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Life, Love, Empire and Cake

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I.

Peter Quill's mom had (as far as he remembered) always been a sweet, gentle and kindly soul. As such, he had grown up convinced that his father must have been, by way of cosmic balance, an asshole, and 100% a dick.

After all, Peter had to have inherited that particular character flaw from someone.

This childhood theory is proved right when Peter lands in Xandar to refuel after a long haul trip spent investigating suspicious renegade Kree activity in rim space, and promptly gets arrested.

"I thought we got an amnesty, man," Peter protests again, as he's frogmarched briskly from the spaceport, trailing Corpsmen and his friends, none of whom, Peter notes sourly, seem to be bothering to attempt to un-arrest him.

Corpsman Rhomann Dey shrugs his heavyset shoulders. "You're not under arrest, Star-Lord."

"Oh yeah?" Peter arches his eyebrows at the heavily armed Corpsmen surrounding him.

"Surely you've been really arrested enough times to know the difference."

Dey has him there. Peter scowls. "You guys could have asked me nicely."

"This is us asking nicely."

"More nicely. What's this about? C'mon, Rhomann. How long have we known each other?"

Dey wrinkles his forehead. "Including or excluding the time you've spent in official custody?"

That was definitely a snort from Gamora. A small snort. Peter shoots her a wounded look, but her expression is already carefully blank. Thankfully, showing that there was at least one person in his group of new friends who actually deserved the designation of 'friend', Drax rumbled to life. "Peter Quill is not in trouble?"

"No. That's what I said from the start," Dey notes patiently. "No one's in trouble. Nova Prime just wants to talk to Star-Lord, that's all."

"All right then," Rocket yawns, showing sharp, white teeth. "You going to take long, Quill? You said that you were going to show me a cantina in Lower Five that sold hyphanastin-"

"That sold astara mead," Peter corrects hastily. "Very, uh, very shiny, uh, astara mead, that is not illegal at all on Xandar, or in any sectors of Xandarian Space, uh."

Drax's brow starts to crinkle. "Peter Quill. You did inform Rocket that the substance for sale was hyph-"

"So," Peter raises his voice a little desperately, turning to Dey, "When did Nova Prime decide that she wanted to meet me, anyway?"

"The alert went planetwide eighteen hours or so after you had last left Xandar," Dey recalls. "But you had already jumped towards rim space."

Unfortunately, Dey refuses to say anything more, for all of Peter's attempts at wheedling and goading, and eventually, they're deposited in the glass Nova Core, with its all-encompassing view of Xandar, bustling with Nova Corpsmen strutting about with their usual air of purposeful constipation. Many people on Xandar, being the Nova Corps in particular, needed to take life easy, in Peter's opinion.

Hunched over the holodeck in the centre of the hive is the current Nova Prime, Irani Rael, looking equally bowelly strained, studying something made out of a ton of pretty pink lights that Peter can't quite make out. When she notices their presence, she waves away the holo with a flick of her fingers, and straightens up.

"Peter Quill. Greetings."

"Uh, hi," Peter ventures. "How can I, uh, help you this time?"

She sighs, glances around, then beckons. "Come with me. No, just you, Peter Quill," she adds, when Gamora makes as if to step forward.

"O-kay," Peter hesitates, but when Rael starts to stalk off briskly, he finds himself towed into her awake, trying not to drag his footsteps like a reluctant schoolkid culled off the herd by a headmistress.

Rael leads him past the organised mass of Corpsmen to a side office, which scans her retina before letting her in, with a soft, sexless, "Greetings, Nova Prime."

The steelglass door seals shut behind him, taking with it all the noise from the Nova Core, and at a wave of Rael's hand, it goes opaque. Peter tries not to flinch, even as he takes in Rael's private office. Personal holodeck desk, check. Chair, check. State-of-the-art versolink console decks, almost paper-thin, scrolling down from the ceiling, check. Nothing else. No personal effects, no holoframes of family, nothing. Not even a little potted plant.

All right.

Not creepy at all.

"Um," Peter tries, when Rael circles around behind her desk, and folds her hands behind her back.

