The stars were sparkling in the night sky, so clear and bright you could almost hear them twinkle. He smiled at the view, kicking his boots in the dirt and getting a bit more comfortable on the grass. Besides him, another man sat looking at the same sky, his eyes deep in contemplation of the same view.
"Pretty, ain't it?"
"Do you think they are far?" he asked, his eyes on the other man at one moment and the stars the next, "I had always wanted to reach them."
The other man chuckled, "I don't know, they seem pretty far away."
He sighed, his eyes back on the stars, "It would be nice."
"Maybe it's a good thing that they are so far away," dark eyes eyed him carefully, "Otherwise someone would have already stole them."
"Steal the stars?" he couldn't help but laugh, "Maybe you're right, people steal things all the time," he closed his eyes, "But still…"
"Do you want to?"
"Steal the stars," another chuckle. "I bet you would try to just to see if you can, güero."
A low laugh rumbled in his chest at the thought, "Why would I do that when I can ask you to do it for me, hombre?"
"Oh? You want me to steal the stars for you?"
"Well of course, you gave me the idea, now you have to do it, no take backs!"
"A ver, let's make a deal güero," the other man lowered himself to the grass on his belly, look at him with dark, amused eyes, "Once this is over, you will help me with the bounty and I will steal the stars for you, si?"
A loud crash abruptly pulled Peter out of his slumber, taking him from whatever place his mind had come up with to his room in The Quadrant. Growling, he rolled over to his back and started at the ceiling for a few moments. Rocket's voice was an echo down the hallway behind his door, he sounded amused so there was nothing especially wrong going on. Groot probably dropped something on Kraglin's foot or something.
He was still feeling groggy, not quite awake yet. Peter's eyes wandered towards the large windows of his quarters, where the stars twinkled in the vastness of space, not so unlike his dream. It wasn't the first time he had that dream, and it was starting to bother him.
"Steal the stars, right…"
Rolling over once again, Peter sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hands over his face, holding his breath for a moment to focus his senses. Reluctantly, he lowered his hands and glanced at the data pad on the bedside table. He had a log there, where he had written about the recurrent dreams he had been experiencing, and this definitely was another entry for the log.
His dreams were not meant to be significant, most of the time they had been uncoordinated images, some induced by alcohol consumption or being too tired and too stressed to let his mind simply rest. Nightmares weren't unusual, on the contrary, for a while they had been a common occurrence; after his mother's death, after any particularly bad mission with the Ravagers, there were some after the battle of Xandar as well, and now…
"I miss you, you blue old doofus," he smiled sadly at the memory of the man he considered his real father, now gone but never forgotten.
There was a knock on the door before Gamora opened quickly, an exasperated look on her face. It vanished when she noticed the pad in Peter's hands.
"Another dream?" she asked, walking closer to him.
"Yeah," he finished the entry log, "It's like watching a movie in pieces, if I keep this going I'm gonna have all the scenes together eventually."
He was smiling, making a joke out of the situation as it was his way to be, but Gamora was not buying it. She took the pad from him and quickly read the entry, "It's him again."
Peter shrugged, "It doesn't have to mean anything, it's just—"
"Peter, please," she handed him the pad back gently, "These started after Ego, we have to make sure your brain is not making them up as result of his actions."
"He messed me up, but it was temporary," he insisted as he walked to the nightstand and stashed the pad back in a drawer before closing it, "He's not in my head, not anymore."
Gamora shook her head, the exasperation back on her features, "I know… but I don't want you to get hurt, we cannot take the risk."
"Hence the reason I'm writing them down, just to be sure," his voice was calm, but he wanted this conversation to be over, "So far the only thing that has come out of this is my not so hidden talent as a story maker."
Gamora didn't look convinced, she folded her arms over her chest and consider her words for a moment before speaking, "This is important, Peter."
"I'm fine G'mora," he smiled easily, almost feeling it real, "Just dreams, no nightmares, no pain, no weird thoughts in my head, really."
"And if you're not—"
"I will tell you, I will tell everyone," He assured as he walked around the room to pick some clean clothes, "Ego did scrambled my head, but he's dead and the light is gone, we're safe and I'm fine."
Gamora sighed, her expression almost long suffering but used to deal with Peter, "We're getting together to eat, Kraglin brought provisions and some local things from Jaa-ne IV."
"I'll catch up with you in a moment."
As Gamora left the room, Peter's eyes went back to the drawer were the datapad had been stored. He walked towards it and pulled it out of the compartment, bringing up the entry logs once again, his eyes skimming over them, not really reading. He knew the words by heart, and not only because he wrote them.
"Who are you?" he asked out loud to the letters of the people feature in his dreams, but mostly to the one whose name he never remembered and his face was a blur, the same one who promised him the stars in exchange of help.
Peter snorted, he was being ridiculous.
He locked the datapad back in the drawer and proceed to get ready for another day, they could take a few jobs, explore some other planets, and as of now, get breakfast.
Yeah, that was more or less a plan.
Some days, Peter felt it was easy to go by. Breathing was easier, his mind was daydreaming and he didn't have to remember that things were different now, very much so. His encounter with Ego changed things around him in a way that there was not turning back from. In days like this, when he was able to listen to music and daydream, he could forget about his biological father, about losing Yondu – his real father – and the changes, good and bad, that came after that.
He was just pretending of course, and something as simple as a song changing will bring him back. He no longer had his mother's Walkman, but he had the Zune Yondu picked for him. He had a better relationship with his friends and a better understanding of himself.
What he wasn't expecting was Stakar and the rest of the Ravager Clans keeping contact with them. It had been strange, although not unwelcome, to get to know Yondu's former crewmates. Kraglin did a lot of the talking, he was familiar with these people after all, but Peter didn't mind because he just wanted to listen most of the time, Stakar told pretty good stories about Yondu.
It was during one of these encounters that Peter considered that perhaps Ego had fried his brain a little more than he had anticipated, because that had to be the only reason he was seeing two of the men featured in his weird dreams talking with Aleta.
"Oh, Peter, come here," Aleta waved him towards the hangar, but he was too stunned to make a proper response.
As result, Rocket passed before him and pushed him a little, "Come on Quill, move!"
Aleta huffed, amused, while the men with her looked Peter as they reached them. They both were wearing Ravager leathers and the flame was in their uniforms. These men were part of a Ravagers crew, but in his eyes Peter was staring at one of the most famous Sharpshooters of the West, and a Mysterious Man from the East.
"Goody, Billy, this is Peter Quill, Udonta's kid," the Ravager captain introduced with a pleased smile, Peter had found that saying "Udonta's kid" usually brought that expression to her face as well as Stakar's, Peter was not following the introduction as he had done before, he was too busy still gaping at the newcomers, Aleta decided to continue for him "Also known as Star-Lord."
"Ah, the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy?" Goody confirmed the title and damn, his voice was so familiar it was making Peter's head hurt, "Heard about Xandar, you guys did a good job."
"Saving the galaxy was kinda worth all that mess," Rocket comment casually, "We got together and I like that—hey, hey Quill, hello!"
Billy tilted his head and Peter could clearly see a silver hairpin being used to hold his hair up, the thing even matched perfectly with the rest of his Ravager leathers and Peter was feeling dizzy by trying to process all.
"Yeah," Peter forced his voice to work, he sounded funny, "Very worth it."
"Twice," Billy's voice was the same, it was like déjà vu decide to take physical form and punch him in the face, "Xandar and Ego."
Peter was getting tense, logically he had no reason to be, but his mind was not doing logical at the moment, "Yeah, that bastard deserved it, his name was 100% fitting, no—200%."
"He was a jackass," Rocket completed, his eyes darting back and forward between Aleta, the two Ravagers and Peter, remaining on his friend longer.
Peter fidgeted awkwardly with his hands, "So, how long have you been Ravagers? I mean, I haven't see you before— well, Yondu didn't get with others too often— only… sometimes."
Aleta sighed, probably thinking about Stakar's exile decree, but Peter was not accusing them of anything. Even with the decree, Yondu had contact with other Ravagers over the years, but Peter couldn't recall any encounter with Aleta's crew… but what he really wanted to know, he couldn't recall Billy and Goody—Goodnight, his name was Goodnight, but he wasn't supposed to know, was his name really Goodnight, anyway? Aleta said Goody.
"Few years," Goody made a flourish with his hand, "I worked on my own for some time, but after meeting Billy here, things got messy—"
"Everything about that time was messy," Billy rolled his eyes, a fond smile on his face.
Aleta snorted, "You were two were running like mad men but not careful enough, with that bounty on your heads it was just a matter of time before anyone got ya'."
"I do not take kindly to being falsely accused… and so I acted upon it," was Billy's explanation.
Goody sighed dramatically, "But you had to get me into your mess? That was rude, cher."
"You didn't like your job anyway," the other man pointed out, "Better on the run with me."
Goody hummed while Aleta was trying not to laugh and failing, "Well… yes."
"I caught them," she explained, "I was planning on turning them over, the bounty was good."
"You were lucky," Goody riled up, "We were having a bad day."
"So you say," Aleta looked at Peter in the eye, "But of course, they had to ruin it by stars know how, when I checked in the bounty was gone!"
"Gone?" Peter asked, tilting his head, Rocket looked interested in the story as well.
