who had been about to continue the argument, paused as his father's words sank in. “Why would Gamora be in more danger than me if we got in trouble? Just because she doesn't have energy powers like Phoebe does, doesn't mean she can't look after herself!”
“She isn't half Titan like you, Phyla and Phoebe, Genis!” Finally, it seemed that Mar-Vell was getting annoyed. “You can't act as if she is as impervious to harm as all of you!”
Genis only stared at his father, eyes wide. “What do you mean, Gamora isn't half Titan? How could she not be? She's Eros' daughter!”
Mar-Vell opened his mouth, closed it again, then let out a long stream of barely intelligible Kree swear words.
Genis barely heard him. How could Gamora not be Eros' daughter? Everyone knew that she was! A lot of people back home even claimed she was Eros' favourite child. If she wasn't his, who was she? Where had she come from? Why hadn't she told him? Why hadn't anyone told him? Mentor, Eros, Mother, Heather, Phoebe, Phyla... did everyone know? Was all of Titan mocking him for not knowing the truth, for being the only one who didn't? Had Gamora mocked him for not working it out? Shock, disbelief and rage at being lied to, by the one person he thought he could rely on, seared through him, and he turned and ran up the stairs, ignoring his father calling him back, slamming the door to his room and locking it. He wanted to be by himself, since 'himself' was apparently the only person he could actually count on. He paced back and forth a few times, gripping his hair, blinking back hot tears of frustration as he thought through what he'd just learned again. At its most simple, it meant one thing: Gamora hadn't trusted him with her past, her real history. He'd told her things that he never told anyone else. But she hadn't trusted him in return.
The flyer for the private party he'd received earlier fell to the ground as he ripped his jacket off and he grabbed the paper, meaning to rip it to shreds to vent his anger. But the garish neon words caught his eye- 'A night to remember! Music, drinks, and entertainment to make the celebration unforgettable!'
It appeared to start about an hour before midnight, so would probably go on all night. Well, why not? Genis mused, noting the address on the poster. He might as well do something to get his mind off things, and it wasn't as if anyone here would notice he was gone, if he left through the bedroom window, and flew to the ground. He'd go out, forget all about this, enjoy this party, and come back tomorrow, when he could think more calmly, and try and figure all this new information out. He dismissed his father's earlier words about danger as pointless- what could go wrong at a simple party?
Phyla rolled over in bed, grimacing. It was barely past dawn, and yet she was wide awake. A few minutes ago, her sleep had been disturbed by Sirius whining. Gamora had quickly slipped from her bed, apologized to Phyla, and taken him out (before he fouled their room) but now Phyla, despite her efforts, couldn't get back to sleep.
The light of the rising sun was piercing the gaps in the heavy curtains, and the sounds of early morning traffic on the streets was just starting up, noticeably audible because their window had been left open, to combat the heat of a Xandarian summer. Groaning, Phyla gave up hope of more sleep and sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes. Maybe she should just go down and get breakfast started? She stretched her arms above her head, yawning, before tossing the covers off and climbing from her bed, pulling on her robe over her nightshirt and tiptoeing downstairs as quietly as she could, not wanting to wake anybody else. Glancing along the corridor, she saw that her father and Heather's bedroom doors were still closed (she'd heard a worrying coughing coming from Mar-Vell's room last night, but decided not to bother him now- he was probably still asleep, so she'd check if he was OK later, at a more reasonable hour.) Genis' door, next to Mar-Vell's, was, surprisingly, open. Phyla frowned. Her brother hadn't come to dinner last night (sulking after Father had lectured him for disappearing with Gamora, no doubt) and she'd expected him to still be in bed. Shrugging, she continued downstairs. Maybe he'd heard Gamora take Sirius outside and he'd gone with her?
Putting the thought out of her head as she entered the kitchen (though making a mental note to question Gamora about just what was going on between her and Genis when she got a chance), Phyla started flipping open cupboards, trying to decide what to make for breakfast. Peering out the back window, squinting as the sun continued to rise, she could just make out Gamora and Sirius in the huge back garden. Sirius was tearing round, tail wagging nineteen to the dozen, exploring this new place, sniffing everything in reach, while Gamora stood a short distance away, running through some complex gymnastics routine, like she did every morning at home. Phyla rolled her eyes and looked away. Didn't Gamora realize the point of a holiday was not to do the same things you always did? (Her refusal to watch Gamora practicing had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that her 'cousin's' athletic skill far outdid Phyla's own, of course. No, she wasn't that petty, or at all jealous. Really.) At any rate, Genis didn't seem to be with Gamora, as she'd thought, so where was he, at this hour? Please don't let him have run off again! They'd barely been here a day, and already Genis had caused arguments between himself and Father. Phyla's heart sank at the thought of yet more problems arising. She'd wanted this time on Xandar to be relaxed and fun, so they could all get to know Mar-Vell properly, but, so far, Father seemed awkward and uncomfortable around them, Genis seemed determined to ruin any chance at a relationship between him and Father, Heather was the usual distant self that she played at being around anyone except Phyla, and Gamora was clearly wary of an adult stranger, though she was trying to hide it.
Tears stung Phyla's eyes, and she willed them back. She wanted everyone to get along, and she would find a way to make it happen. Somehow.
The front door creaked open, startling Phyla out of her planning. She whirled to face the kitchen door, which unfortunately didn't offer a view of the front of the house, then glanced back at Gamora, still in the garden. She'd clearly heard nothing, and nobody else was even awake. But someone had clearly just come into the house, as she could now hear clumsy, stumbling footsteps approaching the kitchen. Swallowing hard, she inched towards the closed kitchen door. “Hello?” Oh, brilliant, Phyla, she chided herself. Someone might have just broken in and you just called out 'Hello' like a moron, letting whoever it is know exactly where you are!
There was a dull thud, then another, as if someone had walked into or tripped over the hall table, then fallen to the floor. “Whozzat?” A slurred, indistinct male voice echoed through the nearly empty house. Loudly.
Was that Genis? Phyla eased open the kitchen door and poked her head out cautiously, to see her brother, still in the clothes he'd worn yesterday, sprawled awkwardly on the hall floor. She stepped into the hall, staring. Genis' clothes were rumpled and stunk of cigar smoke and alcohol. His face was pale, his eyes red-rimmed, his pupils dilated. He blinked up at her sluggishly. “Phy? W' you doin' up? Issa middle of t'night...” He glanced around, the movement of his head wobbly, uncoordinated. “M' tripped on somethin'...”
Slowly realising, with shock, that her twin was drunk, she stomped over and hauled him to his feet.
“Hey! Gerrof me...” He tried to push her away, stumbled, and nearly lost his balance again, half dragging her down with him. She just managed to keep them both on their feet.
Genis grinned goofily and nearly unbalanced them again by flinging his arm round her shoulder, making her support his entire weight. She staggered, grimacing, and just managed to keep him on his feet. He looked at her- or tried to; his eyes were bleary, unfocused. “Thanksh, sis. You're alwaysh nice t' me... an' everyone. Everyone likesh you, you're nicesh.” This close, the fume of alcohol on his breath made Phyla's stomach churn.
“Where have you been?” She hissed at him, eyes narrowed. It dawned on her then, Genis' empty bedroom, him letting himself in, not sure of what time it was. “Have you been out all night drinking?”
“Yeah. Sho what? Got invited to a party earlier, at the market. Wanted shome fun, so I went. There wash music, and I got loads free drinks. They shaid they weren't strong, and they tashted nice, so I had lots. It was fun!”
Once Phyla had deciphered his slurred speech (he was barely coherent) she was torn between simply slapping some sense into her brother, or throttling him. Luckily for him, the fact that he was still leaning on her meant she couldn't exactly do either. She took a deep breath to stay calm, leaning slightly away from him so she didn't get another lungful of alcohol-saturated bad breath. “Whatever. I'm sure the drinks you were given weren't strong at all.” She rolled her eyes, but her sarcasm went right over Genis' head.
“Nope. Not strong. Jusht fruity an' shweet.”
“Uh-huh. Either way, you need to get to bed.”
Because if Father finds out you've been out all night, and come in in this state, I have a feeling he'll drag us all back home right now! “You need sleep, that's why. It'll make you feel better.”
“Nah. M'feelin' jusht great!” Genis pulled Phyla closer, in what she thought was meant to be a hug. “Nice of you t' alwaysh look after me though.” He laughed. “I should look after you, I'm the oldesht twin!”
Phyla gritted her teeth. “Bed, Genis. You're tired, you've been up all night.”
“I have?” He gazed at the clock on the wall, blinking. “I washn't out that long.... where'd the night go?”
Tightening her grip on him, she began hauling Genis towards the stairs. “Come on.” But he wasn't exactly cooperating, and it quickly became obvious that with him being so much taller than her, she wasn't going to get him up the stairs and to his room without help. “Ugh! You're so annoying!”
“Why, wassamatter, Phy?” Genis swayed, reaching to grab the banister, and missing, landing on his rear on the bottom stair. “I don't feel sho good...” His face whitened further, and his eyes popped. He clapped a hand to his mouth. “I'm gonna be shick...”
Phyla bolted into the kitchen, grabbed Sirius' empty food bowl, made a mental note to thoroughly wash it later, ran back and shoved it under Genis' nose, just in time. She turned away, trying to hide her disgust, as Genis emptied his stomach into the metal bowl.
Naturally, that was the exact moment that Sirius came gamboling down the hall, Gamora walking more sedately behind him. One look at Genis and Phyla had her shoving Sirius into the sitting room, with a firm command of “Stay!” She walked over, looking unsure. “What's wrong, Genis? Are you sick?”
Genis, still retching, couldn't reply. Phyla, however, snorted. “No, he's not sick. Just drunk.”
“Mm-hmm. Seems he got some sort of party invite yesterday, at the market, and thought it would be a good idea to sneak out and attend. Now...” Phyla gestured at him, sitting in an almost fetal position, clutching the bowl and groaning.
Gamora looked almost hurt. She turned to Genis. “You went to a party and didn't even ask if I wanted to go with you?”
Phyla's jaw dropped. “Really? That's what you're upset about?”
“Well, it might've been fun, and if I'd been there, I wouldn't have let him drink himself into this state!” Gamora half whispered, too low for Genis to hear.
Genis raised his head, apparently only now having noticed that Gamora was there. “What you doin' here? Don't wanna shee you. Go way.”
“Genis!” Phyla gave in to her anger a little then, and shook him. She turned to Gamora, wincing at the pained look in her friend's eyes. “He's drunk, he doesn't mean it. He doesn't know what he's saying.”
“Do sho.” Genis muttered sullenly. “You know what she ish, Phy? She'sh a liar. Alwaysh wash. Father shaid she's not Erosh' daughter. She's not part of th' family.”
