Book 1: Astronautical
What was he doing again? Oh yes. Through the film of smog and tears he could just make out his destination; a small form just ahead of him crumpled up like a discarded child's toy, grey fur tinted red in the harsh glare of this unforgiving lighting.
His other hand reached out and he dragged himself another foot closer. At least, he hoped it was the lighting that was flooding his vision so red.
Nails dug into the dirt as he heaved away another piece of the distance between himself and his target. Almost there. Somewhere in the distance he could hear the battle raging on without him. Screams, crashes, explosions; all so far away, swirling in and out of focus like the smog. Gamora was somewhere out there. The flash of her sword and the ice in her eyes somehow the only thing his mind could see clearly. She had vanished in a swell of soldiers with Nebula close in pursuit and he hadn't seen her since. She was alive. He had to believe that. The most fearsome woman in the galaxy couldn't fall here.
Closer. Closer. He realized the horrid rattling he was hearing was not the sound of a failing ship as he had thought, but his own ragged breathing grating in his ears. That could not be a good thing. He'd lost track of Drax almost as soon as the fight had started. A battle cry the only warning he had given before diving headfirst and weapons drawn into the fray. It was an act so stupid, so reckless, so brave and just so… Drax, that Peter could hardly find it in himself to be mad even as he cursed the impulsive fool. He could really use him right now.
Four feet had never looked so impossible, not in any of his wildest benders or worst bar fights – and oh, there had been plenty of both. He'd give his right arm to wake up on the floor of some unknown tavern- all of this just a horrible dream brought on by too much of a strange liquid Yondu had warned him against -which, of course, would have only made him down that much more-. But Yondu had left to fetch help, And help had never arrived. And now Peter crawled through the dirt and debris, trying not to focus on how the world tilted and swayed even under his prone form.
The twig in his jacket pocket dug into his bruised side as he slid across the dirt. Groot's parting gift. The thought was almost enough to give him pause as he worried over the fate of the companion he had left behind in the dusty fog. He couldn't focus on that now. He would be okay. Like Gamora, Groot was tough. And while he might be naive at times, he wasn't stupid.
Either the smoke was getting thicker or his vision was failing him as the light distorted further, spots were dancing at the edges and patches were mysteriously missing. It didn't matter. He was almost there. One thought playing over and over- like his tape player playing on repeat in the background- as all the other thoughts drifted in and out at their own accord. He would not let Rocket die wearing that god damned muzzle.
His annoying, infuriating, impossible best friend would not die like an animal. Caged and chained. Like the experiment 89P13 that he had always so feared becoming.
Panting and gasping, he reached out, stretching desperately across the distance, his fingers brushing against the smooth metal that covered his friend's face. Was Rocket even still breathing? He couldn't stop to check, his arm already trembling and going numb from the strain. With haphazard fingers, he searched blindly for the strap. Why couldn't he see? Had he closed his eyes without realizing it? He should open them but he was just so tired. Unconsciousness was calling in the sweetest siren song he had ever heard.
There! His fingers brushed across a thin strip of the same metal. That had to be it. A surge of hope gave him the adrenaline he needed to drag himself another inch forward and search down the strap for the clasp. His concussion must be worse than he feared because he couldn't find it.
More tears gathered in his eyes, not entirely due to the smoke and pain as he desperately grabbed at where a clasp should be, only to lose it entirely in fur. No. Nonono! He was so… so close… blood rushed in his ears, deafening, as light pierced through the veil of blackness. Was this it? He was dying, and he couldn't even do this one last goddamned thing.
The darkness swallowed him up and he knew no more.
Chapter 1: Greener on the Other Side
It could be diverted, though. One could pull themselves from the river entirely, climb onto its bank and dig their own channel, suited to their own liking, and guide it to the destination of their choosing. And that is just what Thanos was doing now. He was building himself a new reality, another chance. Too much had gone wrong in this reality. The orb had been lost, by none other than his own general turned traitor. His daughters had both been disappointments in turn. Too many battles had been lost and too many foes grown bold. But he could fix this.
Here in Limbo, in a realm outside of time, he strode in no particular hurry along the timestream, looking for the moment that would best suit his means. There would be work to do along the way. Players to rearrange and redraw. It would all work out in the end. Of this he was certain. The orb would be his again, and then the rest of the Infinity stones, and everything would be in place.
Ah, here. This would do.
The titan dipped his hand into the stream, and began digging.
It happened one trickle after another and it happened all at once. Without the passage of true time, perspective here was skewed. Digging the trench and dragging the timeline onto another course took an eternity while he was digging, and yet, not even the blink of an eye had passed when he stood to admire his work. Time screamed as it was ripped and torn apart. The many threads came undone and rewound into the new stream, the better stream. A smile split the Titan's face.
All would be as it was meant to be.