"Yes, gone. Someone had taken it down and officially they were no longer on the run, as nobody was hunting them," Aleta huffed, "But I had seen what they could do, I know talent."
Billy smirked, "So we got a job offer."
"And here we are," finished Goody.
Aleta smiled, "They were with my crew for a while, good times."
Peter blinked, "You're on a different crew now?" he just now noticed that neither of them were wearing Aleta's colors and that Goodnight's Ravager flame was on his right shoulder, indicating he was the first mate of a crew.
"Chisolm's," Billy nodded, and if he saw recognition in Peter's eyes, he didn't say anything.
Peter nodded with an awed expression, externally it looked like he was impressed with the story. In reality, he was still shocked with how familiar Goody and Billy looked, felt and sounded to him. It wasn't possible, because he didn't know these people before now, and not understanding what was happening was making him nervous.
He didn't panic, he didn't make a total fool of himself. Instead he smiled and made a few jokes, switching from the thought "I have seen these guys in my dreams and whoa, that's not creepy at all" to "I just met them, and I think they're cool"
It was probably not the right call, he thought. He probably should say something to Gamora or anyone, really. Déjà vu shouldn't feel this real, or hurt him this much, and it was not like watching Goody and Billy was doing him physical harm, he just felt… really sad, for some reason he didn't understand.
But Peter could pretend he was fine, and kept talking to them, he had been able to do so for years in many occasions, this shouldn't be any different. They were Ravagers, very close to one another for what he could tell, and they seem to be happy… that was enough to shush the inexplicable feeling of melancholy away, at least.
That effort was almost ruined when that same day he ran into Charlie-27 and another Ravager Captain. Because of course no matter the life, Peter will always find Sam Chisolm in his path out of the blue and for apparently no reason. He wasn't even supposed to know his name was Sam, Charlie had finished the introductions, yet Peter knew this man was called Sam Chisolm, at least in his strange dreams was.
"My former first mate, Samuel, now a captain himself!" the Ravager captain introduced with ease and pride, not pointing out anything wrong with Peter's reaction. Charlie was either he was being polite or Peter was doing a good job of hiding his internal panicked screams.
Why did the universe loved messing with him?
Tivan was not a cruel man, it was not in his interest to be so. His perpetual attention lay in his ever-growing collection, something very few were able to understand. For some, his actions might be perceived as selfish, cruel even, and he was aware of such.
He just didn't care.
After the rise of The Guardians of The Galaxy, Tivan contemplated the notion of having them in his collection. It wouldn't be so farfetched, to have such specimens in his possession, especially after their actions in Xandar and the confirmation of a human holding an infinity gem in his bare hands. But no, it was precisely the knowledge that the one they called Star-Lord held an infinity gem in his hand is what stopped him.
"Carina, , were you so eager to see yourself gone?"
At the time, he had lost part of his collection, the one situated in Knowhere, as he released the power gem from the orb and Carina had heard its whispers, the temptation. The child had a life debt with him, but a couple of years had been enough for her to loath her life of servitude, thus she saw her chance, but oh… such a fool, to think she could withstand the power of the cosmos in her mortal hand.
"You're talking to yourself again."
Tivan closed his eyes, a grin forming in his lips upon hearing the voice of the man he called to his state in Knowhere. It had been months after the destruction and the repairs done to the place were yet to be completed, many items of his collection were damaged, others gone, but he had time and the entire universe to replace them.
His agent stood against the wall, his helmet retreated over the gadget behind his ear to show his face in that permanent bored expression he held around Tivan. Another mask of course, he had seen him smile from time to time, just not to his master.
Tivan held the remains of a white dress in his hand, only a scrap, smaller than the palm of his hand, "Cleaning up and finding old debris, Carina was careless."
His agent hummed in contemplation and promptly changed the subject, "I got the stuff you wanted."
His agent looked up, the spark in his eyes ablaze as every time he hears the name Tivan chose for him after he came to his servitude. It suited him, even if he didn't like it, it was his name now, since the one he had before this life was only his to know and no one's to care about. Carina had been the same, although she never dared to look at him like that once he named her. That's what he liked about Javier the most, he had spirit.
Javier's lips thinned in displeasure but he kept his words at bay. He lifted a sealed crate from the floor at his side towards the table, then proceed to open it, his mind on the task instead of whatever profanity his thoughts could conjure against Tivan.
The crate contained a dark blue, almost black ore, chipped in places when Javier had ripped out from the surface of the planet, most likely. The chipped side showed veins in the inside of the ore, crystal paths of various shades of red.
"It's toxic," Javier said, showing him his gloves, damaged from use, "It ate away everything organic around it."
"That's what parasites do," Tivan tapped the ore with his fingers, unappalled. It didn't react at all, to Javier's surprise, "Even dying parasites like this one."
"Dead then," the younger man said, taking a step back, "Where do you want to store it?"
Tivan shock his head no, "Dying, not dead yet," He clarified. "It will take it a few years to completely die, it still can be of use, just like everything in Knowhere is used in some form or another."
Javier lifted his eyes, curious, "Even corpses have their use, eh?"
"Si," Tivan smiled at Javier's roll of eyes. "Es algo que sabes por experiencia."
"Por supuesto…" he mumbled with just enough flatness in his tone to hide his displeasure, Tivan let it slip. Javier turned around to grab the crate and haul it to the platform Tivan had waived carelessly at, using his gloves to not touch the ore directly.
The ore itself was a remnant of something once alive, very old in nature, perhaps not as old as Tivan himself but close. Javier took the necessary precautions while handling it, having seen some aspects of its parasite nature during its retrieval.
"Such a shame, for those with potential to fall this way, useless…" Tivan sighed dramatically, observing Javier as he ignored him completely.
"There you go," he said once the ore was on the platform and he closet it with the protective glass that encase the space around it.
Tivan rose an eyebrow, "Don't you want to know more about it?"
"I really don't care, to be honest," he pointed out, Tivan blinked. "It's old, it was alive, and it eats people."
"That's a very crude description, it's missing the fascinating details," Tivan pointed out. "But alas, you have things to do, one being this," he said while handling him a datapad. "Go on, there's no time to waste."
Javier huffed, taking the datapad with no comment and a simple nod.
Vasquez took the cigarette from Faraday's lips, ignoring the Irishman’s protests, taking a drag and blowing the smoke over their heads. They were sitting side by side, the sun setting before them after a long day of preparations, digging the trenches had taken them most of the day but that part of their cover was done.
"Let it be known that you're only getting away with that because I'm too damn tired to move," Faraday said, nudging Vasquez with a knee, "fucking menace."
"Lo que tú digas, güero," he said with a smirk.
Faraday rolled his eyes, "Don't sass me in Mexican, don't sass me at all period!"
Vasquez pretended to take his words into consideration, but ended up shaking his head no, dodging a pebble Faraday threw at him in retaliation.
"Hey," Vasquez called for his attention, "hey güero."
He smiled at him, "Let's not die, si?"
Faraday stared at him, slowly grinning, "Well, that's a mighty good suggestion!"
"Come on güero, I'm being serious here!" he laughed nonetheless.
Faraday chuckled, "Fine, let's live to see another day, so you can steal the stars for me."
Peter woke up with a sting in his eyes and a hollow feeling on his chest.
Secured in in his own spaceship docked in the landing bays of Knowhere, he worked on the information stored in the datapad, taking the useful details for his own program, sorting the information in hierarchy and systematic logic. If he submerged in the world of codes, analysis and computer logic, it's was easier to not think about the world outside, where most things don't make sense.
"Javier…" he sighed, shaking his head.
He didn't hate the name, not really, it was just a name. It was the intention behind it what he hated.
Sometimes he wondered if it wouldn't be easier to just let himself go, forget about everything before Javier and let this life simply happen, with the good and the bad, with no omens lurking in his head and no past chasing him around the galaxy.
He chuckled, knowing the answer to his own thoughts. No, it wouldn't be easier. At some point he would start the chase again, over and over until he actually finished.
Working for the Collector was not ideal, not satisfactory, but it could have been worse. He could have ended up in the halls of the Grandmaster, and curse all those Elders from one end to the Galaxy to another, most of them were crazy.
An alarm sounded around him, making the lights in the cockpit blink red and yellow as the computer pulled up an image of recent bounty set for any hunter to chase. He scrambled to his feet, pushing buttons and displaying the message on the main screen.
"Again? You gotta be kidding me…" Javier said to no one, watching the image of Peter Quill on screen, his expression somber on the picture while an outrageous amount of credits was set as reward for his capture, alive.
He ran a hand over his hair, cursing softly. Javier pushed one of the sets of the device behind his ears and his eyes were covered by lenses acting as a screen. He hooked his remote system to the mainframe of his ship and pushed his way into the alert system.
The Sovereign, after weeks of silence. He rolled his eyes and set himself to work, getting the network scrambled, deleting availability of the bounty and setting it up as paid, while to the requestor it would look the same. The trick was not going to last forever, not with those guys, but it was great to redirect and give time.
"There you go—" a second alert, followed by a third came into his detecting program, only this time it was not Peter Quill or any of the people he kept on taking off the bounty system.
No, this time it was his own picture, a ridiculous amount of credits and a bunch of accusations along with felonies that, wow, he didn't remember doing half of those things. The Kree tended to escalate everything.