Gamora recoiled after a second, once she'd worked out what Genis had said. She wrapped her arms round herself, almost hunching up so she appeared smaller than she was, and wouldn't look up from the floor.
Phyla shook her head. “Genis, will you stop it!” She found new strength from her now-searing anger, and grabbed Genis by the collar of his shirt, hauling him to his feet. “You're going to get up those stairs, get to bed, sleep this off, and then maybe when you're sober, you might still have friends who don't hate you!” She gave him a shove, and though he glared at her, he did do as she said, making his way upstairs, slowly, clinging pitifully to the bowl, which Phyla let him keep in case he needed it again. She walked up one step behind him, in case he slipped.
Eventually, she got him into his room, and he all but collapsed on the bed. She yanked his shoes off, none too gently, and gave his head a shove in the direction of the pillows. She then took the bowl from him, and held it at arms' length as she took into into the ensuite bathroom, emptied and rinsed it, before returning to Genis and, finding him sound asleep, put the bowl on the floor next to the bed, within easy reach if he needed it later. She turned to leave, then paused and turned back, gently pulling a spare blanket over Genis, who didn't even stir. “Idiot.” Phyla muttered, now more exasperated than angry. She'd just have to tell Father and Heather that Genis wasn't feeling well, and be sure that she was the one to check on him when he woke, to make sure he backed up her story. Sure, he'd done something dumb, but she didn't want him to get in yet more trouble. And, if what Phyla had learned about the aftermath of excessive drinking was true, he'd be punished enough when he woke up!
Creeping back into the hall, she listened hard. No sound from Mar or Heather's rooms. Luck seemed to be on Phyla's (and Genis') side- they'd slept through that performance. Phyla sighed with relief as she headed back downstairs to check on Gamora, mulling over what Genis had said.
Gamora was standing exactly where Phyla had last seen her; eyes on the ground, head bowed, shoulders hunched, arms wrapped tightly round herself, nails digging into her elbows. It was the most vulnerable that Phyla remembered seeing her look for years, and a lump rose in her throat. Unable to stop herself, she gave her cousin a hug. Gamora was tense in her embrace, but slowly relaxed.
“Are you OK?” Phyla asked, eyeing her as she stepped back.
Phyla sighed. “I guess what people say is true, people do lose all common sense when they're drunk.” She paused, keeping a careful eye on the stairs, not wanting this conversation overheard. “You know Genis didn't mean it, right? He won't even remember this later, when he wakes up.” She scoffed. “Honestly! As if you being adopted by Eros makes you any less part of the family!”
Gamora's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She made a few half-attempts at speaking before managing a simple “You knew?!”
Phyla blinked, then nodded. “Well, yeah... I mean, we all know about Phoebe's mother, and her past, but nobody ever talked about yours, except to say it was bad. I learned about four years ago that your species are totally extinct except for you, so it made sense that Eros would have adopted you when he found you. You never mentioned it, so I didn't either. It isn't my business, or anyone else's, anyway, where you might've come from. Eros is your father, as much as he is Phoebe's. You're part of our family now, have been for years, and that's all that matters as far as I'm concerned.”
Gamora's eyes were glistening with tears- of relief? Unhappiness? Phyla had no idea, but she didn't want to continue this subject if it really upset Gamora, so she ploughed on. “And like I said, I bet Genis regrets what he's said when he's had time to think about it.”
“He thinks I lied to him deliberately.” Gamora spoke quietly. “But I didn't, not to him or you. It's just.... I wanted to forget about.... before, so when you and Genis just accepted that I was Father's daughter, I didn't say anything. Back then, as well, knowing where I came from, it would've upset and scared you both. You wouldn't look at me the same way. Even Heather and Phoebe didn't act exactly the same around me once they found out about my past. And then... I guess I just forgot that you two didn't know. Well, you did, but you know what I mean.”
Phyla nodded slowly. “Though, you know, we're not little children any more. If you ever did want to talk to me about... anything, you can.”
Gamora nodded. Too quickly, so Phyla had a feeling she wouldn't be taking her up on that offer any time soon. Mentally, she shrugged. Like she had said, that was up to Gamora. Her own burning curiosity would just have to deal with it. As for Gamora admitting that Heather had known, and not told her.... she'd discuss that with her partner later. She shouldn't be angry with Heather, she'd just admitted to herself that this was Gamora's secret to tell or not, but still.... she was annoyed. A bit. She tried to bury the thought, quickly, re-focusing on the current problem, her twin brother and his attitude to learning what Phyla had long since thought was obvious. “Genis will be OK with finding out about this, once you've explained it to him properly.”
Gamora exhaled shakily. “I hope so.”
Phyla's lips quirked in a grin. “Trust me, when you're dating someone, they'll forgive you a lot of things.”
“Dating- what- Genis- we're not- how did you know?!” Color flooded Gamora's face and Phyla was overcome with giggles.
“Did you seriously think we didn't know?” She eventually managed to say. “How often did both of you make lame excuses and leave the room within five minutes of each other, and be missing for hours?”
“Oh, gods of Titan.” Gamora buried her head in her hands. “Does everyone know about us?”
The sound of a throat clearing came from the stairs. Mar-Vell had paused at the top, clearly not wanting to interrupt their conversation. Heather, visible from the landing above, responded with a raised eyebrow. “If everyone knows, you might consider that it makes things easier. You two won't have to keep using your pitiful lying skills to sneak around now, after all.”
Mar-Vell rolled his eyes, looking as if he wanted to chide Heather, but he held his tongue. Phyla, however, glared up at her- sometimes, she was too blunt- then had to stifle a giggle when she saw the put out expression on Gamora's face. Time to change the subject. She wouldn't have wanted anyone commenting on her relationship with Heather, when they'd just started out, over a year ago, after all. "Um, Genis isn't feeling too good today. Must've been something he ate at the market yesterday. He told me he's getting some more sleep, so I'll check on him later." She tried for a convincing smile, as if she hadn't just lied through her teeth, hoping Gamora would play along and not contradict her story. "So, what does everyone want for breakfast?"
Genis woke up with a groan, rolling over and grimacing, wondering who or what was making that enormous racket- was there a ship landing on top of the house or something? His head was pounding from the sound! He pried one eye open- then immediately squeezed it shut again- the light penetrating the room through the slit in the curtains was bright enough to blind him! A low rumble of thunder made him cringe. Cracking an eye open again, he could blearily make out his room in the 'holiday home'- wait, when had he gotten back here?- and that the 'thunder rumbling' had been nothing but the bedroom door opening. Gamora stood in the doorway, holding a steaming cup of... something. Genis slowly realised his mouth and throat were utterly parched, (and tasted foul, what had he eaten yesterday?!) He tried to sit up, eager for a drink- and his head spun, the pounding getting worse, forcing him to collapse back against his pillows, waiting for the room to stop spinning and his stomach to stop churning.
A slender arm wrapped round his shoulders, supporting him, and the cup was pressed to his lips. The smell of the herbs in the hot drink caused Genis' nausea to recede, and he took a cautious few sips, sighing as his head and stomach settled. Opening his eyes again, he met Gamora's gaze. “Thanks.” He still felt parched, but not quite as much like dying as he had before.
Gamora wouldn't meet his gaze. “You're welcome.” Her voice was guarded, distant, like it was whenever someone had upset her. Genis frowned, racking his brains: had he annoyed her somehow? When?
Memory of yesterday came flooding back without warning- hearing Father say that Gamora had actually been adopted by Eros, and wasn't his birth daughter as Genis had always thought, being furious and hurt that she'd never trusted him, sneaking out to the party, having more and more drinks that night... The memories distorted here a bit. He'd been at the party, then he'd been at home somehow, Phyla had been there, he thought, so had Gamora. He'd said... something, then.... what?
Well, obviously he'd gotten to bed somehow, though it seemed he was still wearing yesterday's clothes, minus his boots. And Gamora was still refusing to look at him. For lack of any better idea, he decided to go with a usual cure-all. “I'm sorry.” It came out more like a question, so he added, “For... whatever I did or said yesterday. I don't actually remember, so... sorry.”
“It was at dawn this morning.” Gamora's voice was matter-of-fact, and flat. “You came in drunk, after being out all night. Phyla and I had to help you get to bed. After you threw up in Sirius' food bowl, and Phy had to clean it out.”
“I... what?!” Genis peered over the edge of the bed, and sure enough, there was the dog's bowl. “Uh...” He went bright red. Had he really been stupid enough to drink so much to erase his memory of it? He blinked rapidly. “Is that why you're mad at me?” He had a feeling that wasn't it, but if she wouldn't tell him, he'd just have to guess.
“You said I wasn't part of the family, since Father only adopted me. You called me a liar for never telling you the truth, and said you didn't want to see me again.” Gamora's voice was full of broken glass now, but she'd wrapped her arms round herself like she did when she felt uncomfortable.
Genis' mouth fell open. Had he really said all that? Why? Sure, he'd been shocked and kind of angry that nobody had told him Gamora was adopted, but being that horrible, talking like he hated her? Where had that come from? “Uh... I don't suppose you'd believe it was the alcohol talking?”
“That's what Phyla said.” Gamora had moved away from him, letting him sit up on his own.
“She heard me say all this too?” He hung his head. He certainly wouldn't have blurted this secret out to his sister like that if he'd been sober. “Gods. I am never drinking again.” Tentatively, he reached for Gamora's hand, feeling a bit more confident when she didn't pull away. “I am sorry. I was.... hurt, yesterday, when Father told me, but only because I kind of thought you trusted me, that you would've told me something like that yourself.”
She flinched at that. “I never meant to lie. It's just... when we first met, Father and your mother, and Grandfather, just told you that I was Father's child, and I... didn't want you to know the truth about my past. I just wanted to forget about it. And the longer it went on... why would I want to ruin everything by telling you the truth?”
Genis blinked. “Why would knowing you're adopted ruin anything?”
“Because... where I came from, before Titan... it wasn't...”
Genis could see Gamora struggling for words, so he took another gulp of the herbal tea to give her time to think. The grogginess he still felt receded further as he drank, and he felt almost normal. She sighed heavily. “I'm just worried that if I tell you, you really will hate me.”
Genis tugged on her hand, encouraging her to sit beside him on the bed. “Look, whatever it is, it can't be that bad. And I don't think I could ever hate you, no matter what. Regardless of what Drunk Me said.” He was relieved to see her lips twitch in a partial smile. She finally met his gaze, her eyes almost boring into his.
“Are you sure you really want to know?”
A shiver ran down Genis' spine. She seemed so serious, suddenly. Did he want to know whatever she was about to tell him? But her gaze was locked on his, and her hand was trembling in his grasp. It was like she both wanted to tell him, and didn't at the same time. He held her gaze, nodded firmly and squeezed her hand, trying to offer reassurance.