"Peter Quill. Have you ever met your father?"

Of all the questions that Peter had been preparing himself for, this one utterly throws him. "No?"

"Do you know who he is?"

"No." Peter scowls. "All I know is that he's some dickhead who knocked up my mom and abandoned her. Presumably, he even left the planet, if your DNA scans of me are correct."

Rael actually winces at that, looking pained, but she forges on. "After you left Xandar, we deposited the DNA mine with the Xandarian Worldmind. It was... curious. It is not often curious."

Peter blinks. "A living computer centuries old can still be curious about stuff?"

"Apparently a natural DNA cross like yours should not have been possible. Tell me, Peter. Have you heard of the Spartax Empire?"

"Yondu... er, the leader of the Ravagers, he always said that the Spartax people have no sense of humour and are absolutely krsa... er... serious about their Imperial Law or whatever, and not to ever raid any Spartax ships, ever, which isn't hard because they apparently live in the arse end of space, though it's a pity, because Spartax salvage is hot shit if you know where to hawk it."

Rael sighs. This, Peter notes, tends to be the default interplanetary reaction whenever Peter expressed his professional opinion of anything, born of a rough-and-ready early education at the hands of the Ravagers. It was always kinda uncalled for, in his opinion.

"There are seven great intergalactic empires, Peter Quill, upon whose treaties any true, lasting intergalactic peace is built. The Asgardians, the Kree, the Sh'iar, the Negative Zone, the Brood, the Badoon, and Spartax."

"So my dad is some sort of... big shot Spartax criminal mastermind?" Peter guesses. When Rael blinks, he adds dryly, "You don't have to spare my feelings, or whatever. Apples don't fall far from their trees, right?"

"The gravitational pull of a-"

"Well," Peter cuts in hastily, before he has to explain the concept of an Earther metaphor to yet another alien race, "What happened? Did he get caught? Am I supposed to bail him out or something?"

Rael presses her hands flat on her desk, then she says, briskly, as if to crest over an unavoidable distasteful thought, "DNA matching and Spartax Imperial edict have... declared... that you are Crown Prince Star-Lord, son of King J-Son of the Royal Conclave of Spartax. King J-Son has provided us with a set of galactic coordinates in the event of your return to Xandar and-"

"Wait, wait, wait-"

"-duly instructs you to make a jump for Spartax Imperial space-"

"Look, is this some kind of joke-"

"-or in alternative, you are cleared for a Bifrost Relay to Asgard, whereupon you will be introduced to your betrothed, Crown Prince Thor of the Asgardians."

"Okay," Peter says faintly, after a long pause. "Now I know that you're shitting me."

II.

The Guardians of the Galaxy take a surprisingly long time to mull Peter's hushed and slightly hysterical revelation over, in the private quarters provided for them in Xandar.

"So you're a princess." Drax offers thoughtfully, breaking the silence.

"What? No!" Peter slaps his palm against his face. "How did you even... no. Just. No. No!"

"A Spartax Prince, huh. The Spartax Prince," Rocket's ears twitch forward, then back. "Say, could you requisition me a crateload of k-sak-thaon grenades from your empire? For cultural reasons."

"No. No grenades. No titles. No empires. We're leaving Xandar, right now. I hear that Xoxa Novan has the most awesome-"

"Peter," Gamora's perched primly on a high-backed chair, and as he turns to her, she offers him a faint, sharp smile. "Given your status, reputation and criminal record, I'm quite certain that Asgard, Spartax and the Xandarian Worldmind must have repeatedly checked your DNA sample all these past months before reconciling themselves to the nature of your birth. Nova Prime does not jest."

Peter groans. "Can we not discuss this? I'm this close to having a breakdown, guys."

"Why?" Rocket quips. "You just went from being a, admit it, barely interesting Earther to being the Crown Prince of an entire galactic empire. That's a good thing. Even if the empire's, okay, in the asshole of the universe. But it makes really great grenades. That's something."