They were asking for him alive to bring him back—and no, not gonna happen.
He deleted the alert, like he had done many times before, without even flinching.
"Javier…" he said again, resisting the urge to touch the branding on the base of his neck. The pulled at his collar and went back to work. "Javier is fine."
Peter was fidgeting with the Zune, the earbuds on and his gaze lost in an unspecified point of the monitoring screen before him. In the copilot chair, Kraglin had been giving him worried looks for about an hour now. They were supposed to be working on Ship Stuff, as Peter called it, because everyone had unanimously declared that Kraglin was first mate of their crew, like Peter was their leader and captain.
Kraglin, knowing the rest of the Ravagers better than Peter, was doing the introductions when reaching for the other Captains. It had been the last introduction what Pete all riled up. They got in direct contact with the Chisolm Clan, where Peter got to see Jack Horne and Red Harvest, knowing who they were before Sam even introduced them.
Goodnight was Sam's first mate, not surprising.
Their ship was called The Magnumstar, and Sam was very eager to stablish a form of friendship between them. Peter would appreciate the sentiment if he was not so busy having a silent panic attack because all the people in his dreams were right there, in that ship… all but one.
"Damn it," he cursed softly.
Kraglin touched his shoulder, making him flinch "Pete?"
"Wanna go get something to eat?" he suggested, it was subtle, the indication that Peter needed to calm down and get his head together, subtle and effective. After all, there was a good reason he had been Yondu's first mate.
Peter nodded, taking the earphones off and pocketing the Zune. He felt like he was going crazy, and it was not because he had dreams that felt like memories from another life, or the fact that he had found the people in those memories even here, so far from Earth.
It was because one was still missing.
Javier is holding a cube in his hand, the design includes some specs that light it up in a soft purple color. He designed it to scramble signals, using a similar program to the one he coded for the alerts in the bounty grid.
"Excellent!" Tivan takes the cube from his hand, turning it around to see it. "The dealers will be here soon enough, perhaps…" Tivan turns around to look at him, a knowing smirk on his face, "you should fetch them?"
Javier raised an eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest, unimpressed.
"What? I'm playing Carina now?"
The Collector rolls his eyes, waving him off, "Do get them here Javier, don't try my patience."
"Don't expect me to wear a dress anytime soon," he hissed in responded but nonetheless walked out to the direction of the bar, where people looking for the Collector usually waited. He flicked the screen in his wrist receptor, checking the name and face of Tivan's guest.
Javier stood at the gate that divided The Collector's space from the bar the man owned as well. He inhaled a few times, running a hand across his hair, remembering Carinas silly pose and convoluted entrance.
"Chingada madre," he cursed, rolling his eyes.
Javier stood straight, folding his arms behind his back, closed fists touching each other, chin raised. After a moment, the metal door shuffled open, reveling the view of the bar recently reconstructed, the people getting drunk there and a particular group waiting.
These people were not "Sirs" and "Ladies", they were nothing more than thieves looking for some kind of thrill and money, as do who come to see The Collector.
"Hildegarth," he called, no formalities because he was not a damn butler and he was not going to call Tivan his master like Carine used to do, "Follow me, you're expected."
He walked, being follow by the Hildegarth and his companions, a group of aliens of yellow scale like skin and two sets of eyes. As they reached the main display floor, he was supposed to say something about the largest collection of objects and species, him being one of them.
"Honorable guests," he said with a hint of sarcasm. Javier turned around and in an exaggerated flourish that was going to make Tivan roll his eyes, introduced the Elder. "I present you, Taneleer Tivan… The Collector."
He faded into the background after that, just watching as Tivan did his deal. One piece of technology made by Javier and a few thousand credits in exchange of another rare piece of whatever Tivan fancied at the moment.
"No, that's not part of the negotiation," Tivan said at one point, quickly glancing at Javier. "Now, as I was saying…"
The deal was mostly concluded, when Javier noticed one of Hildegarth's men aiming a gun to Tivan when the man had his back at them, arranging the credit transfer. Tivan was not a good person, the man was crazy, but he had been the one who helped Javier get some sense of life back into his existence, so over the years he had learned to live with him.
Perhaps he had always been too loyal to those who deserved at least some of his consideration. Whatever the case, Javier was faster and he shot the man dead before he had the chance to attack Tivan. Hell broke loose after that, with the other four aliens launched an attack towards him and Hildegarth went straight for Tivan.
"We were hoping for a clean deal," Hildegarth said, gun to The Collector's head. "The cube, some credits, him."
Javier barely had time to notice he was now part of whatever exchange as going on, but Tivan didn't look impressed, "As I said before, he's not for sale."
"Oh well, but the Kree want him, you see, and the bounty is pretty high."
"Whatever it is, I will double it, just cease this idiocy," Tivan hissed, his patience running thin.
Javier was taken down by three of his four attackers, holding him against the floor to chain his hands behind his back while he cursed, kicked and screamed.
"You see, is not just about the bounty…" Hildegarth said. "It's about having the favor of the Kree Empire."
Javier felt a shock in the base of his neck, solid, powerful, it went from the touch point to every single nerve of his system, followed by pain exploding in his skull. He was sure the thing had busted his translator chip, and darkness claimed him afterwards.
Peter was dozing off in the in his chair in the Quadrant's bridge, in between one blink and another, the vision around him shifted from the stars to a town in the horizon. He was on a horse, at his side six other men looking towards the same place. Peter knew this place, the nostalgia that evoked in him was far too great to not be real, and he recognized those around him as the Sam and his crew.
"My friends," he said groggily. "Ugh…"
So far, so good…
Someone pushed at his shoulder, Peter woke up immediately, almost hitting Kraglin in the face.
"We got a situation, Pete," he said warily, pointing at the main screen.
Rocket was glaring at the transition of The Collector, who looked as unamused as Rocket, waiting for Peter for acknowledge him.
"What does he want?" he asked Kraglin in a low voice.
"Eehh…" he mode a full body motion, unsure of how to respond, "he was attacked?"
"And why do we care?" Rocket asked, and it seemed it was not the first time he did so, for the roll he got from The Collector as an answer.
"As I said, I require Mr. Quill's intervention with this," he looked at Peter then, who had approached to stand beside the chair Rocket was, "One of my men has been taken by our attackers and I would like you to retrieve him."
"That's a weird request, you gonna put him on a box like the others?" he asked, because that detail had not passed his attention the first time they were on The Collector's gallery.
"No," he answered easily. "He dislikes them, and thus, I would ask you to haste, as he has been taken by bounty hunter to the Kree, I'm afraid."
The Collector made a motion with his hand and an electronic warrant by the Kree was displayed in the main screen, not unlike many Peter has seen before. It asked for a man with dark hair and dark eyes, name as "Javier", no last name, he was charged by the Kree Empire with treason, murder, and many other felonies that sounded terrible – if they weren't coming from Kree he might consider looking them up, but eh, they probably deserved that and more – all sealed up with an exorbitant amount of credits as reward.
Peter was staring at the man in his recurrent dream, the same man, the one he was yet to meet in person.
"No way," he took a step back, feeling dizzy. "No…"
The Collector didn't look surprised, as if he knew Peter was going to react as such, so he didn't wait for him to accept his request, knowing he was going to do so no matter what.
"He had a tracker on him, it might still be working, if you manage to ping it behind the Kree's shields," he sent the information to Rocket. "It would very much be appreciated if you hurry."
Rocket was already typing away, even if he looked displeased but accepting the challenge and opportunity to screw the Kree even a little, "Why so eager to save the humie?"
"You may ask Mr. Quill."
He closed the connection, and Rocket stared at him expectantly, "So… I'm guessing we're gonna raid the Kree?"
Peter gaped in silence for a moment, until Kraglin waived his hand in front of his face to get his attention, Peter coughed.
"We… we're gonna need help."
Javier regained consciousness as Hildegarth was leaving, finding himself at the feet of a Kree slave master and his servants. Panic bubbled in his chest, and he lashed out to anyone near him, managing to ignore a few of the shocks of the rods that landed a hit.
He struggles like a wild animal, showing hatred and rage instead of the fear consuming him. He could pull that face towards his captors, it was easier to show fury, refusal to submit and making a complete and utter nuisance of himself rather than letting the Kree see how much this was affecting him.
"¡Hijo de puta!" he cursed when the slave master shocked him once again to get him to stop kicking the others assisting him, finally getting the shackles on his wrists and ankles.
They force him to his knees for the final touch, the thing he hates the most. He glares with all the hate he feels and not the almost unbearable need to cry when he sees the slave master walk in front of him, holding loosely in his hand a heavy looking black and blue collar.
"You remember this, don't you?" the damn slaver taunted him, so he responded with the only thing he had at his defense, his defiance.
He spat and for his action he got a punch to the face hard enough to split his lip, a kick to the kidney and another to his stomach, same that made him double over. Someone got him by the hair, holding him hard enough to dig their nails into his scalp while the slaver worked on getting the collar shut around his neck.
The thing closes and it feels like a death sentence, it doesn't choke him but it's not comfortable by any means, a constant block that barely lets him swallow. He closes his eyes, and curses to hell and back because he's not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing him broken.