Gamora took a shaky breath. “You know my people were wiped out when I was little. I was actually only a few months old at the time. Thanos was there, or nearby, I never knew why, but he found me...”
The blood drained from Genis' face as Gamora continued speaking. This was sick, all of it. No wonder Gamora never wanted to talk about it, and just wanted to move on with her life now she'd been adopted and was safe!
“...Then obviously Phoebe came along, and that changed things at home, but...” Gamora shrugged. “Now you know.” She was still sitting on the bed, but had drawn her knees up to her chest, her free arm wrapped round them.
Genis' mind was racing from what he'd just learned, but as far as reacting went, there was only one thing he wanted to do now. Setting the cup of tea on the bedside table, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms round Gamora, trying to apologize for his attitude yesterday and comfort her at the same time. She was tense in his embrace at first, then slowly relaxed.
“I'm sorry.” Genis meant it far more this time. “I shouldn't have asked, shouldn't have made you think about any of it.”
She shrugged. “I guess it had to come out sometime. By the way, your father did tell me he'd let it slip that I was adopted, yesterday, but he thought you already knew. In case you were mad at him still.”
It was Genis' turn to shrug. Was he still angry with Mar-Vell? He had no idea. “Uh, speaking of Father, does he know...”
Gamora recovered some of her usual attitude as she rolled her eyes. “If you mean about us being involved, apparently everyone knows. Guess we weren't as secretive as we thought." She flashed a grin a him, laughing when he groaned. "If you meant about last night, then no. Phyla told him that you were sick from something you ate at the market yesterday. So when you get up-”
“No mentioning anything else. Got it.” Genis was relieved, in a way- the last thing he wanted was to argue with his father again, on only their second day here on Xandar.
Gamora visibly made a show of sniffing. “You might want to shower before you come downstairs though, if you don't want anyone to figure out why you were really 'ill'.”
Genis blinked, then subtly sniffed at his own arm. He cringed- he reeked of stale alcohol! “Yeah, I should shower.” He kicked the covers off, then swung his legs out of bed, sitting up. This motion brought him a lot closer to Gamora, his arms still round her, and less than an inch between their upper bodies. Holding her in his arms, on his bed, this close, close enough to hear her breathing and smell her hair... His heartrate picked up, and he looked at her as heat flooded his face. Her blush was not as obvious as his, but it was there. Was she having thoughts as inappropriate as he was, right now? He swallowed hard, unsure if he should let her go and move back, or remain where he was (holding her like this, on his bed, wasn't exactly unpleasant...)
Gamora jerked upright abruptly, scooting away from him, and picking up the half-empty cup of tea, sitting upright now, a respectful distance away from him, clearly trying to will her blush away.
“What-” Genis shut up quickly as he heard footsteps approaching, coming up the stairs. Gamora had to have heard someone coming before he did, hence her rapid moving away from him.
“And maybe next time, you'll listen when I say you shouldn't eat too many spicy pastries!” Gamora said, out of the blue, in an exasperated tone, while raising her eyebrows at him.
Genis was bemused for a second before his brain caught up- Gamora was embellishing the story of him actually being ill, not hungover, for the benefit of whoever it was outside. “Yeah, well, I was hungry.” He tried to sound rueful, but wasn't sure how well it had worked, especially since he'd delayed in answering. Still, at least he and Gamora were still on speaking terms after he'd stupidly forced her into talking about her early life. Maybe he should buy her something to make up for it...
The soft but firm knock on the door had them both turning round, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. “Come in.” Genis called, trying to sound as 'sick' as he could, hoping he could convince whoever it was. His eyes widened in panic as he remembered he still stank of drink- how could he explain that away?
To his immense relief, it was Phyla who peeked into the room. Genis held his hands up. “Before you start lecturing me, I'm sorry.”
“Uh-huh. You always are- after you realize that you've done something stupid.” Phyla looked stonily at him for a long minute, then sighed. “Oh, stop looking like a kicked puppy. Fine, you're forgiven. As long as you two are alright.” She looked from Genis to Gamora, who nodded. “Good. Father sent me to see if you're up to coming down to dinner, Genis.”
Dinner? Had he slept the whole day away? He nodded. “Uh, yeah. I just need to shower first.” That brought back thoughts of feeling Gamora's body pressed against his, how warm her skin had felt, and he cursed his mind for its timing, trying to will the suggestive thoughts away. Far away. Now. He bolted out of bed, and into the small bathroom that adjoined his bedroom, not looking at his sister or Gamora, and locked the door, definitely not thinking about Gamora being in his room while he was showering. Shut up, brain!
Thankfully, he heard Phyla and Gamora heading downstairs at that point, so his dealing with his... reaction to such thoughts became less mortifying- nobody could hear... anything. Hopefully.
About twenty minutes later, feeling far more alert and refreshed, he made his way down to the dining room, muttering an apology in his father's direction for sleeping all day. Mar-Vell probably deserved more than that, but for some reason Genis still couldn't bring himself to stop feeling angry with his father. He wanted his father to like and trust him, he didn't want to act so harshly, but couldn't stop himself, somehow.
However, when Mar went to reply and instead doubled over, wracked with painful-sounding coughs that he didn't seem able to stop, Genis was the first one of the four children at his side, face pale with panic. Was his father ill? What was wrong with him?!
Mar-Vell could feel the anxious gazes of all four children on him, as Genis clutched his shoulder, and he struggled to stand up straight, and to halt his coughing, with little success. It took a huge effort, but he managed to control himself enough to rasp out 'Water'. He could feel fluid splattering on his lips as he spoke and prayed it wasn't blood again- the last thing he needed was the children seeing that! He wiped his lips with the back of his hand, checking surreptitiously- no blood- and hoping against hope that he could convince the children that nothing was wrong. Genis was still clutching his shoulder, his face white. Phyla hovered, biting her lip and wringing her hands. Gamora had stepped back, head down, withdrawing from the group. Heather handed him the water he'd asked for, silent, her dark eyes probing his. Too late, he remembered that the Terran girl had some telepathic ability, and he prayed she hadn't heard anything in his thoughts that he didn't want Genis or Phyla to know yet.
He sipped the cool water slowly, sighing when the pain in his chest eased and he could breathe deeply again. “Sorry about that.” He managed, trying for a reassuring smile.
None of the children looked reassured.
“What's wrong, Father?” There was a definite waver in Phyla's voice.
“Nothing.” Mar replied firmly. He glanced around the quartet of concerned faces and stifled another sigh. Clearly, brushing this off wasn't going to work. “I'm just still trying to shake a germ or virus I picked up while travelling from Terra to Titan.” He lied, hoping it would be enough to stop any more questions. Yes, lying to his children and their friends about his condition was wrong, but he'd come to Xandar to try and forget about it, and he didn't want this time cut short or ruined. Nor, if he was honest, did he want to deal with the shock, fear and pity that Genis and Phyla, at least, would feel, once they knew. Cancer. He ground his teeth, hating the word and all it meant, trying to force the thought from his mind.
A cut-off sound from Heather, that could have been a stifled gasp, barely noticeable, made Mar's eyes shoot to hers, and he cursed himself. Of course she'd have picked that thought up. He held her gaze, silently begging her not to say anything.
Phyla's eyes were wide now. “Why didn't you say you were ill, when I suggested we come here? This trip could have waited until you were well!”
No, it couldn't. Because there's little chance I will get well. Mar was trying to think of a simple way to explain that without frightening Phyla, but was saved from having to do so by Gamora's low voice cutting in, hesitantly.
“I could send for a medic, if you need one...”
“No!” Mar spoke more harshly than he meant to, hating himself when he saw Gamora recoil from his tone, but that was the last thing he wanted. “I just need to rest. I'll be alright soon.” Any medic that examined him would discover his condition, and then there would be no keeping it a secret or denying it. He wanted to put that off for as long as he could. “I think I will give dinner a miss, and get some sleep instead. I'll feel better after that.” He slipped from the room, aware that he was essentially running away, and knowing they would probably discuss him as soon as he was out of earshot, but unable to bring himself to keep lying to them immediately. His throat was raw from coughing, and he massaged it gently as he walked upstairs. Dull pains were building in his stomach and back, but these he ignored until he reached his room and could all but collapse on the bed, stifling a groan. Why had he lied to Genis and Phyla, told them that this was some mild illness that would pass? It wouldn't, and sooner or later, they would have to be told, and it would only add to their pain when they found out he'd lied and given them false hope. He should just toughen up and tell them the truth.
But when he pictured their faces crumpling when he told them he had a possibly fatal illness, the grief and pain he would cause... He couldn't bring himself to do it. He buried his head in his hands. Why had he waited so long to reconnect with his children? Nearly seven years wasted, and he'd come back into their lives just so they could watch him sicken and possibly die- how was that fair to them? Should he just have stayed away? But then, he hadn't wanted to go through this, however it ended, not having ever seen his children again...
His thoughts drifted to Carol Danvers, his part-Kree, part human lover, back on Terra. He wanted her here now, to wrap her arms round him, tell him he didn't have to be brave the entire time, that she'd catch him when he fell. But he'd abandoned her, just as he had his family, and for what? The slim chance of a cure that likely didn't exist? A single tear rolled down his face, even as a bittersweet smile made his lips twitch. Carol would be the first to smack him for wallowing in self-pity, chasing his own thoughts in circles. Perhaps, when they went back to Titan (and he knew now it would have to be in a mere few days, not several weeks as he had naively hoped) he could find a way to contact her. He did want to hear her voice, if nothing else... Eventually, wiping tears from his face, he made a conscious decision to stop moping and brooding, and to go check on the children instead.
I should be honest with them. Before we return to Titan. The thought made him go cold, but, that way, they would have the journey back to adjust to it, and there would be less to explain when Mentor began treating him. Standing, with some effort, he made his way to his bedroom door, listening to the voices floating up the stairs. He could hear occasional bursts of laughter, so it seemed his white lie had worked, Heather hadn't passed on what she had plucked from his mind (yet), and everyone was happily enjoying dinner. A smile and tears warred on his face.
He would tell them. But not now. Let them have some more time to simply enjoy themselves, before the shadow of his illness fell over them all.
“Sirius! Stop that!” Gamora chided. The dog ignored her and continued to jump at the front door of their holiday home.
Genis laughed. “Never seen him so keen to go home from a walk before!”
They'd spent a couple of hours in a nearby park, and Sirius had been panting, worn out, before they'd started heading back. Now, though, he was nosing at the front door, pawing and scratching it anxiously, and whining, jumping up as if desperate to get inside. Gamora had reached to open the door, but paused on seeing her pet's reaction. “He seems worried... what if someone's broken in?”
Genis shook his head, eyeing the door. “Father's here, if something had happened, he would have called us-” He froze, suddenly remembering Mar's illness from a few days ago, and abruptly shoved Sirius out of the way, flinging the door open and marching inside. “Father?”