"Right," Peter snaps, "And my Dad's first edict is for me to go home, or go get married. To a totally different species. Doesn't that sound, maybe a teeny bit dysfunctional to you? What kind of jerk would drop that kinda baggage on his son for shits and giggles?" Drax tilts his head. "Not me."

Rocket's tail twitches, and he bares his teeth into a toothy grin. "Royalty, eh?"

Gamora shrugs. "It won't be so bad. Asgardians look like Earthers. They even have the same colour range."

"That's not the point!"

"Spartax does not usually contact other civilisations," Drax notes. "I have never heard of them doing so. They are insular."

Peter scowls. "Well, they became un-insular really fast in this case-"

"And they are also," Drax continues, "Known to be ruthless when their will is thwarted."

"I got that," Peter grumbles, "What with Nova Prime dropping increasingly heavy hints that I should either make the jump or call up the Bifrost relay, as soon as possible, preferably yesterday."

Drax' brow furrows. "It is not possible to travel to earlier times. Not yet."

"We could go to Asgard," Rocket perks up. "They use a stratosolar mainframe there for light. Good for plants. Groot will like it."

"That's such a great idea," Peter drawls. "Let's totally decide my fate on whether or not a certain planet has tech that Groot will like. And what will I say to Crown Prince Thor when I see him, eh?"

Rocket leers. "'I do'?"

"Oh, for fuck's-"

"Asgard is a known entity," Gamora cuts in. "And friendly to outsiders. One of the great civilised Intergalactic Empires. Unless you would prefer to make the jump to Spartax, which isn't known to be friendly to outsiders. Or anything at all. Not even Thanos knows what the Spartax people even look like. They're a highly secretive race."

"Nice tech, though," Rocket cuts in wistfully. "I saw a salvaged Spartax spacer in a Badoon backwater mining planet once. Nobody even knew where it was from."

"I thought maybe we could try Plan C, and leg it," Peter suggests hopefully, then he sighs, when Gamora raises an eyebrow. "All right. Fine. I don't want to make trouble for Xandar, not after we went to all that trouble to save it from Ronan. We'll jump to Asgard. Fuck this new 'taking responsibility' gig."

"Who knows?" Gamora notes idly. "In all probability, you will antagonise the Crown Prince, the betrothal will be called off, and you will be free to make trouble again all over the universe again."

Peter shoots her a suspicious glance, but Gamora's expression remains impassive. "That actually sounds like a fairly good idea, if I didn't have a sneaky impression that you're laughing at me somehow."

"At you? Never."

"Worst. Liar. Ever."

III.

The Bifrost relay is disorienting, but not utterly stomach-churningly horrific like Peter had originally thought. They're in a gold and crystal dome, the walls whirring slowly to a stop all around them, while beside them a tall, dark-skinned man in a golden fucking suit of fucking armour blithely pulls a fucking sword out of a platform. What the fuck.

Peter stares. This is the first time he's seen an Asgardian - they're not common outside of their empire - and as far as he can tell, this one looks more or less human. Human-shaped. Maybe.

The Asgardian studies them all thoughtfully, expressionless, then he speaks, his tone just as even and neutral. "Prince Star-Lord of the Spartax Empire-"

"Oh my God," Peter groans, and gets smacked across the arm by Gamora.

Even as he yelps, the Asgardian continues, utterly unconcerned, "I am known as Heimdall, Keeper of the Bifrost. Welcome to Asgard." With that, he settles beside the raised platform, settling the sword tip-down on the ground, and goes absolutely still.

Peter exchanges a glance with Gamora, who lifts one shoulder into a shrug and starts to walk towards the exit of the Bifrost chamber, even as it whirs to a complete stop. Before she can get outside, however, a line of spear-wielding guardsmen in more shiny golden armour file in, and hustle them off over a dangerously thin crystal bridge somehow suspended with no apparent supports over a torrent of dark water, rushing outwards to fall at the rim into space itself.

Beside him, cradling Groot's pot in his arms, Rocket grunts. "Show-offs."

"What?" Peter whispers.

"All this," Rocket spits over the side of the bridge, narrowly missing one of the shiny guardsmen. "You'd think that a civilisation that survived a supernova by harnessing the energy would've been less into using replicator tech on a planetwide scale just for a pretty waterfall effect. Show-offs."