The slaver thumbs the scar of the slave brand under the collar, at the base of his spine, and leans closer to him, whispering to his ear in a sadistic tone.
"You have forgotten your place," he declares. "You will learn."
The heat assaults him first, the pain follows sharp and cruel with the memory of the first time the hot iron marked his skin. Now in the same place, with twice the damage. He couldn't help it, lost in the pain and desperation, he screamed, letting them see his pain.
"You will remember."
He never forgot, how could he? The memory was as branded in his mind as the alien symbol on his skin, a constant he tried very hard to leave behind, but nevertheless kept on coming back to haunt him. Not even the illusion of Javier could erase those years from his mind, his body and his twice cursed soul.
He screamed, he fought, and he refused to obey and was punished for his defiance. It was not the same as the first time, when his instinct to survive had quickly allowed him some perspective, even in the worse days he had a flame burning inside him telling him to hold on, to lay his head low, pretend submission, pretend loyalty, and look for freedom.
He had tasted something close to freedom, and it had been robbed from him once again.
Javier had been a servant to The Collector, in debt for life, close to a slave perhaps, but never, never like this. He had been afraid of Tivan more than once, but the man never hurt him, humiliated him or got off his pain like these men were doing.
To the Collector he had been a servant, a pretty thing to have around with an interesting history, another fancy species for his collection. To the Kree he had been and always will be a lesser being, a tool, a possession, a slave.
"No," he said through the fog of pain, vaguely aware of being drag towards the stone pillars and chained to one of them, his back exposed for the cruel bite of the whip to leave its mark on him, "¡No, no, maldita sea, no, carajo, no, no!"
He heard some species, like humans, were unable to remember physical pain, an attempt to leave behind as much as possible of trauma. He never forgot, not totally, the bite of the whip and the misery that followed it, but now it was back, ten times worse and by the time the jailer reached the dozen – and kept going – he screamed.
Javier, he told himself, Javier and the one before him, hold on to that.
Vasquez – Faraday's voice was loud in his ears, so much sweeter than the laugh of the Kree. – Pick a card, come on, pick one.
He pressed his forehead against the pillar, chuckling through his screams, "A-Ahora n-no, mijo…"
Come on, I'm bored!
"Eh…" we winced, biting his lip to stop shouting, "O-Oka-ay…"
And in his mind Faraday shuffled the card like those nights in Rose Creek, their only distraction from the impending doom that was Bogue's arrival. They were drunk and in the mist of their alcohol induced calm, content. Faraday was loud, louder than usual, and Vasquez… he was just happy for the company.
He would say yes and pick a card. Faraday laughed, shuffled the cards and of course he never got the right one, but that was the trick, so Vasquez would wait and then, Faraday would reveal a card of his sleeve, like magic.
Your card is, the ace of clubs!
The whip landed and he tasted blood in his mouth, his knees gave out under him and not even Faraday's voice in his head could mask the laughter of the Kree.
"I do not understand why you are so eager to get these Ravagers involved," Drax said. "We are more than capable to perform a rescue."
"I am Groot!" the toddler agreed easily, running around Peter as they walked towards the bay that would connect the bridge to join The Quadrant with The Magnumstar side by side.
Gamora was silent, her eyes on Peter's back as she waited. He had told her about his dreams, how they were getting worse, how they were not only making sense but also bringing him a wave of feelings he didn't understand.
"It's because of the weird dreams, Drax," Rocket answered for him. "Starmunch believes these people are the same he has been dreaming about."
He had hesitated to tell them about the full context of those dreams, but in the end, he did so because they were his family of choice, and he was not going to lie to them, not after everything they faced together.
"They are, but… someone is missing."
"He has been taken by the Kree," Gamora explained, connecting the missing person to Javier, the man working for The Collector.
Javier… that name was… not the one Peter remembered.
The again, his own name was different… well… not so much, but he didn't use it, he had been Peter his whole life, so maybe he wasn't the only one with a different name this time.
When the bridge was connected and the bays secured, the doors linking both ships opened. Sam was standing in front of his crew, ready to talk from Captain to Captain.
Peter should have acted more like a Captain, more diplomatic, he knew perfectly well how. But his emotions got the best of him, so instead he tossed the datapad in Sam's direction.
The older man glanced between the datapad and Peter, his eyes afire, "Are you and your crew willing?"
Peter glanced between his friends quickly, and nodded. "We are."
"Then we should haste," Jack spoke for the first time, "For one of us is missing and is our duty to bring him home."
Rocket was able to ping Javier's tracker, but the signal was scrambled by the Kree technology, so he dived into the best of his abilities to break such distortion and get the location properly. There were many Kree colonies, and even more ships than he could count, it was vital for them to get the correct one before anything else.
Peter was not taking the wait well. He paced around the ships, cursed and paced, over and over. At some point he discussed battle plans with Sam, then went back to pacing.
The waiting was never easy, in any situation.
"Stop, you're making me dizzy."
The firm, almost icy tone got Peter to stop immediately. Turning around, he saw Red Harvest sitting on a crate in the cargo bay, fidgeting with a blaster in need to fixing.
"Sorry, I guess?" Peter frowned.
Red chuckled, "No, you're not," he really wasn't. "Come on, sit, it's better than watching you pace around."
"I have no time for this," he said, but there was no heat behind his words and he ended up sitting at the foot of the crate as instructed.
Red handed him another blaster to disarm and clean. Peter welcomed the distraction, even if he felt awkward about it.
"Faraday," Red called and it took all of Peter's will to not turn, but he stilled anyway. "You remember, don't you?"
Peter's eye remained on the blaster as he spoke, "These dreams… this is crazy, I can't…. I can't be half human and a reincarnated cowboy atop of that, it doesn't make sense…"
Red hummed. "Well, I'm not human," he said casually, "so imagine my surprise when I remembered a whole other life in a planet I didn't even know existed."
Turning around, Peter stared at him, gaping, "W-What?"
"Shi'ar," he said pointing to himself, them ruffled the top of his head, showing that what Peter have thought of as hair where actually feathers, "The high priestess explained me about the reincarnated souls and send me off to a journey across the galaxy."
He said all this with a straight face, Peter had no idea how he was able to do so.
"Billy is Vanir," he added helpfully. "His given name is not even Billy, he changed it when he got off Vanaheim."
"You're shitting me."
"Nope," he popped the "p" just to annoy him, probably. "Oh, and Jack? Half Light Elf, Half Frost Giant."
Peter sat there, frowning, "Who's from Earth, then?"
Red thought for a moment, "You? Maybe Vasquez."
"Sam and Goodnight?" they looked human, like him.
Ugh, more like Kraglin then.
"You're telling me…" Peter slowly smiled, "Than they have literal blue blood?"
They looked at each other for a moment, and laughed. Maybe the universe had planned this all along, for they were no other reason for them to get another life, across the galaxy, and end up together again.
But they were not done yet, they were still missing one.
The Kree cared very little for their slaves' health, so he received the bare minimum medical attention after his punishment and was sent back to forced labor. Even in his condition and compared to others, he was still strong, still healthy enough, not starved and beat up to an inch of his life, not yet.
The damn red sun burned his skin, the coarse wind scrapped his open wounds and the sand was like glass cutting into him. But he kept moving, straight and stubborn to not give them the satisfaction of seeing him broken, there was no pride in his actions, just obstinacy.
He was damn well near broken anyway, but he was not going to let them see that.
When the day was done and he was tossed in the tiny cage, he remembered, because his memories was the only thing keeping him from completely losing his mind.
Vasquez was laughing, unable to keep his amusement hidden as Faraday staggered besides him, trying to nudge him on the shoulder and failing. He almost fell, but Vasquez caught him, Faraday giggled, drunk and content in his fogged state. He searched and found Vasquez eyes and went for his lips, caching his cheek instead when the Mexican tilted his head.
"You're drunk, güero."
Faraday pouted, "So are you! Don't wanna kiss me? Rude."
Vasquez rolled his eyes and kissed him, Faraday giggled against his lips, both careless and lost in the moment. War was approaching Rose Creek, they were closer to death and victory, but in a moment like this, both could pretend that the next day was not closer to their last.
But everything did come to an end. One where Joshua was gone and Vasquez didn't fallow, the man left his imprint on him and then died on the battlefield, and Vasquez didn't have the energy to even curse him, he only felt sadness, and nothing more.
He survived Rose Creek, he gained some friends, and he lost them there shortly after. He found Joshua Faraday, and he lost him as well.
Sam, true to his word, helped him in whatever he could to keep the warrants officers and bounty hunters of his head. Five hundred dollars was a lot of money for his head, and Vasquez just kept on running, until there was nowhere else to run.
That life ended, but he didn't find anything beyond, instead he woke up to another life, many years later, and with countless dreams of the old west in his mind, dreams that became memories.
His name was nothing like Vasquez this time, but he remembered it fondly. He was lost from the very beginning, and when what looked like a kidnapping turning out to be way stranger, he was sure he was completely mad.
Being kidnapped by human traffickers was one thing. At the time, he had been sure he was going to die, probably sold in pieces on the black market as many forgotten others. He wasn't expecting being sold whole, much less to a race of aliens – because those were real, apparently, and he was not on Earth anymore.