There was no reply, but Sirius barged past Genis and took off down the hall towards the sitting room, ears back. Genis was right behind him, heart pounding. He found the dog whining piteously, and nudging Mar-Vell, who lay sprawled on the floor, eyes closed. For a long minute, Genis just... froze. Had the house been broken into? Was Father...
Gamora brushed passed him and quickly began checking Mar's vital signs, her usual unease around the Kree forgotten in the urgency of the situation. “He's breathing. Just unconscious.”
Genis could've sworn his own heart only resumed beating when he heard that. Gamora stood, edging back, pulling a still-anxious Sirius away, her dark eyes scanning the scene. “No sign of attack, no obvious injuries.... it looks like he was heading to sit on the sofa before he collapsed. But that would mean he knew or suspected he was going to collapse...”
Genis blinked. “How could- never mind.” He glanced round, mind all over the place. “Where's Heather and Phyla? Why didn't they hear anything, and come help?!”
“They went to visit that ancient temple, remember? The one dedicated to the Cotati?”
Genis opened his mouth to retort- and even he wasn't sure what was going to come out of his mouth, that his father, a grown man, shouldn't have been left alone? How illogical was that?- but Mar-Vell let out a faint groan and stirred. He muttered something that sounded like 'crol', almost indistinctly. His eyes opened slowly, and he glanced around, trying to get his bearings.
“Father?” Genis hated that his voice shook like a frightened child's, but having seen his father lying so utterly still on the ground, so pale... it was chilling.
“Genis?” Mar's voice was faint, but understandable. “What- where-” He seemed to realize he was lying on the floor, and struggled to a sitting position. Genis exchanged a glance with Gamora- had she seen how heavily Mar was breathing, the effort that one simple movement appeared to have taken from him? Her narrowed eyes suggested she had, but neither of them commented on it.
Mar was silent for about a minute, like he was thinking fast, then he looked up at them, a sheepish expression on his face, his cheeks reddening a little. “This is embarrassing. If I'd known I was tired enough to fall from the sofa. I'd have gone to rest upstairs.” He stifled a cough, then used the sofa as leverage to get (slowly) to his feet. Once standing, he attempted a smile. “No doubt you youngsters will tease me about this for weeks.”
Genis stared for a long minute, then had to prevent himself from grinding his teeth. “Really? That's the best you can come up with?”
“Genis!” The reprimand came in unison, from Mar and Gamora, but he took no notice, glaring at Mar-Vell.
“You told us, the other week, that you only had a simple virus and you were recovering. Now you-”
“Genis,” Mar tried to cut across him, with no success.
“Now you've either fainted or ended up unconscious for who knows how long, and you still want to pretend everything's fine?!” Genis didn't even really know why he was so angry, but he kept seeing his father's too-pale, almost lifeless face in his mind, and he couldn't let Mar just brush this off. He just knew something was terribly wrong. “I'm not ten years old any more, so stop treating me like I'm a child who's oblivious to everything!” Damn it, he just wanted Father to trust him, to show that he thought Genis deserved to be trusted!
Gamora, still in the doorway, edged back out of the room, obviously not wanting to intrude. “I'm going to call Heather and Phy, tell them to come back.” She hesitated. “Then I'm going to call Father. I think we should head home.” Her eyes darted to Mar, then away again. “I really don't think you're in the best condition to be on vacation.”
Mar looked as if he wanted to protest, but she'd left the room before he could. He stifled a sigh, then returned his gaze to Genis, who was still glowering, arms now folded, waiting for an explanation (even though he was equally terrified of hearing it.)
There was a long silence, broken only by the muted voice echoing from the hall as Gamora made her calls. Mar dropped his gaze from Genis', staring at the floor. He opened his mouth, then closed it again.
“Well?” Genis demanded when it became clear Mar wasn't going to actually speak. “Are you going to tell me or aren't you?”
Mar sighed again, though Genis noted with some alarm that his hands were trembling. “Genis, it's...” He shook his head. “I don't want to tell you...”
A sarcastic reply was on the tip of Genis' tongue, but a commotion outside silenced him, and then Phyla burst into the room, red-faced and out of breath, like she'd run the whole way here. Her blue eyes were wide, frantically running over Mar-Vell. “What... happened?” She eventually managed to gasp. “Gamora said... you... fainted...”
Mar-Vell closed his eyes for a moment, then, slowly, offered a hand to each of his children. “Come sit down.”
Phyla obeyed immediately, though she was gnawing on her lip nervously. Genis hesitated, then went to join her on the sofa, ignoring his father's offered hand. Mar sat down, slowly, in a chair opposite them.
“I didn't intend to tell you two in this way. I had hoped...”
“Tell us what?!” Genis all but snapped. His stomach was churning, like he might be physically ill. Cold sweat was forming on the back of his neck. Suddenly, he really didn't want to hear whatever Father was about to say.
Mar-Vell stared them straight in the eyes. “I know you've both been wondering why I moved to Titan so suddenly. It was because I wanted to spend more time with you, something I should have done years ago, but... there is another reason.”
Neither of the twins spoke. The room was utterly silent, even their breathing couldn't be heard. Phyla's hand found Genis', clinging to him like she had when they had been tiny and she'd had nightmares. “What is it?” Her voice was barely a whisper.
Mar lowered his voice, speaking gently, reassuringly. “About a year ago, while I was still on Earth- er, Terra, I began feeling ill. When Terran medics examined me, they found cancer, a disease that the Kree call the Blackend. I believe on Titan, it's known as the Inner Decay.” His voice softened further. “I was seeking advice on Hala when Eros came to meet me. The disease is at an advanced stage, beyond Terran and Kree medicine, but may still be treatable. I believe, with Mentor and ISAAC's treatment, I still have a chance.”
The blood drained from Phyla's face. She sat there, frozen, shell-shocked, like she hadn't registered what was being said. Her hand went slack, falling from Genis'. Genis himself was only really aware of a roaring in his ears, drowning out Mar-Vell's words, though their meaning seared into his mind, over and over. Father is dying. DYING. And I've pushed him away, acted like a brat, and made him hate me. He's going through hell, he must be terrified and my attitude made it worse. I'm selfish. Selfish. Selfish. Selfish... The word kept echoing as he shook his head hard, grimacing, trying to push the word from his mind, leaping to his feet and running from the room, fleeing the truths he'd just learned, refusing to accept it. He had to get out of there, get some space to think. Then maybe it wouldn't be real, and all this would just be a bad dream...
Heedless of anything or anyone, he ran.
Short chapter is short.
Phyla felt... numb. There was no other word for it, since her father's revelation. She had gone through the motions of what she should be doing- making suggestions on where Genis might have gone, carrying on conversations like normal, but it felt as if it was all happening somewhere distant from her, like she was behind a pane of glass, removed from the real world, and the only sound within that place was the hateful echo of the word 'cancer' in her mind. Over and over, like a heartbeat. Like her father's heartbeats, which were likely now numbered... She gave herself a mental shake. Stop it! His illness, though severe, didn't have to be fatal. Just because the people of Terra, and the Kree, hadn't been able to find a cure for him, didn't mean there wasn't one. Terra was pathetically primitive, from what she had learned (admittedly not much) and the Kree, though more advanced, hadn't made the advances in medicine and science that Titan had. Mentor would be able to find a way to help Mar-Vell, she just knew it. And in a few months from now, a year at most, they'd be looking back at this scare and laughing. Phyla nodded to herself. She just had to be positive. Things weren't as bad as they seemed.
Leaning back against the wall of the dining room, she exhaled. Gamora and Heather had gone to try and find Genis- Gamora was good, eerily so, at finding traces of where someone had passed, and Heather's telepathy would be useful- she could scan surface thoughts to see if any passers by had seen him. Phyla would have gone too, but the three of them had had a conversation in their minds and agreed that Mar-Vell shouldn't be left alone again. Eros would be joining them in the next day or so, to escort them home to Titan. A fresh wave of guilt flooded Phyla- she should never have suggested leaving in the first place. Then again, Father hadn't protested, and it wasn't like she'd known he was ill. She let out another sigh, wanting to stop thinking about that. She considered her brother instead. He'd looked as stunned and scared as she had felt when Father had told them about his cancer. And, as seemed normal for him these days, he'd bolted rather than try and cope with something he didn't want to deal with. Phyla just hoped he wasn't 'coping' like he had after his recent fight with Gamora, by drowning his sorrows in alcohol. That was the last thing they needed, and anyway, Genis should be here, supporting Father, not disappearing and only thinking of himself.
Abruptly, unable to focus on anything that didn't make her sad or angry, Phyla pushed off from the wall and paced the room a few times, before deciding to slip upstairs and check on her father- he'd gone to rest just after Heather and Gamora had gone looking for Genis. Moving as quietly as she could, she crept up the stairs and into his room, scarcely breathing for fear of waking him. He was sound asleep, his face pale, but relaxed. Still, there were dark shadows under his eyes, and fine, deep lines in the skin surrounding them. From pain? She hoped not. Tiptoeing over, she fussed with the blanket, covering him a little more. He turned over, and she froze. He shifted a little more, murmured something that sounded like 'Carol', then fell back asleep.
Carol? Phyla's brow furrowed as she slipped from the room and pulled the door closed. She knew that was a common Terran name, but Father had never mentioned anyone called that. She then rolled her eyes at herself. I only met him again less than a month ago. Why would I know the names of all his friends? Still, the fact that Mar-Vell would mention this Carol in his sleep was interesting. Who could she (or he) be? Phyla wondered if Eros knew, as an idea sparked in her mind. Father would have to remain on Titan indefinitely from now on, in order to be treated. It could be many months until he was well. And he hardly knew anyone there, except Eros. She, Genis and Mother were Father's family, but really, they hardly knew each other any more. And with him going through a grueling illness like this, surely he'd want a familiar face around, to support him? He might even have said this Carol's name because he missed this friend of his... Phyla's lips curved up into a slight grin. Going to try and find Carol, whoever that was, would give her something to do besides sit at Father's side and fret, too. And Terra wasn't that far from Titan... Father would be happy to have his friend there to help him through his illness, Phyla was sure of it. And surely any friend of his would want to help him through his illness, too?
She'd have to get Heather on her side, she mused. Her lover could provide an excuse to go to Terra- it was her native world, after all. And once they got there, finding this Carol person wouldn't be that hard. How many people with that name who had a close friendship with a Kree warrior could there be? (Plus, she had to admit, she was kind of excited to meet a Terran who'd actually grown up on that world. What would her father's friend be like?)