"…when the grass got a little greener on the other side
I'd just tear out that page
But then I fooled around and fell in love…"
Slowly, Peter uncurled, groaning out a string of curses as he checked his limbs and probed carefully at the back of his head where the corner of something particularly heavy had struck. No blood, but he would have one heck of a goose egg for a while.
Satisfied that he was relatively alright, and honestly he had woken up in much worse states after a night of a little too much fun, he rolled over and began carefully peeling the blanket from his legs. As he worked, he tried to think back to the dream he had been having, but all he could recall were glimpses of a blinding light and a lingering sense of urgency and wrongness that clung to him like a layer of sweat. It was somewhat akin to suddenly remembering that you had left the oven on only after you were lightyears away with no way to fix it, but worse. So much worse.
Trying to calm his hammering heart, Peter stood and stretched dramatically before switching off his Walkman and placing it neatly on his now empty bed. In the resulting silence he was met with only the calm steady thrum of the Milano's engines. Still the sense of wrongness would not leave him.
Perhaps a shower would help. That was usually a great way to reset himself after a particularly nasty nightmare and this was no different, even if he couldn't remember enough details to say whether or not it was, in fact, a particularly nasty nightmare.
Opening the door to the rest of the ship, however, only left the alarms in his head screaming louder than ever that this was WRONG WRONG WRONG.
The Milano looked exactly as he had last seen it. That is. It looked EXACTLY as he had last seen it just before it was destroyed on Xandar, rebuilt as a gift for saving the galaxy, nearly destroyed again on Berhert, and then again painstakingly rebuilt from the rubble. Suddenly the undercurrent of surrealism on his bedroom floor made sense. He hadn't noticed at first, perhaps because of the years that it had spent in that state, or perhaps because he was not known for being a particularly observant person when first awakening, but it was his old room, from before the first crash had mangled it -Burned up so much of his already sparse belongings that all of Dey's efforts couldn't truly replicate it down to every haphazard detail.
For a long time he stood in his doorway and tried to process what was going on. He was still dreaming right? That must be it. Whatever he drank last night had one hellova kick.
But it felt so real.
And the details were so perfect, right down to that same old soft rattle in the Milano's engine- that he was totally going to get looked at before it exploded!- which was never present in the remade Milano.
So not a dream, then. A hallucination? Maybe, but why would a hallucination be so… mundane? A trick of the mind? It wouldn't be the first time he'd pissed off a psychic, but this was hardly the kind of punishment he had become so very unpleasantly accustom to.
Well, staring at the empty core of the ship wasn't providing him with any clues. If he wanted answers he'd have to find them, and that's just what he intended to do. A quick scope of the ship's compartments only confirmed his initial theory that this was somehow a version of his ship from before the other Guardians had come into his life. No extra lofts or beds, no sunlamps for Groot's pot, no bombs rolling dangerously around the floor, threatening to blow them all up at any moment, no tools for sharpening weapons, or strange heady aromas of Drax's attempts at cooking, though sometimes one had to use that term very loosely.
"Okay guys," he called out to no one in particular. "This isn't funny, come on out."
Silence, save for the distant k-thunk k-thunk of the old Milano's engine.
"HAHA! You got me! You really pulled one over on old Starlord there! Now why don't you show yourself so we can all laugh about this together?"
"Come on Gamora," he appealed with what was definitely not a crack in his voice "You're better than this. Don't stoop to their level."
K-thunk… k-thunk… k-thunk…
Disturbed, Peter made his way up to the cockpit and slid into the pilot's chair. Through the windshield only empty space greeted him. So he wasn't docked on a planet. Peter wasn't sure if this made things simpler or not. A quick check of his navigation system didn't help much either. He was drifting through a star system that was familiar enough to him. He had passed through here plenty of times delivering liberated goods, looking for jobs, and even just stopping by one of its many rest locations for a little break. The problem was… he couldn't recall how or why he would have come here now.
Turning away from the navigational readings he pulled up a new screen and sent a hail to the Eclector. Since the repairs had been finished on his beloved ship, again, the Guardians had unanimously moved back into it. The old Ravager's ship had its larger size, but the Milano was home. Emphasis on 'was' right now- what the heck was going on here!?
Peter didn't have long to puzzle over this before a series of beeps alerted him that his call had been accepted and all thought vanished from his head.
A long silence reined over the Milano as Peter stared, slack jawed and wide eyed at the screen before him. A cold indignant rage boiled up from somewhere deep within his gut. Oh this was too much. He could take a good prank as much as the next guy but there were LINES. And those lines hadn't just been crossed, they'd been trampled and spat on and…. The arm rest creaked under his white knuckled grip.
"Lookee here boyo." The dead man leaned into the camera, every perfect detail becoming even clearer. "If you just called me as another one of yer damn pranks I'll have you thrown out of the airlock of that damned ship of yours!"