From his late teens to half of his twenties the Kree took the life out of him. There was barely any left when the ship he had been aboard was raided, and this Ravager Captain decimated the entire crew, a solid flying arrow taking care of everyone.
In the chaos, Vasquez heard the whistle and saw the arrow coming his way, but and the time the only thing he could thought was: finally.
But the Ravager didn't kill him. He stopped the arrow a mere inch from his face, and chuckled.
"There's somethin' left of ya," he said, and turned around. "Go find it."
He opened his eyes, choking a gasp as he found himself back in the cage. He found what was left on him once, and damn, he didn't want to lose it.
He looked up, as trapped in darkness as he was chained and caged and instead of drowning in the potential and the freely given misery presented to him, he tried to focus on anything else.
"Paparupapa eu eo…"
He singed softly, with a ragged voice, his mind recalling the sound of the radio in a summer day, back in Mexico. He tried to remember the lyrics, although only the whimsical sounds from the beginning came to him, anything was good enough to distract him from the dark, cold loneliness creeping into his chest.
"Paparupapa eu eo... paparupapa eu eo…. paparupapa eu eo…"
Rocket's eyes were fixed on the screen, following a signal that appeared to bounce across the entire damn galaxy. At his side Groot has been unusually quiet, aware his friends were in a tense situation that he didn't entirely understand.
"I am Groot?"
"Yes, I guess he's Peter's friend, or something," Rocket commented as he kept typing, "All of them, they are the guys from his weird dreams."
Groot tilted his head to a side, "I am Groot."
Rocket stopped typing, looking at the younger guardian, "Like you?"
"I am Groot," he said with a sunny smile, "I am Groot, I am Groot."
"Yes," Rocket sounded thoughtfully. "They died and came back, like you, different, but also, at the core… the same."
"I am Groot!"
"Quill?" Rocket blinked, "Well… yes, Quill too."
Rocket dived into the search once again, at some point Kraglin and Gamora joined him in helping in whatever they could, and so did Billy and Goodnight, the later was showing them galactic maps of the different Kree colonies, reducing the number to five when they searched for the grid and found the bounty on Javier's persona.
After that, it was only a moment and then…
"I got it!" Rocket said, displaying the location on screen. "Let's do this."
If he was honest with himself and the reality, reality was simply: he should be dead.
When he was taken from Earth and passed from one horrible group of people to another, he should have die. When he was sold to the Kree and tried to run, he should have died. When he was being trained, starved, beaten and abused over and over again until he nearly forgot his name and the one before this life, he should have died. When he killed a Kree highborn in a fit of rage, he should have died. When the family of the deceased wanted to execute him, he was sure he was going to get a hammer to the head at any moment, and finally die.
But he didn't. He was going to, but the day he was taken to the ship where his fate was about to be sealed for him, a Ravager Captain and his crew intervened, and he didn't die.
He spent the years after that finding pieces of himself, in his present and in the memory of his previous life. He had been too much of a coward to get closer to the ones he called friends over a century past, but he watched their backs as much as possible, with the idea of perhaps someday joining them.
For a moment, he thought he could do it.
A few months ago, shortly after an alert for a bounty on Peter J. Quill went up in the grid, he almost got his chance. He had been too confused as to why Peter's own captain had put a bounty on him to quickly delete it, and after that it was too late, the thing was there and the silly Ravager got himself arrested on Xandar.
But of course, that güero would never cease to amaze him. Not only had he escaped, he ended up on Knowhere where Javier could see him face to face, from one side of the bar while he waited to talk with the Collector.
He should have talked to him there, he thought he was ready, but he wasn't and he ended up running from the bar and then it was too late. Knowhere was in chaos and Peter gone.
He could have followed him back to Xandar had he know that's where he was going, but at the moment the only thing he'd known was that a Kree Accuser was on its way to destroy that planet.
The bite of the whip cut through the fog clouding his thoughts, he choked on a scream while another whiplash followed, and another, and another. He was too tired to scream and they knew it, but they kept going until the damn highborn that ordered his torture was satisfied with what was left of him.
"—To my ship."
He barely understood what was said, but when he was dragged from the slave pits to the hangar he understood. He was begin taken to a ship, and he was going to be executed there, to have his blood spilled all over the floors to an Accuser's satisfaction.
He was forced to kneel with bound hands, the shackles around his ankles were secured together and a chain attached to them. He was pulled up by the chain, hanging upside down in the middle of a room that might have been the main bridge, he didn't know. What he was sure is that the damn stone bowl under him was meant to collect his blood, he was going to get slaughtered, bled dry and forgotten.
Javier closed his eyes, he didn't want to give up, but who was he going to find him anyway? He had no one, there was no one coming, he was going to die cold and alone at the hands of an alien race and there was nothing he could do to stop them.
He laughed, his voice echoing in the chamber, he laughed because desperation and loneliness were getting the better of him. He laughed and screamed, and laughed again. He cursed in Spanish, in English and in fucking Kree – the language the learned because he was a slave. He laughed because he was going to die, and they would get his blood, but not his goddamn tears.
Clinging to whatever was left of him, he stilled. Hanging from his bounds and too tired to care anymore. The distant sound of commotion was not enough to make him open his eyes. Witnesses, he thought, a crowd ready to cheer his execution for surely.
More rumbled followed and the chaos was getting louder and louder. He opened his eyes, and from his position hanging upside down he saw Joshua running towards him. He smiled, at least he would go with a nice hallucination to his death threshold.
When Peter was young, Yondu told him he should never mess with other Ravager clans. He was told he wasn't wanted by them, and it was not until the truth of Yondu's exile came out – and subsequent pardon, after the event with Ego – that Peter understood why.
But now it was different, there were 99 Ravager Clans, and they were being aided by several of them to raid a Kree Ship, because Chisolm called in a few favors and apparently the other Captains had a lot of respect for their fellow Ravager, answering the call from the Chisolm Clan as he declared that one of their own had been taken by the Kree.
You have to be crazy to go against the Kree, people said… and every single Ravager was.
Gamora and Billy were a deadly force to be reckon with. Between her sword and his knives, they opened the path almost without breaking a sweat. Drax and Jack were going to share the destroyer title pretty soon, Peter decided after they took down another group of fighters. He was also mildly afraid of the deadly team up Rocket and Red had formed, not to mention impressed.
From afar, Mantis kept a steady hand on Goodnight's shoulder as the sharpshooter cleaned up the path for Peter and Sam. Outside the ship, Kraglin was being supported by Charlie-27 and Aleta, along with their crew.
There had not been a Ravager raid like this in years, and it was very well worth it.
Peter followed the accuser in charge of the ship, Sam hot on his trail. Neither of them was surprised when he reached the main chamber, talking about the Kree and their power and a bunch of things he didn't care to hear. No, Peter's attention went from the accuser to the man hanging from the ceiling, the sword in the accuser's hand, and the stone bowl to collect blood on the floor.
The accuser was in the middle of a sentence with Peter shot him, repeatedly. One hit followed by another, his face – hidden behind his mask – contorted into pure rage boiling from his chest and to every single fiber of his being.
Was this how you felt, when I got shot? He thought, his vision between the main chamber of a Kree spaceship and the sandy street of a small town in siege.
The accuser felt to the ground, Peter didn't give him a second thought. Sam was talking to him but Peter couldn't listen, not with Vasquez hanging from a damn chain, no, he couldn't.
He kicked his boots, activating the repulsors and shot the chain, catching Javier before he hit the ground. The man grunted in pain, trying to move away from him. Peter retracted his mask in an effort to make him see he was safe.
"Hey, it's ok, we're getting you out of here," he babbled. Javier managed to open his eyes, giving him shocked look that didn't last, he mumbled something and his eyes rolled into the back of his head as he passed out.
"Come on, don't do this," Peter hissed, his eyes stinging, "you… you promised me… you…"
"Faraday!" Peter reacted on pure instinct, the name as familiar as Quill, looking at Sam as he approached, "We have to go!"
He didn't wait for Peter to answer, instead helped him to carry Javier between the two of them, as their time was running out, they had what they came from.
"Bring him here, quickly, move!"
Peter didn't have the luxury of give himself time to be surprised by the fact that he also knew who the woman urging him to the infirmary was. Emma, with her hair, freckles and the stare that could command anyone locked her gaze on him, acknowledging him with a nod before going back to the operating table she was preparing. Her uniform and display of knowledge giving away the fact that she was the medical professional on the ship.
There was another man helping her out, someone Peter didn't know, but he heard Emma call him Matthew. He reserved his surprise for later, instead he helped Matthew and Sam in the task of getting Javier in the table because he looked way too close to dead, too close.
Peter hovered only for a moment, then palmed the collar around the man's neck, finding the closing point and working around it. It was sealed shut, with no way of opening it, Peter cursed hell and back, he wanted the thing gone and he couldn't open it.
He gritted his teeth, and felt warm in his hands. Without really knowing what he had done or how, the collar snapped, breaking the pressure point where Peter had been holding it.
"That's fine, it's fine now," Emma urged, gently taking the broken pieces of the collar away. "You did it, Faraday."
With the collar gone, Emma set to work, her hands steady and her eye sharp in every single injury to be treated. She placed an oxygen mask over Javier's face and Matthew proceeded to connect all sorts of monitors and a bunch of other things Peter was familiar with. They were saving him, that was all that mattered.