A small voice in the back of her mind (that sounded rather like Heather) admonished her. You're trying to run from this as much as Genis is. She crushed the unwelcome thought. Genis had run from everything, refusing to accept the truth. She had accepted it, and all she was doing now was trying to find ways to make this as easy on Father as she could. She was not running from anything. Now, all she'd have to do was come up with an argument that would convince Heather of that- she'd need her help if this plan was going to work...
Mar-Vell sat stiffly on the examination bed in Titan's medical facility, face blank, refusing to look at the results on the diagnostic screen. He already knew what it would say, and didn't feel he needed to see it again. Mentor was frowning at the screen, as if willing the results to change. Eros leaned against the opposite wall, face taut with concern. Elysius was standing between him and Mar-Vell, her face pale, her expression suggesting she hoped this was a bad dream. She hadn't spoken directly to Mar-Vell, or even looked at him, since he had confessed to her about the cancer, soon after their arrival back on Titan. He supposed he deserved that- he should have told her, but he hadn't thought she would take it so personally. It wasn't as if they were a couple any longer, had not been for years. He glanced at her, quickly. Surely she hadn't been hoping for that, when he'd come to live on Titan, that things could go back to how they used to be?
Pushing the uncomfortable thought from his head, as it might not even be true anyway, he returned his gaze to Mentor. The old Titan met his gaze, then slowly shook his head. Mar's heart clenched in dread. “So there's little hope of treatment providing a cure, then.” He was impressed with how steady his voice was. “How long do you estimate I have?”
Mentor paused before replying. “With aggressive treatment, should no unexpected problems arise, around three to six months.”
The silence that followed was deafening. No-one spoke for a long minute. The tension was broken by a thudding outside the closed door to the med bay. All four adults whirled toward the sound, Elysius striding over to the door seconds later. It hissed open.
“Genis! What are you...”
He stood just outside, fists clenched, face set in a scowl, but his eyes shone with tears. It was obvious he had heard what had been said, but he refused to look in his father's direction. Mar-Vell got to his feet, reaching for his son. “Genis, listen, I know this isn't good news-”
“Why did you stay away so long?!” Genis exploded, rage in every syllable. “Six years of living your life however the hell you wanted, then you came back just to make us watch you die!” His face was contorted in anger and grief. “I wish you'd just stayed away!” He let out a strangled sob as he shoved Mar away, then turned as if he would just bolt. Mar-Vell was struggling back to his feet as Elysius brushed past him, reaching for Genis. The boy's only response was to slam his hand into the door controls, closing the door, then the sizzle of a photon blast sounded outside, something exploded, and the doors made an unhealthy groaning noise.
Elysius sighed, resting her forehead on her hand. “I really wish he would understand that blowing things up isn't going to rid him of problems...” She still refused to look at Mar. “I'll talk to him. As soon as we can actually get these doors open.”
True to her words, she strode from the room as soon as Mentor and ISAAC managed to force the doors open despite the damage to the automatic opening system. Mar reached for her, hesitantly, but she disregarded him. Mar-Vell stifled a sigh, hanging his head. “Maybe Genis was right, and I should have just stayed on Terra. My being here only seems to be harming the people I care about...” His voice was low. He'd wanted to reunite with his family (and perhaps deep down he'd still hoped for a cure) but now, knowing there wasn't going to be a cure, and seeing how much his presence here, in his condition, was hurting Genis and Elysius (and probably Phyla as well)... was it selfish of him to be here? Would it be better for them if he simply left again, so they weren't forced to watch him sicken and die?
Neither Mentor or Eros spoke. Mar-Vell didn't know if that meant they agreed with his unspoken thoughts, or if they simply didn't know what to say for the best. Truth be told, he wasn't sure he wanted to hear their responses.
In the end it was the AI, ISAAC, that broke the heavy silence.
“I apologize for the interruption, but I believe you should be informed that Miss Heather and Miss Phyla have just initiated a launch sequence, in one of our short-range ships.”
Short range for Titan ships, Mar knew, meant anywhere within this specific solar system. But from the puzzled looks on Mentor and Eros' faces, they had had no idea the girls planned to go anywhere.
“ISAAC, what is the most likely terminus of their course?” Mentor was frowning again.
“Analysis indicates high probability of ultimate destination: Terra.”
The three men exchanged looks, all baffled. Terra was Heather's native world, but she hadn't been there since she was a small child. Why would she and Phyla choose to sneak off there, and why now of all times?
Genis had just been walking aimlessly, heedless of where he was going, except far, far away from the med lab and his father's news. Far enough that he could try and pretend it wasn't happening. It wasn't working. The prognosis of his father's life expectancy just kept echoing, over and over in his head, in time with his steps. 'Three to six months. Around three to six months.' He kept hearing the echo of Mentor's words, and it made him want to scream. In half a year, his father would be dead.
Scrubbing tears from his eyes with a clenched fist, he was oblivious of his surroundings- until he walked directly into someone.
Genis was barely jarred by the impact, but his 'victim' staggered, glowering at him as she regained her footing.
“Dammit, Genis, watch where you're going!” Phoebe's intense green eyes narrowed, then widened, her face softening, as she took in the expression on his face. “What is it?”
He opened his mouth, then closed it again. No. He wouldn't say it. If he didn't talk about it, it wouldn't be real. Or at least, he could pretend it wasn't. She put a hand on his shoulder, tentatively. He shrugged it off.
Phoebe bit her lip, speaking slowly. “Gamora said your father wasn't well, that's why you came back so soon... Is it... is it bad news?”
Genis' throat seized up. He couldn't, wouldn't say it. Even thinking about it ripped a hole inside him. Anger flared to fill the rift and he nearly snarled his response. “Mind your own business! It's nothing to do with you!” Deep down, he knew yelling at Phoebe was unfair, but anger was the easiest thing to feel right now.
She crossed her arms, visibly unimpressed. “Excuse me for being concerned! I just thought...”
Genis tensed as Phoebe trailed off, her eyes distant, and a chill ran down his spine. Phoebe could see the future. Had she known about this, before anyone else? Why hadn't she told anybody? If they'd known sooner, then maybe... Disgust and hate roiled in his stomach and he turned away, unable to even look at her, despite not knowing if his vague hunch was true. He couldn't even bring himself to ask. Instead, he turned and strode away, almost running, not once looking back, praying she wouldn't follow, because he knew he'd probably end up doing or saying something he could never take back. Eventually, he found himself in the fields close to Titan's surface, where he, Phyla, Heather and Gamora had played as children.
Sirius came bounding over when he spotted Genis, and he half-heartedly fondled the dog's ears while scanning the fields, looking for Gamora, assuming she'd be here if her pet was. Sure enough, she was several yards away, using trees with low-hanging branches and tall boulders to carry out an intense gymnastic routine, oblivious to Genis' presence. He leaned against a tree trunk and watched, almost awestruck at the elaborate twists and jumps she was performing. Concentrating on her let his mind wander from any more painful thoughts, as well.
Eventually, a fine sheen of sweat on her green skin, Gamora stopped practicing and commenced a series of stretches. “Are you planning to stand and stare at me all day?”
Genis jumped- she hadn't even looked his way once, as far as he could tell, so how did she know he was there? He replied with a non-committal grunt. (He most definitely was not focusing on how her skin was gleaming, or how her clothing, damp with sweat, clung to her figure.) His face heating, he cast about for something to say that wasn't inappropriate, and that also wouldn't make him talk about his father's condition. “I always thought your agility was due to you having Titan blood. Obviously it isn't, so how come you're so...” Agile? Skilled? Well-shaped? Genis decided not to finish that sentence, and also made a mental note not to speak without thinking again. It made him sound stupid.
Gamora scrutinized him, her brown eyes piercing, like she knew he was deliberately talking about random things, but to his relief, she didn't push it. Her fists were clenched as she answered his question. “I don't know all the ins and outs of it, but basically, I was given cybernetic enhancements when I was tiny, by...” She didn't say Thanos' name, but Genis filled in the blank easily. “They make sure my metabolism is efficient, regulate my heart and breathing, and repair any injuries I gain, a lot faster than my species should heal. They also keep infection and illnesses at bay. I have muscle enhancers, and metal filaments in my bones, to add to my strength as well.” Her voice was flat, as it often was when she discussed her life before Titan.
Genis winced internally at the thought of procedures that invasive being carried out on a child who had no idea what was going on. “Sorry.” It was lame, but there were no other words that would help. Procedures like that were illegal in all civilized worlds and cultures. What had Thanos been thinking?
Gamora eyed him for another long minute before speaking again. “Your father was being seen in the med bay today, wasn't he?”
“I don't want to talk about it.” Genis snapped automatically.
“Bad news, then.” Gamora spoke softly. “If there's anything I can do...”
“Get my mind off it?” Genis asked, weakly. “I'll take anything...”
She glanced around, then shrugged. “Want to spar?”
Hmm, pretend to be fighting someone he could beat senseless, and work off some of his anger? He'd sent a mild photon blast her way, to startle her, and flew into an open space, landing in a fighting stance, before a minute had passed.
Anger flickered across her face, replaced by an almost predatory grin, and without warning, she hunched down and sprang, leaping across the space between them and getting Genis in a headlock before he had time to react. He retaliated by tossing her over his head. She rolled out of the fall and lunged at him again, and they began grappling in earnest.
Having to focus on avoiding punches, and the adrenaline rush that was building as they fought, cleared Genis' head better than anything else could have. He knew he'd have to go back, and face his parents, and this bleak news, eventually. But not now.
Yet, as he and Gamora wrestled (and eventually ended up on the ground, her fingers knotting in his hair, kissing passionately, how had that happened? Oh, it didn't matter...) one comment Gamora had made earlier echoed in his head. 'They also keep infection and illnesses at bay.' Cybernetics (albeit illegal ones) kept Gamora from ever developing illness. Was it possible that something like that could help Mar-Vell? The thought flitted through his mind like a butterfly- there, but impossible to get hold of. He'd think about it later, he resolved, as Gamora's hands slid under his shirt.
They were lying in the grass now, limbs entangling, and all thought faded from Genis' mind as the universe seemed to shrink, only containing him, and Gamora, and this place...
Phoebe was humming to herself as she weeded out some of the unwanted plants that always seemed to spring up in the midst of Gamora's 'retreat'- the section of the botanical gardens styled after her sister's extinct homeworld, Zen-Whoberi. She'd often thought it odd that a garden made for one purpose could still sprout weeds, but clearing them at least gave her something to do when everyone else was busy. By her age, most Titans had chosen a profession, something to study or work at, but she'd never been able to decide what she wanted to do. A distant, floating feeling filled her mind, and, recognizing the signs of an impending vision, she set down her trowel and dropped from her crouched position to a sitting one so she didn't fall while she was 'out of contact' with the present. She closed her eyes to give the vision full rein- she couldn't prevent herself from seeing whatever it was, so best to just ride it out.