"I-I, uh..." Peter swallowed thickly, struggling to find a single coherent thought.
"Speak up boy! You get your dumbass paralyzed again? I told yah to stop-"
"You're alive." Just a whisper, and suddenly the damn broke and the words were spilling out in a desperate jumble. "How are you alive!? I saw you-you-In my arms and I-Your funeral! How are you not dead? Don't get me wrong, I am so happy! But. But HOW?!"
Peter slowed to a stop, panting, and wide eyed, and grinning like a fool. Yondu, however, seemed less than impressed by his ramblings. In fact, this cold expression looked startlingly similar to the look he'd worn whenever he'd lost patience with what he referred to as Peter's tall tales and 'exaggerations.'
"Boy," he deadpanned. "I don't know what your playing at here, but you better quit wasting my time with this nonsense."
As Yondu reached for a switch to end their communication Peter panicked and leaped forward. "WAIT! Wait! I swear I'm not messing with you! Just ask the other guardians! Where are they, by the way?" He'd almost forgotten after seeing the dead man's face, but his friends were all still missing.
"The who now?" The ravager captain still looked nonplussed, but his finger was no longer hovering over the disconnect button so that had to be a good sign.
"You know, the Guardians of the Galaxy? My friends? We only, you know, saved the galaxy twice now."
Any trace of patience was lost in the captain's scowl now and Peter rushed to stop him from leaving before he got any answers at all. "Come on man," he pleaded "You have to stop messing with me. Did Rocket put you up to this? The Guardians. You know – Drax, big, scary, walking thesaurus. Groot, galaxies most personable houseplant. Rocket, biggest asshole you've ever met, and Gamora, most feared woman in the galaxy! We stole the Infinity Stone, kicked Ronan's ass and saved all of Xandar. Does any of this ring a bell?"
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Peter's jaw snapped closed so fast there was an audible click. Yondu's expression had morphed into something dark and serious. "Whatever game you're playing at here I think it's best that you stop right here and now. And watch your damned tongue. Those kinds of jokes are liable to get you into all kinds of trouble in these quadrants, and I don't want you dragging me into it, ya hear?"
"But I-" Peter stammered, thoroughly confused again.
"I said no more. Now you best knock these silly games off and let me get back to work." With that yondu pressed down on the button and the screen winked out of existence, leaving Peter once more staring blankly into the empty space beyond his windshield.
Somehow, he was even more confused now than he had been before he'd made the call. What was going on? Yondu was somehow here, but his crew was missing. And what the flark did he mean 'in these quadrants'? Sure it wasn't exactly a hubble of law and order, but this was hardly what a ravager would consider a dangerous area. And anyways, what did it even matter? Ronan was DEAD.
Peter groaned and rubbed at his temples. This was all just giving him a gigantic headache and he was no closer to figuring out what was going on.
For a while he just sat there letting his ship drift through space on autopilot as he mulled over his options. He didn't dare risk hailing the Eclector again. One of the very first lessons he had learned after leaving Earth was to never bother the Ravager captain once he was in that state. Not unless he wanted to spend the next month scrubbing every toilet on the ship between some very one sided battle lessons. Just the memory left him wincing and wanting to rub at imaginary bruises.
Eventually his stomach made its own priorities known and he settled for heading to the nearest establishment which offered a hot meal and the chance to pick up on some local gossip. If his friends had been through here, he was sure somebody would be talking about it- after all, where they weren't known for their heroic deeds or mercenary work, there were still a couple smaller bounties on several of their heads. This was usually enough to catch somebody's interest.
As he waited for his food and feigned interest in a little mini menu displaying today's specials he listened to the chatter around him.
For a long time he caught nothing much of interest; old friends catching up on family stuff, arguments over some upcoming game or tournament or whatever, some old guy complaining about new taxes on his wares, yadda yadda.
The food came, with a flourish and a 'here you are, sugar,' and for a time he was happy enough to just eat and relax into the familiar chatter surrounding him.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, hun?" The clatter of his dishes being gathered eventually brought his mind back to his own booth. His food had been finished and whatever they were passing off as coffee had been drunk, but he hadn't overheard a single useful thing.
"Oh uh, yes... Lenna," he drawled, leaning forward to read her name tag. "I was hoping you might be able to help me find my friends, they seem to have gotten lost."
"Well that's just too bad." She had an answering gleam in her silvery eyes. "I'm sure if you stick around they'll show up. Seems like everyone comes through here nowadays."
"I'm actually hoping they might have come through already. They're hard to miss. Big tattooed mountain of a man, hot green lady who looks like she could kill you seven times before you hit the floor- and she could, trust me!-, trigger happy raccoon, and a very friendly tree. And ah, oh yeah, you may know them as the Guardians of the Galaxy." He finished with a wink and a finger gun.
"I'm sorry, the what?" The look on Lenna's face was not the one of awe that he had been hoping to inspire.