"Survived a what?"

"Peter Quill, I like you," Rocket says soberly, "But sometimes I wonder how you can live with yourself. What's it like?"

Peter scowls. "Being an Earther?"

"Being so... so stupid." In the pot, Groot waves its small, leafy hands briefly, and says something that only Rocket's ears can pick up, but which Peter is fairly sure involved the words 'I', 'Am' and quite possibly 'Groot', in that particular order. "Fine, fine. I know he can't help it."

"Why do you do that?" Peter asks, and when Rocket tilts his head, he adds, "All that Groot is saying is 'I am Groot'. We all know that."

Rocket snorts. "That's because your shitty Earther ears can only pick up a really shitty spectrum of frequencies. All that you can hear from him is something that sounds like 'I am Groot'. Which isn't what he's really saying." Groot gestures, with a whispery sound, and Rocket nods. "Yeah, I know. Fucking sad."

Peter frowns, unable at this moment of mild hysteria and panic to correctly parse sarcasm, and gives up. Thankfully, although Peter had prepared for the worst, including possibly shooting his way out of a shotgun (hah) wedding if necessary, his ordeal was brief, formal, and utterly devoid of any marriage noises whatsoever. He and the other Guardians were introduced to Odin, everyone made polite greeting noises, and then they were packed off to the guestrooms posthaste.

Huh.

"Maybe the All-father doesn't approve of his only true-born son marrying someone who was, until only recently, an outlaw," Gamora points out dryly, when Peter mentions how weird everything has been so far to her in the shared private guest gardens.

"Great! I'm starting to feel better about all this," Peter concedes, because they've just had an awesome dinner of delicacies that he mostly didn't recognise, but were still awesome. The Asgardians were being generous to their guests: the gardens could probably fit two Nova Cores with space to share, lush with brightly flowering alien vegetation, and the chambers were far more luxurious than anything that Peter had ever seen.

Rocket had carefully set Groot's pot down next to a fountain, and was squinting up at the faintly shimmering dome of the biosphere field that was all that separated Asgard from deep space. Further along the garden, Drax was sitting in the grass, propped against a tree, sharpening his blades. If no one was getting married, Peter thinks, this would have turned out to be a pretty great holiday.

Cheering up, he turns to Gamora to say as much, then freezes up: at the top of the wide stairway leading down to the guest gardens is Crown Prince Thor.

Nova Prime had 'helpfully' provided Peter with a holodeck image of Thor when they had been preparing to leave Xandar, but the image had been of some hulking fancy dress weirdo with a hammer and a full winged helm, of all things, and Peter had just hastily deleted it. Thor in the flesh is... well, Thor looks exactly how a Crown Prince of an entire intergalactic empire should look: tall, broad shouldered, golden and handsome, with a whiskery tawny beard and a shoulder-length mane; he steps down to the garden with a leonine grace that completes the impression. Thor is dressed in a black vest, inset with six clear blue leys, huge muscular arms bared to the wrists. That weird stubby hammer dangles at his hip, and Peter tries not to stare as Thor ambles towards them, comfortable as you please.

"Peter Quill. Welcome to Asgard." Even Thor's voice sounds like a Prince's should: deep and rumbling and confident. Peter hates him a little.

"No cape today?"

Thor raises his eyebrows, then he grins, a little impishly, warm and as brilliant as the sun, and Peter feels his conviction that he is, as it were, a 100% red-blooded heterosexual male give way a little. Maybe. Kind of. "Not today," Thor allows, and gestures towards the inner guest solar. "Shall we?"

Peter tries not to look too hunted. "Already?"

"No. Not yet." Thor's amusement is rich in his voice. "But there are matters which we should discuss."

Peter tries a beseeching look at Gamora, but she merely rolls her eyes, and he sighs, and squares his shoulders. "Fine. Lead on."