She tensed as the vision played inside her head, face paling, fists clenching. She pried her eyes open as soon as she could, ignoring the disorientation that usually followed a vision, and leaped to her feet, heart pounding. She had to find Father, or Grandfather, or Elysius. Right now. She tore off, fear making her feel sick, her gardening forgotten. Please let THIS vision not come true. PLEASE. It had never been possible to avert one of her visions before, but it had to be possible this time, it just had to...
Phyla paced back and forth in the ship's cockpit, fighting the urge to start biting her nails, something she always did when she was nervous. They still had an hour or so before they reached Terra, and she was puzzling over how to track down this mysterious Carol, her father's friend, and what she'd say when they met. Did Carol, whoever she was, even know that Phyla and Genis existed? What if she didn't? Phyla swallowed. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. Heather, in the pilot's seat, keeping an eye on the ship's scanners, watching for meteors, debris or other obstacles, half turned towards her, raising an eyebrow quizzically. Probably picked up on what I was thinking. Phyla avoided her partner's gaze, looking away without speaking.
“Phyla.” Heather's tone was fond, but exasperated.
She sighed, wrapping her arms round herself. “What? Nothing wrong with being nervous about meeting a stranger, with news like this. And I'm feeling a bit guilty about sneaking away from Titan without telling anyone. They'll be worried...”
Heather shook her head. “ISAAC will have told them our destination by now. If they really wanted to stop us, they'd have sent someone after us, and there's nothing on the sensors. As for being nervous, don't be foolish. You were right when you said your father's friend deserves to know what's going on, if he hasn't told her, which I doubt.”
“I know, I know.” But it didn't make her feel any better. Casting about for a new subject, she eyed Heather again. “Are you sure you're alright with this? Going back to your homeworld, after so many years?”
Heather shrugged, her face artfully blank. “I barely remember my life there now. Terra used to be my home, but it isn't anymore. My home, family and life are on Titan. I-”
She was cut off by an alarm echoing from the ship's controls. Whirling in her seat, she checked the sensors, frowning. “What- a ship just dropped out of hyperspace, right in front of us!”
An uneasy feeling made the hair on the back of Phyla's neck stand up. “Probably just a coincidence. Can you navigate round it?” She stepped forward, peering out of the ship's front window, trying to see the ship in question, but nothing was obvious against the blackness of space. “Is it a cloaked vessel?”
Heather opened her mouth to reply, but their ship jerked without warning, almost knocking Phyla off her feet. She'd just scrambled back up, clinging to the back of Heather's chair, when the ship lurched again, and again, before settling into a smooth trajectory, towards a starless patch of space. “Heather?!”
“It's not me! We're caught in a tractor beam.” Heather was rapidly typing commands on their ship's console, but it did no good. They continued being dragged towards the black space before them. Phyla stared out again, eyes wide, trying to make sense of what was going on. A portion of the empty space before them shifted, revealing a docking bay lit with dim red light. Only then did she realize that the 'black space' she'd been staring at was a gargantuan vessel, many times the size of their own, painted opaque black as camouflage. And they were being dragged inexorably within it. She thought fast, frantically. “Can we use the escape pods-”
“No.” Heather spoke through clenched teeth. “They don't have the engine power to gain the velocity to get us out of this.”
“Any idea who's doing this or what's going on?”
“One.” Heather's tone was grim, her face set. “I just hope I'm wrong.” She reached for Phyla's hand. “When we get out of our ship, stay close to me and let me do the talking.”
“Why would we leave the ship?” Phyla blinked. They'd just essentially been taken captive. Wouldn't the smart thing to do be just stay inside?
Heather's expression, when she looked at her, made Phyla's stomach sink into her shoes. “I don't think we'll have a lot of choice, Phy.”
Phyla's mouth went dry. Heather sounded so sure... had she picked up who their captor/captors were, telepathically? “Who do you think-”
Their ship's movement came to a screeching halt, literally. The sound set Phyla's teeth on edge. Everything went dark as their ship lost power, somehow shut down by an external source. Phyla blinked rapidly, trying to force her eyes to adjust, with little success. Mere minutes later, there was a loud grinding sound at the ship's hatch, followed by the protest of screeching, tearing metal. Footsteps followed, approaching. Heather got to her feet in one smooth movement, still clutching Phyla's hand, standing at her side, but half a step in front of her, protectively. Their breathing echoed loudly as the ominous footsteps drew closer. Phyla was willing herself not to tremble. This was nothing but an intimidation tactic. She focused on the sound of the steps instead, concentrating. “How many?” She practically breathed the words, making as little noise as possible, hoping Heather understood.
'Three, I think.' Heather's telepathic reply actually made Phyla relax a little. Only three people approaching. Probably just pirates or raiders from one of the Ravager clans, wanting to rob them. She and Heather could deal with that, right? She kept repeating her theory to herself, trying to make herself believe it, until the three intruders became visible. Then, it was all she could do not to shrink behind Heather, eyes widening, heart pounding.
Two were adults, tall and menacing, of species that Phyla couldn't immediately identify, a man and a woman. The male had off-white skin, yellow eyes and jagged teeth. He wore black armor, but a tattered cloak dragged the ground behind him, also black. The woman, taller, had blue-tinged skin and indigo hair, with two thick horns protruding from her skull, on either side of her eyes. A darker blue colored her upper face- natural pigment or war paint, Phyla couldn't tell. She wore form-fitting black body armor. Both she and her companion carried elaborate weapons that looked like crosses between battle staffs and spears. A few paces behind them stood a girl about Phyla's own age. Luphomoid would have been Phyla's guess at the girl's species, but her appearance was jarring, disorienting. Parts of her blue skin didn't match, as if pieces of it had been taken and replaced with artificial flesh, and no-one cared to match the tone. A metal plate ran along the center of her bald skull, metal devices surrounded one of her utterly black eyes, and one of her arms was made entirely of metal. Phyla honestly couldn't work out if this was a living girl or a robot. While Phyla had been staring, there was a loud skittering, stomping sound, and dozens of identical, insectoid, armored warriors bearing weapons flooded onto their ship. She and Heather were surrounded in minutes.
The two older beings simply eyed them coldly, as if scrutinizing wares at a market. Phyla fought to remain still, trying to hide her fear. The cyborg-girl spoke first, her face twisted in a sneer.
“Looks like you messed up. Neither of these two fit the description of Father's niece.” Even the Luphomoid girl's voice had a metallic tone.
“Silence, Nebula.” The woman spoke, her voice deep, almost melancholy, but with no emotion. She didn't even look at the girl. “Even if we haven't managed to find Thanos' niece, so he could meet her as he wished, we can still take him these two. I'm sure he can find some use for them.”
“Even if it is simply to send a message to Titan.” The black-robed man leered at Phyla, his jagged teeth glinting. She shrank back, swallowing a whimper. Message? Somehow, she didn't think he meant sending them home to convey one...
The Luphomoid- Nebula- shrugged. “Up to you. But you know he won't be happy.” Her voice dropped to a murmur. “At least Father can't blame me for this one.”
Phyla heard her words, but they barely registered. (Though some dim part of her wondered since when had Thanos had a daughter?) Her heart had begun thumping as soon as Thanos' name had been mentioned. It sounded like these... people... had been hoping to get a hold of Phoebe or Gamora. Since they weren't here, apparently they were going to 'give' Phyla and Heather to him instead. She clung more tightly to Heather's now-sweaty hand, calling to her telepathically. 'They want-'
'I know.' Heather's voice in Phyla's mind sounded tense.
'Can we get away, make a run for it?'
'Not with our ship dead, and while we're surrounded like this. And I have no idea what they might be capable of.' It sounded like it was costing Heather an effort to admit this. 'We'd better go along with it for now.'
Phyla fought the urge to hyperventilate. 'You WANT us to get dragged to meet Thanos?!'
'No, of course I don't- you think I want to come face to face with the monster who killed my parents just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?!- But right now, we don't exactly have a choice!' Heather squeezed Phyla's hand, as if to make up for her harsh tone, before returning her gaze to Nebula, who still wore an expression of a mingled snarl and scowl, as if she hated her situation and everyone in it. Phyla, watching Heather, blinked as what looked like pity and guilt cross her lover's face, before being wiped away a split second later. 'Listen, Phy, whatever happens, do NOT say anything about Phoebe having a sister. You mustn't. Promise me!'
Phyla was jarred out of her fear by the random non sequitur. 'I won't, but why?'
Heather paused before replying. '...The less Thanos and his minions know about our family the better. And you need to stay calm, and just do what these people want for now. I'll contact-'
Then, with a gesture from the older man and woman, the insect-like beings were swarming them, wrenching her away from Heather, grappling them to the ground, and clapping both of them in restraints, dragging them deeper into the massive warship. The sudden assault broke Heather's concentration and the telepathic link failed. Phyla struggled, on the verge of hysterics- they were going to end up dead, and no-one even knew where they were! Why had she been so stupid and talked Heather into leaving Titan? They would never see their family again! Mother, Genis, Father... they'd never know what had happened to her- unless Thanos decided to return whatever was left of her when he'd done... whatever he planned. She fought with a renewed surge of strength, fight-or-flight instinct overriding rational thought, wanting to be at Heather's side at least, but she achieved little. She only caught one glimpse of Heather, bound and gagged, before something collided with the side of her head, and everything went black.
Heather sat cross-legged, her hands, bound at the wrist by energy-powered cuffs, resting in loose fists on her knees, breathing deeply and steadily, her eyes closed, meditating. Or so it would appear to the dozen Chitauri warriors that surrounded her, keeping her at gunpoint. In fact, she was reaching out with her mind, discerning just how many lifeforms were on this vessel, and scanning the Chitauri drones' minds for what they knew of their location, destination, and their captors' plans. Phyla, she had already learned, had been sedated and was being guarded several levels down, on the opposite side of the ship. The ship's precise location, Heather was finding harder to discover. But as soon as she had that, she intended to telepathically contact Mentor and (though it grated on her pride) ask for help. She was powerful, but, at present, she was not powerful enough to get herself and Phyla out of this mess without aid. A familiar 'nudge' against her mind jarred her concentration, and her eyelids flickered. Phyla was waking up. Heather quickly established a link between their minds, so her lover didn't panic and lash out when she woke fully, disoriented. If they were going to get out of here, it would help if they were both awake and calm.
'Phyla. Phy, can you hear me?'
'What... where...?' The other girl's mental 'voice' was groggy. 'Heather?'
'Are you hurt?' Heather kept her tone as even as possible, her face utterly blank, showing nothing of the concern she felt.
'No.... just tired. What happened... where...?'
She could feel Phyla's rising fear, and quickly 'nudged' her into a calmer state, reminding her, as succinctly as possible, of what had happened. She could tell Phyla was breathing rapidly, but at least she was trying to control her fear. Heather tried to focus on priorities. 'Are there beings guarding you?'