He was ushered away for the doctor to do her job, and he just stood there with Javier's blood on his hands and a storm on his mind.
"Peter," called Gamora, her tone soft, cautious. "Come with me."
She offered him her hand and he took it. Gamora guided him away from the infirmary to the dormitories so he could change his clothes, wash his hands and oh god, there was so much blood. His breath hitched, he was having troubles to get air into his lungs and fear was coursing through his veins.
Where they too late? Would Vasquez make it? Was he really Vasquez? Was he going to lose him for a second time, this time being him who lived?
He found himself sitting against the metal wall of the corridor, too lost on his own panic to hear Gamora. His vision was lost in between the corridor and the field in Rose Creek, the moment he blew himself up to destroy the Gatling gun, his end in that first life.
Billy appeared in his line of vision, taking him by the shirt and forcing him to focus on him. He was speaking, low and sharp, little by little getting over the cotton in Peter's ears. He kept talking, shortly glancing to his side to signal Mantis towards them. His friend kneeled side by side with Billy and asked him something, he couldn't hear her, but Billy urged her to act.
Mantis held Peter's face on her hands and her antenna glowed.
Little by little, Peter felt the panic dissolve. The sounds around him were coming back, and his friends – from this life and the one before – registered in his vision.
"Faraday?" Peter looked at Billy in the eye, dumbfounded. "Vasquez is going to be fine."
"Will he?" he found himself asking, "Would he, really?"
Gamora was sitting beside him, shoulder to shoulder, "He will," she assured. "It will take time, it won't be easy, but he will."
At some point all of them ended up sitting on the corridor's floor with Peter, who was still struggling to put into perspective the here and now with the memories from a previous life, with the idea that those were really memories, and with the fact that they also carried over what he once felt.
He sighed, heavily and when he lifted his eyes, Billy was looking at him with sympathy.
"How...?" he didn't know what to ask.
"Give it time," was Billy's advice. "It will come to you."
With Mantis’ help and Gamora's company, Peter was able to pull himself together. The three of them retired to a quiet part of the bay connecting The Quadrant with The Magnumstar, and Peter felt somehow better.
"It's him," he said. "Definitely him, he's real, and… I don't know how to process that."
Mantis pursed her lips, "Ego's power must have trigged your memories, perhaps it was the same power that kept them locked away."
"I don't know," Peter bit his lower lip, "but I can't ignore any of this anymore."
Gamora took his hand, "You shouldn't," she looked at him in the eye, "What you were then is part of who you are now, it's important."
He squeezed her hand, feeling grateful for her support.
Peter walked in slowly, trying to not make any noise. The Med wing was mostly quiet except for the sounds made by the monitoring equipment, assuring the world that Javier was alive and breathing. The man had moved to rest on his side, his back to Peter. The sight was so familiar it was making Peter smile out of the blue.
He sat on the chair next to the bed, feeling nervous and unable to understand why.
"This is so weird," he said to himself, feeling equal parts silly and calm over the idea of knowing Javier from another time and place, as if his dreams were real memories and not something wrong with his head because of Ego messed him up.
Javier stirred, moving from his side to his back and slowly blinking himself awake. His blurry eyes encountered Peter at the side of the bed with confusion atop his groggy state.
"Joshua?" he asked, his voice rough with the traces of what Peter knew had to be long rounds of screaming.
He licked his lips, uneasy to correct him, "Yeah, it's Peter."
Peter didn't think Javier's expression could crumble any more, but he was wrong. Peter reached for a cup of water and ignore the stab of pain in his own chest to see the other man so disappointed. Javier took the cup, mumbling a soft "gracias" and took some sips, then put the cup away.
"So, I, uhm, we, I mean, your stuff, it was pretty banged up but Rocket recovered most of the important bits in the tech, like, hardware and the codes, I think he said?"
"The data arrangements," he supplied quietly. "Those were the important ones."
"Yes, according to Rocket, the data is secured so… that's a good thing?" he wasn't sure, Peter was good with technology but elaborate coding was not his area of expertise.
Javier hums in agreement, "Yes, it's good… there's a few codes there I use a lot." He looks reluctant to elaborate but immediately changes his mind. "You might want to get the Vuitre program running, it's coded to identify bounties."
Peter frowns, "Is that important right now? You can barely stay awake, I doubt you can run off to take bounties."
"No, that's not—" He sighed heavily. "You have bounties on your head every other week Jo—Quill, after Xandar they went down, but still."
"That's not true, I would've know if there were bounties on my head! Last one was from Yondu and that doesn't count, then this gold lady…" Peter bit his lower lip upon seeing Javier's unimpressed face. "You mean there's more?!"
"See, you're contradicting—"
"My program deletes them from the grid as soon as they get loaded."
"Oh." Peter blinked a few times, confused. "Thank you?"
The silence that stretches after that is awkward and Peter doesn't know how to handle it. Javier doesn't seem to be too uncomfortable, but that was mostly because he just looked exhausted. Peter stared at him openly, unashamed, and the other man either didn’t mind or was just too tired to mind, whatever the case, it was only making Peter have more questions.
"Why would you do that?" he asked, carefully. "Watch over me and delete any bounties to my head?"
The outlaw shrugs as if it wasn't a big deal, but Peter is not satisfied with that so he stares and waits for the other man to understand that he's not going settle for that poor excuse of an answer. Peter can be very stubborn, everybody knows that.
"Well?" he insists.
Perhaps in another time, Javier would have given Peter a run for his own stubbornness, but at that moment he was just didn't have the will to do so.
"I just don't want people going after you," He explains, tiredly. "Any of you."
Peter hums, letting the dreams and memories be the same to answer, gambling his knowledge of whatever Javier is implying with what little he has, "Sam, Goody, Billy, also Red and Jack?"
The outlaw looks at him as if it hurt him to do so, "Sam doesn't have bounties on him, nor does Jack… Red had one, but I'm pretty sure he killed the one who put it out in first place—"
"Then Billy and Goody got themselves captured by Ravagers but the bounty was gone and they ended up joining said Ravagers, because why not?"
The outlaw frowns, "That's what they did?"
Peter nodded, "Yup, they mostly like it."
"Oh… I'm glad."
"You don't even know them," but that wasn't true, and Peter wanted to get this mess solved, "Do you?"
"It's complicated," he justifies poorly.
"As complicated as you saving my ass without me knowing it?" the other man glares at him, "yeah, that's what I thought, your stalking levels are impressive, man, kinda creepy."
Javier's face heated up, a flush made its way from his cheeks to his ears, and he looked away. Peter rolled his eyes, he was joking but apparently it got to him.
"Don't," he interrupted, his voice breaking. "Not you too, please."
"I'm sorry?" Peter frowned, "That's your name, isn't it?"
He shook his head, sighing with the weight of a defeated man. "That's what the Collector calls me."
Peter licked his lips, unsure of what to say as the other man just laid there like he wanted the world just to stop and leave him behind. That didn't sit well with Peter, so he inhaled, moved the chair closer and took another gamble.
"Vasquez?" Peter asked, almost shyly. "Alejandro Vasquez?"
The reaction was instantaneous, he looked up in a mixture of surprise, hope and even fear. Peter fidgeted with the hem of his shirt, coughing to break the tension he was feeling while the other man was just near of gaping at him.
"So, that's a yes?"
"You—" He sat up quickly, hurting himself in the process if the wince Peter saw crossing his features was any indication. "You remember?"
Peter lowered his head, his face heating up, "Yes, I mean, I remember something," He mumbled. "Mostly someone that looks and sounds like you and… I mean, I'm not crazy, right? I do know you."
He nodded, slowly, as if moving too fast would break the fragile instant. "From another life."
Peter bit his lip, "That's… it was real? I just… I've been having these dreams… but, you see, my jackass of a biological father scrambled my head and then the dreams started and I couldn't tell if they were dreams or memories, but I then I was running into all these people—"
"Güero, you're speaking too fast," Alejandro interrupted him with a frown. "My translation chip is broken, I only got the parts you're saying in English and Kree."
Peter stopped, making a conscious effort to speak in one language instead of his usual mixture, "Kree? You know Kree?"
Alejandro nodded, "That's the only thing they would speak, so I had to learn."
"What do you mean?" Peter watched as Alejandro took the pillow behind him and hugged it against his chest, leaning his body forward as he searched something in Peter's face. "What?"
"You pulled me out of a Kree ship, güero," he said slowly, as if trying to figure out Peter's angle. The thing was, Peter didn't have an angle, and he was just confused.
"Yes, but, I mean, I got captured by the Kree too, once, and I didn't learn – well I did learn, but that was from my dad, Yondu, – had this beef against them and we would encounter them every once in a while, he couldn't let go—" He stopped, frowning. "This is not a onetime thing?"
Alejandro sighed, shaking his head, "You really don't know, do you?"
"What? Come on hombre, just tell me, please?"
Peter made a face, he was getting annoyed and his face was heating up in embarrassment. Alejandro searched his expression for another moment, then nodded. He took Peter's hand and lowered his body forward, guiding the other man's palm against the base of his spine.
Carefully, Peter leaned over, tracing the scar tissue. He saw the brand, recognized the Kree symbol, he had seen it before, on Yondu.