Thor walks until they're past the solar, out through into the maze of the high-ceilinged arched corridors of the shiny Asgardian palace, and Peter is thoroughly lost by the time they get to a balcony, partly set into a rock face, overlooking vast tumbling fingers of waterfalls, plunging down with a collective roar into the churning dark below, spotted with stars. Peter hesitates instinctively for a moment before forcing himself to walk over and rest his elbows on the stone balustrade.

"It is quite safe," Thor assures him, and Peter can't help the scowl.

"Yeah, sure, laugh at the Earther."

"Not at all. I have friends in Midgard. Besides, biosphere technology of this level is uncommon outside of the Asgardian Empire." Peter blinks for a moment before he belatedly remembers that yes, Earth is technically known as Midgard, and also, technically, is part of the Asgardian Empire, backwater as Earth is compared to Asgard. Or the other Nine Realms.

"You're taking this pretty well," Peter notes cautiously, and Thor grins at him.

"The last time I lost my temper, I started a war."

Peter blinks. "Uh. I can see how that could have led to having to learn some sort of anger management."

"Indeed. I've learned restraint since then. Wisdom, perhaps." Thor studies him curiously. "You are far more human than Spartax."

"You've seen one of the Spartax?"

"Not I. But I have studied them." Thor looks briefly out over deep space, before turning his glance back to Peter. "Many centuries ago, before even my birth, Spartax provided part of the technology required for Asgard to save itself from the supernova. An alliance was proposed, to be sealed by a joining of royal houses, through the firstborn of each House." Thor shrugs. "I have known that this was to come all my life."

"Yes, well, I knew that 'this was to come' all of eight hours," Peter retorts, his voice edged. "Sort of like 'surprise! Your Dad decided to take an interest in your welfare. And, oh, by the way, you're also meant to get married. Congratulations!'"

Oddly enough, Thor grins. "You are very much more human than Spartax."

"Bully for me, seeing as I had no idea that I was half... anything until I got DNA-scanned over in Xandar," Peter points out. "Can't we call this off? Arranged marriages are totally last century. Earth century, at that. Surely you guys are way past that sort of shit."

"Peace in the universe is maintained by maintaining balance across the empires, Peter Quill," Thor notes gently. "And much of that balance is based on the premise that the Spartax and Asgardian empires are allies. Alone, we are vulnerable. Together, even if it is but a semblance of unity, even the Badoon will know to find simpler targets. The alliance needs to be reinforced: our enemies have grown bolder. Earth was recently attacked by the Chitauri."

Peter exhales loudly. "What makes you think that I care about that?"

"Do you not?" Thor counters, though he smiles as he does so. "You, who would hold an Infinity Stone in his hand, risking death to prevent a planet you hold no love for from turning to dust?"

"That's... that's just... but... do you even like guys?" Peter blurts out.

Thor studies him for a long, puzzled moment, then he starts to laugh. "Ah yes. I was told of this by friend Stark. Asgardian culture sees no difference between males and females, Peter Quill."

"You're all bi?" That was quite possibly hot.

Thor shrugs. "That being so, should you prefer females, that is your prerogative. What you wish to do after the ceremony is your choice."

"Wait. You're telling me that after we get... married... for the good of the universe or whatever... I can just go?"

"Is that not obvious?" Thor raises his eyebrows. "Why should you have to remain?"

"Okay," Peter blinks. "Uh. I think I can do that. So, just checking, I can just... carry on? With life? And girls?"

Thor grins at him, amused all over again. "If you like. Although," he adds, and Gods but Thor was fast - he went from leaning casually against the balustrade to all the way into Peter's personal space in a blink of an eye, big hands pressed to the stone on either side of Peter's hips, lips almost brushing Peter's ear, "If you ever feel like... experimenting, let me know."

Peter shivers, and his strangled yelp of shock was maybe less manly than he hoped, but Thor merely pats him in the small of his back and steps away. Peter's briefly tempted to try and punch the smug look off Thor's face, but trying to control his confused libido takes way longer than it should, and when he gets back to his friends, he's still red-faced.

Rocket's the first to look up, mouth full from a plate of fruit and unidentifiable delicacies, all balanced on the lip of the fountain next to Groot's pot. "So. When's the big party?"

"Shut up."