'Y-yes. At least thirty. How are we going to get out of this? Where are you?!'
'Phy, stay calm. Panic will solve nothing. I am going to let Mentor know what's happened-'
'Why haven't you already done that?! We could be halfway across the universe by now! What are you waiting for?'
'I hoped to discover our exact location from one of the Chitauri's minds before I alerted anyone. But if-'
An alarm blared, and the whole ship shook with an impact of some kind, making the lights flicker ominously. Heather, startled, lost the link with Phyla, and her eyes shot open. The Chitauri guarding her were chittering amongst themselves in what looked like uncertainty. Another impact tremor shook the vessel, and there was a distant sound of explosions, and the creak of metal warping and tearing. Heather got to her feet in one smooth movement. If the ship was under attack, as it appeared to be, she would not let herself be helpless. Her hands were still bound, of course, but such restraints hadn't stopped her telepathy, so it stood to reason that she could use her telekinesis if the need arose.
The Chitauri re-focused their weapons on her as soon as she stood, snarling some kind of warning, their mandibles clicking. The ship lurched again, and now she could hear blaster fire, and a loud bellow- a war cry from some rough, primitive being? The Chitauri advanced as she stepped forward, trying to force her to move back. With a sigh (mainly of boredom), Heather narrowed her eyes and concentrated. With the focus of her will alone, she yanked the blasters from the grasp of her 'guards', tossing them behind her, out of the way, before increasing her effort, and hoisting the insectoid creatures themselves into the air, holding them paralyzed above her head as she simply strode past them to the door, which opened with a mere touch of her hand. All these guards, and yet the doors aren't coded to DNA? Shrugging, she made her way into the corridor, sweat beading on her face from effort as she kept the Chitauri aloft.
The door hissed closed behind her, and she whirled round, prying the panel covering the door controls free, and pulling haphazardly at the exposed wires- once she'd gone a certain distance from the room, her powers would cease to work. Sealing the Chitauri in would buy her more time (hopefully.) Once she was reasonably sure the door was sealed, she hesitated, listening for the sounds of battle, then turning and racing the other way. She needed to find Phyla first, before they either chanced facing whoever had dared attack the ship of Thanos' servants, or using the battle as a distraction and just getting out of there. As she darted through the labyrinthine halls, she tried, repeatedly, to contact Phyla again, but in this situation, on guard, wary of any pursuit, she couldn't find the calm she needed to engage her telepathy. Cursing, she ran faster. She'd just have to find Phyla the hard way.
Hearing footsteps, she froze, then ducked into the nearest door that opened, peering out, to see the Luphomoid cyborg girl stalking past, towards Heather's cell, grumbling, presumably having been told to check on her. Heather let out a near-silent stream of profanity. Now she had only minutes before her escape was discovered. She began running again, but had to have taken a wrong turn at some point, because now, instead of moving away from the sounds of the battle, she was getting closer to it. Well, at least I'll get answers this way, and maybe even some help, if there are people who oppose Thanos on board. If not? Well, she could fend off a small number of attackers. As long as she got herself and Phyla to safety. Tearing round one last corner, she found herself in a larger space, perhaps the ship's mess hall or recreation area, but the details escaped her, because of the scene she now faced.
A tall, muscular man of indeterminate origin, with green skin, decorated with red tattoos, was wielding two long knives, alternating laughing and shouting (demanding information about Thanos, it sounded like) as he diced up scores of Chitauri, standing in a veritable sea of dismembered body parts. Behind him, the blue skinned woman and black robed man that had captured Heather and Phyla faced off with another being. Tall, golden skinned, with white-blond hair and bright-white eyes, clad in a black bodysuit with a red cape, his gloved hands shone with an unnatural light as he fended off Thanos' servants with ease. Heather decided discretion was the best part of valor and simply stayed back, out of the fray, until, with a chant intoned by the gold-skinned man in a language unknown to Heather, his two opponents were engulfed in a flare of light, and crumpled to the floor, motionless. The green-skinned warrior, had, in the meantime, finished shredding the Chitauri, and sheathed his blades, either not knowing or caring that he was covered in gore. As one, they both turned to Heather.
She swallowed hard, uncharacteristically nervous, not certain what to say to these (apparently) powerful beings, and far from sure that they would help her. She tried to concentrate, hoping she had the strength to seize their minds if they threatened her.
Another flash of light kept her from needing to speak, however, as two more figures appeared next to the male with gold skin- a swarthy male with red hair and oddly pointed ears, (a teleporter, it seemed, since the light originated from him, fading quickly), wearing only a vest, loincloth and boots, whose height barely reached Heather's waist, and beside him...
“Phyla!” Forgetting their odd audience for a moment, Heather ran to her lover's side, embracing her as best she could, considering both of them still wore shackles.
“Hi, nice to meet you ladies.” A sarcastic voice broke the silence. Heather clutched a trembling Phyla closer as her eyes slid sideways to see the red-headed short male leering at them. “Enjoying the show and all, and you're welcome for the rescue, but don't suppose you're gonna tell us what Thanos' flunkies wanted with ya?”
I'm not going to say who the mysterious rescuers are yet (though any fans of Marvel Comics should figure it out) but here are some reference images:
Golden skinned man: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/228979962289128988/
Red-haired man: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/57983913938209801/
Green skinned man: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/507640189233268073/
Genis walked into the dining room in search of food he could 'borrow', saw his father sitting at the table, squared his shoulders and turned to walk straight back out. He wasn't ready to discuss Mar-Vell's condition yet, and he wasn't going to be forced into dealing with it.
“Genis.” The soft tone of Mar-Vell's voice, so understanding, even now, froze him in his tracks. He stood where he was, tense, but refused to turn.
He heard Mar sigh softly. “We're going to have to talk about this eventually, Genis.”
His fists clenched, involuntarily. No, we don't. “I...” What? What could he possibly say? 'Sorry I acted like a brat when you came here,when you were probably already terrified of facing Phyla and I, and you were ill and I didn't know it?' 'Sorry you're dying and probably scared but I know you won't admit it'? Or- worse than that, in Genis' mind, was that his father would want to try and comfort him now, not the other way around. Genis should be supporting his father now, he knew that, but the idea of facing his father's imminent death, accepting it, made him want to run and hide. Hearing Mar stand, with gasps of effort, Genis turned quickly, in case he needed help. Mar was leaning on the table, though, so Genis quickly forced his face back to blankness. He said the first thing that came to his mind, to avoid Mar talking about his cancer again. “Has anyone heard from Heather and Phyla? They should've just gotten to Terra, right? Assuming that is where they actually went.” Genis was talking rapidly, in a tone that suggested he was just fine, and nothing at all was wrong, not letting his father turn the subject to the elephant in the room, his illness. “Phy would normally have called before now, to let someone know they're OK, even if Heather wouldn't bother. I hope they're alright.” He was babbling, filling the silence to keep more painful words away, and he and his father both knew it.
Mar studied him for a few minutes, before dropping his eyes. Genis didn't miss the brief flash of disappointment he'd seen in his father's eyes, and he stifled a sigh. Maybe his father wanted or needed to talk about his illness and how he was feeling about it, but Genis just couldn't handle that. Just thinking about it made his throat tighten, and him breaking down and crying wouldn't be supportive at all. Better for Mar-Vell to talk to someone like Eros, who'd be able to listen and comfort him without falling to pieces.
Mar opened his mouth to reply, but a soft throat-clearing cut into the conversation. Both looked up to see Gamora and Eros in the doorway. Genis wanted to smile the second he saw Gamora, a feeling he hadn't been able to shake since their... experience in the fields. Her cheeks darkened slightly, showing she was (probably) thinking about the same thing. Genis tried to bury the feeling though, worried about what Eros might say if he picked up on just what Genis had done with his daughter a few days ago.
Eros, thankfully, didn't seem to notice anything, his face drawn and worried, his eyes on Mar-Vell.
Mar-Vell stood up straighter. “What's happened?”
“It seems Heather and Phyla ran into... some old allies of ours. They've just been escorted back to Titan.”
Genis blinked. So Heather and Phyla were home? Wasn't that a good thing? “You have old allies on Terra?”
“Are they other Eternals, like you?” Gamora asked quizzically.
“Hmm? Oh, no. It seems...” Eros hesitated, then placed a hand on Gamora's shoulder before speaking. “They never got as far as Terra. Somehow, the Black Order intercepted them en route.”
Mar-Vell started, eyes wide. Gamora's fists clenched, and she stepped closer to Eros, instinctively seeking comfort. It took Genis a few seconds, but he caught up. The Black Order were Thanos' elite warriors, his henchmen. “What- are they OK?!”
“They're fine. Shaken up, but they weren't hurt.”
“Thank Hala.” Mar-Vell muttered. “So, these allies who bested the Black Order- I assume you're referring to Warl-”
“Yes,” Eros cut him off quickly. “And his usual companion, as well as Drax.”
“Who?” Genis mouthed at Gamora. She shrugged. Neither of the names meant anything to her either, then. Interesting.
“Drax?” Mar-Vell sounded stunned. “But... he never works with anyone.”
“Well, he has now.” Eros sighed. “It might just be because they were all seeking Thanos, for their differing reasons, but... they're all still here. Obviously, we owe them for saving the girls, but... Drax's presence alone could cause problems, considering...” He seemed to remember Gamora and Genis' presence at the last second, and stopped speaking. “Actually, could you two go and inform Elysius that Phyla and Heather are back, and bring her to join us, while I speak to Mar-Vell?”
Gamora, used to doing what her father wanted, nodded and slipped from the room without question. Genis pointedly narrowed his eyes at Eros, making it clear that he knew this was just a ploy to be rid of them, then left, almost swaggering. He considered staying to eavesdrop, but Gamora must have expected that, because she was waiting for him, and took his hand to lead him away.
It didn't keep either of them from hearing the words 'Drax', 'Heather', 'Secret', 'Asking questions' and 'Problem' as they walked away, though. Genis stored the words to think about later. If the adults wouldn't tell him anything, maybe he'd see what Phyla knew, later. If there was something hidden about these so-called allies, Genis definitely wanted to know what it was.
Phyla's fingers were laced tightly into Heather's as they waited for in the guest docking bay on Titan, far smaller than the one used by residents. Mentor, Eros, Mother and Father would be joining them soon, and Phyla wasn't much looking forward to their reaction to her 'sneak off Titan to Terra to find Father's friend Carol' plan, much less how they'd respond to what had happened afterward! To get her mind off it, Phyla surreptitiously eyed the three males who had saved them. Their mysterious rescuers hadn't spoken much beyond introducing themselves as Adam (the tall gold-skinned male) who was, at present, sitting cross-legged but floating in mid-air, meditating, as Heather often did, Drax (the huge green skinned tattooed man), presently leaning against a wall, sharpening a knife and, apparently, 'Pip'- the half-sized man, who was currently smoking a foul smelling cigar, making Phyla's nose wrinkle in disgust, while wandering around, picking up and examining everything that even looked as if it might be valuable.