"You were, no…" Peter moved his hand for Alejandro to raise his head. "You were—"
"A Kree slave, sí," He answered as if was not horrifying, almost nonchalantly. "For around six to seven terran years, I think."
Peter stares at him openly and unashamed, as he doesn't know what else to do. Alejandro doesn't seem to mind, he looks a bit sad about it but otherwise unaffected, at least until Peter seems to gape at him too long. After the moment stretches, Alejandro fidgets nervously with the hem of his shirt and licks his lips.
"You don't mind, right?" he's trying to sound nonchalant, but something off in his tone gave him away.
"Of course I mind!" Peter gets up and makes a motion towards him, then pulls at his own hair babbling a stream of words Alejandro can't understand entirely. There's some English, some Kree, Xandarian perhaps? But mostly is a language that sounds like angry clicks, or perhaps just those words are meant to sounds angry.
Alejandro pulls into himself as Peter continues to angrily pace back and forward, until he notices the outlaw is not looking at him anymore and has the pillow firmly against his chest like a shield.
"Well I'm sorry to disappoint you," Alejandro hisses, lowering his eyes. "I'm tired, please leave."
"Uh?" Peter sits down, poking Alejandro's thigh.
"Deja de molestarme, hijo de tu—"
"Don't go there, my mom has done nothing, you can curse my a-hole of a sperm donor if you want," Peter tilts his head, "but why are you angry with me? Those people… they had no right to steal your freedom, I'm angry they did that!"
Alejandro remains still for a moment, then looks at Peter in the eye, "Angry at them?"
"Yes," he repeats. "I am."
The outlaw narrowed his eyes, "You don't, I mean… never mind."
Peter doesn't accept that answer, "Don't you 'never mind' me, what's wrong?"
Alejandro closed his eyes, he looked tired, way too tired. "¿No te importa, que estoy más jodido que cuando nos conocimos? Antes fui un bandido, pero nunca un esclavo."
Peter makes a face that states clear confusion, he babbles a few things Alejandro didn't understand, stops, inhales, tries again, stops once again then just stares at the ceiling, as if wondering how Alejandro could make such a stupid statement. He inhales, looking at Alejandro in the eye.
"You," he begins, "are not damaged."
"Ajá," he deadpans, his tone clear with disagreement.
"You are not, you might be as fucked up as I am, but it doesn't make you damage goods," He pursues his lips, "Does that makes sense?" Alejandro shook his head no. "Whatever, I meant that I was angry at the Kree because you're the second person I care about that has been subject to slavery, and that doesn't sit well with me."
Alejandro looks to be considering this, and the situation finally hits Peter. "Wait, you thought I was cursing you for what they did?"
"You said—," Alejandro stumbles, "I thought—"
Peter got closer to him, "I am not angry at you, okay? Yes, I mind! I mind that those fuckers hurt you, I mind that I was not there, I mind that this is not even the first time someone I care for suffers, I mind you had to go through this again, I mind you were alone… I do mind."
He sighs, there's many things he wants to ask Alejandro, but at the same time he has no idea how to say them. The outlaw is still recovering, he's obviously not well, and they need to get his translator chip fixed.
"Güero," Alejandro's voice broke him out of his thoughts. The other man looked in the edge of falling sleep, "gracias."
Peter smiled at him, nodding. "Go to sleep Ale," he said softly, the name rolling so easily on his tongue and so strange at the same time. "You need it."
Peter wanted to add that he was going to stay by his side, but it wasn't necessary. Alejandro was soon taken over by sleep and Peter got himself comfortable in the chair next to his bed. If at some point he managed to gather enough courage to take the outlaw's hand, it was only for him to know.
It was broad daylight when Faraday died, his eyes fixed in the blue sky as his vision quickly faded, the sound of his name on Vasquez’s voice distant. He couldn't answer him, his strength all but gone along with the last vestiges of his life.
Pity, he thought as the light faded from his eyes, I would have liked to see those stars you promised me.
Peter woke up with a gasp, his heart hammering against his chest and white noise in his ears. He couldn't see or hear anything, but he felt a gentle touch on his jaw and another on his nape. Peter focused in that instead of what he couldn't see and hear, yet slowly the rush passed, his vision cleared and the sound returned.
"Tranquilo güero, solo fue una pesadilla."
"Not a nightmare," Peter clarified in a whisper, "a memory…"
Alejandro pressed his fingers softly onto Peter's scalp in an effort to bring him some calm with his actions rather than his words. He mumbled some words in Spanish that translated to a wave of reassurance and some endearments that made him smile.
Peter blinked a few times, searching for Alejandro's eyes, showing a dopey smiling at him once he found the brown in them, "Hey there…"
"Hi," Alejandro smiled, "¿Te sientes mejor?"
"Yeah, I was just…" Peter stretched his arms over his head, "I was just remembering."
The other man made a sound, looking pensive, "Sometimes it hurts, when the memories come back." Peter gave him an inquisitive look, as if trying to solve a puzzle and he was missing some pieces. "What?"
"Shouldn't I be the one trying to make you feel better?" he made a motion towards Alejandro, practically gesturing him from head to toe, "I wasn't the one about to be…"
He didn't say it, but the sentiment was there. Alejandro shrugged, knowing perfectly well he had been about to be killed by the Kree Accuser if not for the timely intervention. Peter seemed conflicted by the whole situation, until some understanding Enlighted his vision, making him look at Alejandro like a puzzle, again.
"If you knew who all of us were, why stay away?" Peter looked like he had found the most disturbing question of all time, one that bothered him way more than he expected.
Alejandro remained silent, his eyes dropping to his lap because he couldn't keep on looking Peter's face. He would have stayed like that if not for Peter taking his hand in his own, shaking him a little to get his attention, not forcing him to look back, but stating that he was still there.
It was hard to explain, Alejandro didn't know how to put to words how broken he felt when he escaped the Kree, the first time. When he stumbled, delirious and exhausted, to a planet were The Collector happened to be on, and was curious enough to not leave him behind.
Peter gave him time to collect his thoughts, his hold on his hands a firm reminder that he was there for him.
"I didn't remember who I was for a long time," Alejandro confessed. "I had dreams about… about Rose Creek, before and after. I had my own memories of this time's childhood, and then it was just space and the Kree," he closed his eyes. "They messed me up, in every way they could… and I was just tired, when it was over."
Alejandro looked up, finding Peter listening, that made him easy to continue.
"The Collector found me by chance, babbling in Kree and Spanish because I was delirious, he got curious… a Ravager raid set me free from the Kree and it was some eternal being's curiosity that got me to remember what felt to be human."
Because Tivan saw on him a soul older than the body, a child far away from a home that perhaps he never had. He was just curious, and that curiosity ended up making him Javier, a mask strong enough for him to heal.
He encountered the Six on the side many times after, but he never reached out to them, never feeling fully himself to do so, and he told Peter this.
"You searched for all of us?" Peter looked awed. "You should have said something, I would have listened, any of us would have..."
"I know," Alejandro said easily, "I was the problem, not you."
Peter didn't seem convinced with this answered, but he let it go for the moment. Instead of insisting, he moved his hands up and down Alejandro's forearms in a comforting gesture.
"I saw all the bounties you took down from the grid," Peter lifted his gaze, giving him a sunny smile. "You got one think wrong, though, but I don't mind, every single card out there is wrong."
Alejandro frowned, "What are you talking about?"
"My name," Peter tilted his head, "Peter Jason Quill? It's wrong." The other man blinked, clearly confused, making Peter laugh. "It's Joshua, not Jason."
Alejandro looked dumbfounded by this simple fact, while Peter was giving his best impression of the sun smiling down a meadow after a rainy afternoon, not a single care in the world for the trouble left behind.
"Yeah," Peter drummed his fingers on Alejandro's arms, "You see, when I got my translator chip and some ID's, I was messing around and Kraglin was getting annoyed with me, plus the guy in Knowhere that was taking care of all that was a douche, and I'm not even sure how it ended up Jason instead," Peter bit his lower lip. "That's why I mostly don't use it, I never got used to it… but Joshua seemed like something I should keep to myself, and I didn't understand why, until now... and really, I think it’s because—"
Peter made a sound like a click and a whistle, followed by a few more, Alejandro couldn't understand him and the expression of confusion on his face let on to that, for some reason this made Peter nervous so Alejandro clarified "I got most of what you said? Not the last part…"
Peter frowned, "Most of—? Oh! Your translator chip!"
"Broken," he ran a hand over the nape of his neck. "Fried."
Peter was on his feet already, taking a datapad from the nearest table, "Hang on, we should get that fixed for you," He gave him a smile and used that language with click and sharp sounds, but he was smiling the whole time so perhaps his words were meant to be soothing.
Instead of answering, Peter grinned.
He woke up with a gasp and fear clustered on his chest, but as the last tendril of the nightmare faded, he visualized the infirmary instead of the hellhole he had been dreaming about. He focused on breathing, looking around for things to could see, things he could feel, things he could hear, just counting to get himself back to the present.
He found Gamora standing near the doorway, and in any other occasion this would have made Alejandro feel uneasy, but this was not the case. She oddly reminded him of Billy, the perfect balance between graceful and lethal… in his mind that translated to safe.