Adam, who appeared to be in charge of this odd group, after defeating Thanos' forces, had wasted no time in shepherding them onto his own vessel and away from Thanos'.... allies? Servants? Phyla wasn't sure just who those leaders had been, and honestly, she was just glad to be away from them. It wasn't until they'd left that ship far behind that Adam had solemnly introduced himself and the others, and asked the two girls where they were from, so they could be escorted home. The huge (intimidating) Drax had protested, wanting to stay and interrogate this 'Black Order' for Thanos' whereabouts, for some reason- it was almost like he was obsessed. But Adam had held firm, refusing to allow Drax's 'crusade' to risk innocent lives. Phyla had privately thought that Drax would simply pulverize the far smaller Adam, but evidently there was some respect or hierarchy between them, because Drax had capitulated, albeit grudgingly. Adam had repeated his question about Phyla and Heather's home, and, after a quick exchange of glances, Phyla had hesitantly named Titan as their home.
Adam had arched a brow, showing mild surprise, but said nothing more than he knew of it, and leaving them be to go and input the co-ordinates. He hadn't even asked for their names, which was odd, but Phyla was too relieved to be safe to question much.
Phyla had asked Heather, quietly, if she had ever heard of this Adam, or any of the others, since, if Adam truly knew Titan well enough to access it without permission, then he had to be known to Mentor or Eros. Heather's reply had been vague- she had heard of a mysterious 'Adam Warlock', an enemy of Thanos and a powerful being, with cosmic or magic-like abilities, but she'd seemed distracted for the whole journey home. As she was now. Her gaze kept darting to Drax, scrutinizing his face as if searching for something, then gazing at the floor, her brow furrowed. Then she did the same again, minutes later.
Eventually, Drax noticed her study of him and turned to meet her gaze. “What? I got dirt on my face or something?”
Heather frowned disdainfully. “No. I was simply wondering what you were. Your physiology resembles an oversized Terran male, as do your speech patterns, but your coloring is far different than any native of their world. So where do you come from?”
Drax shrugged. “Dunno. Don't remember anything really. I think I died, then I just woke up, and the one thing I do know is I hate Thanos, and I have to hunt him down and destroy him.”
“Yeah, I told you, bud, you need a better hobby.” Pip belched, then snorted. “That's all he's thought about for the ten years we've known him.”
“Pip.” Adam's eyes were still closed, but his tone was fondly exasperated.
“What? Just cos you don't think it's creepy that ole' Kronos made Drax into some Thanos-killing machine from some Terran corpse-”
“What?” Phyla exclaimed, unable to stop herself. The Titan Kronos was Mentor's father, she knew that, and he was also now, due to one of his own experiments gone wrong, a disincorporated being with some power to manipulate time, but she'd never set eyes on the being, and in fact knew no-one who had, except Mentor, of course, and probably Eros at some point. But what Pip was saying, that Kronos had somehow made Drax, or reanimated him, or whatever, to be a weapon against Thanos... from some poor person's corpse? She shuddered. That was just wrong, on so many levels... Pip had to have gotten this wrong, or just be making it up. Right?
“You believe you died on Terra, and you were brought back by Kronos, to become a weapon against Thanos.” Heather's voice was tense, her face pale. “And this was over ten years ago?”
Drax nodded. “More or less. Why?”
Heather's voice was sharp now- almost like she was afraid and trying hard to hide it. “So it would be a fair assumption that Thanos himself had a hand in your death, if Kronos was watching closely enough to intervene.” She'd dropped Phyla's hand in order to step nearer to Drax as she spoke.
“Probably. Again: why? What's it got to do with you?” Drax scratched his head with the blunt end of his knife sharpener, looking confused. Pip's face looked similar. Adam had opened his eyes now, and was looking worriedly from Heather to Drax. His eyes widened suddenly, as if he'd just worked something out, (Phyla wished he'd tell her what this was about, if that were the case!) and he floated to the ground, moving to step between Drax and Heather.
To her shock, Phyla saw Heather's hands shake as she addressed Drax again, disregarding Adam's sudden movement. “And... your life on Terra... you don't remember anything?”
“NO! Jeez, what's with the inquisition, kid?” Drax just looked fed up at this point.
Adam spoke then, his voice full of foreboding. “Drax, maybe you should-”
“No. Let me finish.” Heather's voice was thick, heavy with emotion. Phyla moved towards her, instinctively wanting to comfort her, though she had no idea what was wrong. She had a sinking feeling it would be bad, though.
“You know who 'Drax' really is, don't you, Adam?” Heather's voice was acidic, bordering on rude. “But you don't want me telling him.”
Drax and Pip (and Phyla) looked from her, to Adam, confused.
“Heather, what are you talking about?” Phyla asked gently.
“There is no need to stir up past lives, Heather.” Adam's voice held a warning. “His Terran life ended violently ten years ago. No matter how helpful you may think this is, it will cause him nothing but grief to remember his origin.”
“I don't care. And this is nothing to do with you!” Heather visibly took a deep breath. “If Kronos brought him back, changed him so he forgot everything, then I've been lied to as well. Mentor had to have known.” Heather paused, then looked at Drax, her eyes hard as obsidian. “Your name is- was Arthur Douglas, before you died. Your size and skin color have changed; your face hasn't. I remember you. You had a wife, Yvette. And,” she looked him square in the eye, her face emotionless, “You still have a daughter. If you even care.” Her eyes shone with tears that Phyla knew Heather would never let fall. The pain and grief in her voice nearly strangled her words, but they were still intelligible.
Phyla could only stare. Pip's mouth was hanging open. Adam's eyes widened momentarily, but his face was unreadable. Drax looked... stunned. Literally. Like something huge had just slammed into his skull and he was too dazed to even think of reacting. His knife, and the stone he had been using to sharpen it, fell to the ground with a clatter.
Phyla's mind reeled. Could that be true, really? If Heather had gotten that from Drax's subconscious mind, she supposed it could be, but then... why had no-one ever told Heather the whole story? Why let her believe she was an orphan when she wasn't?
The door hissed open, admitting Mentor, Eros and Elysius, breaking the moment. Heather's head whipped round to face them, then without a word, she strode from the room, barging straight through the trio of adults that had been her family for over half her life, refusing to even make eye contact with any of them. Phyla raced after her, pausing only to murmur a 'sorry' to the confused and hurt Titans. Let Adam or Pip or damned Drax explain this to them, that their lie had been uncovered- she had to go make sure Heather was OK. Or as OK as she could be, now all this was out in the open.
How could everyone have lied to Heather about something this important?
Heather marched through the halls of Titan, fists clenched, her expression menacing enough to deter anyone who would ask questions, moving fast enough that Phyla couldn't keep up with her- she didn't want her simmering anger to boil over in the presence of her lover- Phyla had nothing to do with the deception that had been played on Heather for years, keeping the continued existence of Drax- or Arthur Douglas- from her for years. Gods. What was she even supposed to call him if she saw him again? Dad? Father? Simply Drax? Did she even want to see him again? How could everyone here, her whole family, adults she had come to know and trust, have lied to her for over ten years, letting her believe herself an orphan when she wasn't? A burning sensation behind her eyes and in the back of her throat let her know she was near to tears, and that only made her scowl deepen- she had been taught to suppress such useless emotion, and had no intention of breaking down and crying over this. She was seventeen now, too old for such childish nonsense. No, she would isolate herself for a short while, meditate, then when the sharp edges of her rage had dulled, then she would go and find Mentor, and ask- calmly- why she had never been told about Drax.
“Heather. Heather!” Someone grabbed her arm from behind, and without thinking, Heather used her telekinesis to fling her attacker across the hall- only to find it was Gamora. The Zen Whoberi girl sprang fluidly back to her feet with no obvious effort, eyes narrowed. “What the hell was that for? Didn't you hear me calling you?”
“I- no. I'm sorry.” Heather pinched the bridge of her nose with her hand, sighing. “My mind was elsewhere.”
“How come?” Gamora surveyed her through narrowed eyes. “Genis and I heard that you and Phyla ended up in the hands of the Black Order,” Her expression and eyes were haunted with dark memories, “Are you both OK? Obviously you got rescued by some old friends of Father's, but, the Order, they're not...” She tried and failed to hide a shiver. “Who's Drax, by the way? We kind of heard that name through the door as we left...” Her words trailed off, and Heather's temper boiled over at hearing that name again.
“Mind your own business.” She replied, her tone icy.
“Oh, excuse me for being concerned!”
“About me? That's kind of you, since usually your concern is reserved for Eros and Phoebe- and Genis lately, of course.” Heather's lip curled in a sneer. “Where is he, anyway? Unusual for him to not follow you around like a lovesick puppy these days.” Part of her knew she was being unfair, Gamora hadn't done anything to her, but she just needed to lash out, hurt someone else so she wasn't the only one suffering.
Gamora folded her arms, her glare now matching Heather's. “He's with his father, thank you very much. As is Phyla. Mar's awake and wanted some company. Phy went with Genis when I told her I'd check on you. She said you were upset, but wouldn't explain why. And what's gotten into you anyway? I came here to make sure you were alright after an encounter with the Black Order, and you're acting as if I'm someone you hate!”
“Oh, right, I forgot you would have known them, in your old home. Did they play nursemaid to you when you were an infant, when Thanos wasn't around?” Heather knew she was way out of line here, but she couldn't stop herself.
Gamora's face tightened, lips pressed tightly together as if she was biting back a retort.
“And again, it's nice of you to be concerned about Phyla and I, but I'd think you'd want to express more concern for the girl Thanos adopted in your place. Nebula, I think her name was. Looked more cybernetic than biological being, from what I saw of her. But maybe you don't care about that now you're safely out of Thanos' hands?” Heather arched a brow, waiting to see how Gamora responded. She was fairly certain that Gamora had no idea Thanos had 'adopted' another child, but she deserved to know the truth. Just as Heather should have been told about Drax. Mentor and the other adults had lied to her about that, so who was to say they hadn't also concealed knowledge of Nebula from Gamora?
Heather did feel somewhat conflicted when Gamora's face turned bloodless and she turned and bolted. If it turned out that no-one had known about Nebula, then she had just hurt one of her few friends for nothing... Her fists clenched once more, nails digging into her palms. She needed to go and meditate, to clear her thoughts. If, later, it turned out she had been mistaken and Nebula wasn't known to the Titans, then she would apologize to Gamora.
Whether or not she would ever forgive the adults for lying to her about Drax remained to be seen.