She handed him water, which he accepted with a nod. Gamora sat on the chair that had been previously occupied by Peter. His memory caught with him and he blindly looked around him, feeling he could breathe again when he saw the Zune safe and sound besides his pillow, the earbuds resting on his lap where they had fallen upon his wake.
"Where's Peter?" he asked, unsure of why he didn't take the Zune with him. It was obviously an important thing, for the way he handled it so carefully.
Gamora's lips curled into a grin, "Taking a necessary shower and some sleep."
Alejandro couldn't help but chuckled, "I told him he was going to hurt his neck, sleeping in the chair like that, he shouldn't have stayed—I'm fine."
"You are not," she said evenly, "you're not expected to be and if you think anyone here thinks you're fine, then you are not giving us enough credit."
He looked a little taken aback by this but ended up nodding, unsure of what else to say to remain in his stand of being fine when he had woken up from a nightmare, not unlike those that chased him after his escape from the Kree, years ago.
"You're Peter's friend, Gamora, right?"
She nodded, "And you're him."
She blinked, "You're one of the six people who shows up in his dreams turned memories, you're the one that he sees the most, the one that was missing when they turned out to be Ravagers, of all things."
She looked amused by this, shaking her head. Alejandro was thoughtfully confused by her, so he made some vague gesture and nodded, "Yes, I guess?"
Gamora nodded, the gesture more to herself than to Alejandro's benefit.
"In that time, you two had… an unspoken thing," she said, looking for his eyes. He felt like she could see his goddamn soul for some reason, and Gamora was not the empath of that group. "An important, unspoken thing."
Alejandro parted his lips, unsure, but he maintained the eye contact, answering with a sharp nod.
Gamora hummed to herself, like she was just confirming something and not getting new information of out him, she probably was.
"I need you to do something for me."
Alejandro gave her a searching look, as if that way he could tell what she wanted, regardless, it didn't do much. He could refuse but at the same he didn't want to, he owed her being here, after all she was part of the reason that Kree ship and its crew were no more.
"Ok…" he agreed, "What?"
Gamora stood up, taking a point where she was looking down at him with a severe critical eye. Her stare was piercing, but not cruel, looking at her Alejandro could easily understand why she was feared not only for being Thanos' daughter, but also respected for becoming a savior to the galaxy.
It was such a simply worded request, yet it covered everything Alejandro feared and some more. He had been running for years now, even now part of him wanted to kept running, and perhaps Gamora knew that.
Alejandro lowered his eyes, unable to keep looking at her, but Gamora was quick to hold his jaw with just enough pressure to make him look up again. Her gaze was deep and understanding, she was not angry, but she could be. Peter was important to her and so was to Alejandro, they had that in common. But there were also fears and regrets behind both, perhaps she was more capable of understanding him than he gave her credit for, maybe precisely because of that is why she was doing this.
"Stay," she repeated, making pressure against Alejandro's jaw. The gesture didn't feel threatening but urgent, Gamora was telling him many things with a single word.
Don't run, don't ruin it, don't hurt him, don't hurt yourself, be brave, be here.
Alejandro looked at her in the eye, resting his left hand over her wrist while she was still holding his jaw. He closed his right hand around the Zune at his side, and answered.
"I will stay."
"Paparupapa eu eo, paparupapa eu eo, paparupapa…"
The soft sound of the music flowed around the room, Alejandro hummed along the lines, his attention on the small device in his hand. He had been working on it for a while, using the tools Rocket had giving him to work in such little details.
"Nos besamos bailando, en medio del lugar, la música ya iba llegando al último compás…"
"You really like that song, don't ya?" Rocket was basically stating the obvious, but Alejandro didn't mind, instead of being called upon for getting that song off the speakers more often than not, he simply nodded. "At this point I bet everyone knows it."
"It doesn't have slang so yes, you all can understand it," he made a vague motion around his head where the translator chip was usually located. "But none of you can say the words without sounding funny," he pointed out, "not yet anyway."
Rocket shrugged, but he was nodding in agreement, he had caught Peter trying to sing it. He ended up just humming along because Alejandro was trying very hard to correct his pronunciation every other sentence, which Peter quickly got over and instead of listening started bugging Alejandro to dance with him.
"If he can speak Centaurian without having the appropriate vocal cords to do so, eventually he has to get your language right," Rocket mused, "or close to right."
"That's what he's talking?" Alejandro asked, "with the grunts and the clicks?"
Rocket nodded, "That was his daddy's language, the old blue Ravager probably taught it to him just for shits and giggles, since he technically was not supposed to be able to get it right, except for the whistling part I guess," Rocket tapped his fingers on the table. "I wonder if he taught him to use the yaka arrow as well…"
Alejandro stopped, looking at the guardian oddly, "Yaka arrow?"
"Flying arrow, the one Kraglin has now, used to be Yondu's, that's Quill's dad."
He tapped the soldering iron over the base, which Rocket didn't appreciate for the rude thing he called him. Alejandro rolled his eyes, turning the gadget off for a moment. The pendant like base he had been working on was almost ready, he was just making the final touches.
"So, it was him," he mumbled to himself, remembering the Ravager Captain that got him free, many years ago. He had his suspicions, especially after keeping constant tabs on Peter, but now it was more than a confirmation. He glanced to Rocket, who was looking at him with the same stare he used when Peter was being annoying. "Never mind."
"You humies are so weird."
Reconnecting with the men he fought with, his friends from another life, was not as hard as he thought it would be. All of them shared the trail of getting memories of another life carried over into his present, and it was not something so easy to understand.
Red, being reborn in a planet with more mystical understanding of the Universe, was the one who had a little less trouble getting his memories back. For him the journey had been more difficult because Earth was an abstract concept, a backwater planet that was not even in the initial chards of navigation and orbited in restricted galaxy space.
He sneaked in around a dozen or so times, because he could.
Goodnight was born and raised in Xandar, met Sam in the Nova Corps Academy and after getting incredible drunk, both ended up sharing the truth about their memories and therefore, their need to know each other again in this life, finding reassurance that neither of them was crazy or if they were, they were crazy together.
At some point they took separate ways, both leaving the Nova Corps and Xandar behind. Goodnight wanted to find Billy, knowing his memories were not the only thing missing from his life.
Billy found him first.
A young and already lethal Vanir ready to face the entire universe after he had regained his memories and took off from Vanaheim, mind and goal set in finding the person he had been missing. Because wherever Goodnight goes, Billy goes, and wherever Billy goes, Goodnight follows.
Jack was perhaps the oldest of them, but he might as well be one with the longer lifespan ahead of him as well due his heritage. He had found his memories coming back to him and set on a journey to gain peace of mind, the first person he met in this life was Red, and together they found Sam.
It was such a strange chance, from their lives to be part of a Ravager crew, but at the same time was the right call to make, because eventually they found themselves together.
That it, of course, with the exception of Faraday and Vasquez. One close yet far, enclosed in an exiled Ravager clan. The other trapped by the hands of a ruthless Empire.
But now the seven of them were laughing, sharing the moment with old and new friends, and with many unknown things to come.
It felt good.
Y entre toda esta gente
Nos fuimos a encontrar
Parecíamos predestinados para así bailar…
"And yet, you refuse to dance with me," Peter pouted, his glare had no heat and more than making Alejandro feel bad, it was very closet to make him laugh.
"I didn't refuse, güero, you have not even asked," Ale pointed out.
Peter made a sound of agreement and right there in the bridge of the Quadrant, where both were monitoring the late-night cycle, Peter extended his hand to ask for a dance.
Alejandro rolled his eyes but took Joshua's hand anyway, the other man pulled him close and bounced his shoulder against Alejandro's, moving with the rhythm of the song.
"Much better," he decided with the grin never failed to make Alejandro smile as well. "What?"
Vasquez huffed, stopping their dance to pull something out of his pocket, "Sorry it took me this long."
He took Peter's hand and placed a round shaped pendant on his palm. It had a black cord attached as a collar, the pendant itself was thicker than a coin, and it was engraved with a pattern that reminded Peter of a nebula.
Alejandro ran his thumb over the pattern and it lit up, reflecting an image that looked like a projection of a group of stars. But it was not a holograph, Peter could almost touch the sparkles around them, feel them moving and shifting when he waved his hand.
"Inside this are fragments of light, I call them luceros, they react to the life force of certain people, and they seem to like you," He explained. "Native from the Spartax Empire, not common at all, and very valuable… they're basically stars."
Peter lifted his palm and the cluster of lights shifted and danced around them, reacting to Peter's will immediately and, with Alejandro could have sword felt like joy.
"Oh wow, thank you, where did you get this?" Alejandro took the pendant and after silently asking for Peter's approval, laced it around the other man's neck, smiling to himself with a smug expression.
"I stole them," he confessed.
Peter looked at him in the eye and then laughed, almost doubling over in the process as he remembered a promise from another lifetime. He rested his hands at the sides of Alejandro's neck and leaned to touch his forehead with his own. Alejandro encircled him with his arms as the song kept playing in the background and the luceros gleamed in tone.
"You are crazy," Peter said, but he was smiling like the goddamn sun and that was all Alejandro needed.
"Sí," he confirmed, "but no more than you, mijo."
"I wouldn't have it any other way, you menace."
There were many things in the future, but for now, this moment was everything they needed and more.