"You know, the Guardians of the Galaxy." Peter leaned closer earnestly. "We battled Ronan the Accuser and saved the galaxy."
"Wh-what?" she gasped, pulling back and eyes darting around as though he'd just told her he planned on robbing the place.
"Ronan," he repeated. "Angry guy with a flare for too much eyeliner. All like 'I am your judgment day' yadda yadda. Carries around this giant hammer like he's compensating for something. And oh yeah, dead. Got blown up by me and my friends?"
"That's not funny!" she hissed, snatching the rest of his dishes up now. "You shouldn't talk like that, you're going to get yourself into a lot of trouble." With one final glance around herself she turned and swept away with a flick of her short skirt.
Peter groaned and leaned back in his seat. So much for getting answers out of her. And they had such a good thing going and everything. His pouting was disrupted by the realization that something had shifted in the atmosphere. It was a subtle shift, but years of frequenting some of the worst corners of the galaxies with even worse populations had left him with a kind of sixth sense for these kinds of things. Right now that sixth sense was screaming at him to make a quick and quiet exit while he still could.
Without looking up he slipped the units onto the table and slipped out of the booth, walking with forced casualty towards the exit. He could feel eyes on him as he went, but no one seemed to follow him out of the bar and he made it back to his ship without incident. A gusty sigh left him as he slumped back into the pilot's seat. Well that was... disturbing. And if he didn't get some answers soon he was probably going to start pulling his hair out.
Without bothering to straighten out of his slump he pulled up a screen and typed in a search for "Guardians of the Galaxy." Nothing. Nada. Just a big empty screen with 'No results found' glowing in the center.
He tried again. "Star-lord." Just the usual pile of bounties, although it looked like they had gone up a bit, he noticed with a tinge of pride.
A search for "Gamora" was met with a big red [CLASSIFIED].
This was hopeless. It was almost like... Like the Guardians had never existed. Like they had never had their standoff on Xandar, never traveled across the cosmos and formed into a tight-knit family; like they had never met at all.
A cold and heavy dread settled over him as he considered this possibility. How was this possible? Who could possibly have the power to do this? And why? And if the Guardians had never met, what had become of Xandar?
With renewed energy and a destination in mind, at least for now, Peter quickly departed the not so helpful outpost and sped towards Xandar's co-ordinants.
Where the Nova Prime capitol should have been, he was met with only the blackened and burned up husk of a planet.
Peter checked his coordinates for what must have been the hundredth time, but the screen remained unchanged. This was the correct place.
Without the Guardians to protect it, Ronan must have made it to the ground. After that it was only a matter of touching the infinity stone to the planet's surface and it was all over.
The Milano pulled closer, details along the scarred surface becoming a little clearer as he circled the planet. He was pretty sure he could make out places where the land dipped drastically lower. Even the oceans had been burned away.
Bile rose in his throat as he thought about all the Xandarians he had met after the battle. The tentative friends he'd made with some of the Nova Corps, Commander Dey and Nova Prime, and the smiling faces of the civilians that had come out to cheer the Guardian's and show their appreciation for all the lives they had saved. Except now they were gone. Bodies probably scattered among the blackened ashes down below.
Peter let the Milano drift silently among the stars for a long time. They looked so much colder now that he was the only one watching them.
What was he supposed to do now? He was too late.
As he pondered his next move, an alarm signaled the hailing of another craft. What now?
"You are unauthorized to enter this zone," the voice snarled across the communication line. The cockpit darkened slightly as an unmistakably Kree craft loomed over his ship and blocked out the stars. "State your business and prepare to be destroyed."
"I'm just passing through, no trouble here!" Peter replied quickly. "And um, wait, don't you mean 'or'?"
Peter gripped the weapons' controls and sized up his options. It would be okay. There was just one puny little Kree ship. He was an excellent pilot and could definitely take them on in a one on one fight. "Peter." His fingers moved to the triggers as he took aim at the Kree ship's weak points. "But you may better know me as Star-lord."
There was a pause as Peter gave them a moment to let the name sink in and then he pulled the trigger.
"What?" He squeezed the trigger again, jiggling the joystick a bit when it produced no results. Seriously, could just one thing not go terribly wrong today?
"IDENTIFIED: Star-Lord." Came a booming mechanical voice. At the same time the empty space behind the Kree fighter craft vanished, replaced by the hulking form a much much larger vessel that was all to familiar. This new ship was also clearly Kree built, and it had an active tractor beam pointed squarely at the Milano.
Chapter 2 Teaser: "......A twitch, the guards suddenly stiffened and Peter felt a spark of triumph. That spark was quickly crushed beneath the sound of approaching footsteps. Oh. The footsteps stopped just outside of the bars, and Peter found himself staring at a pair of very familiar boots that were very uncomfortably close to his face. Oh. Hesitantly, he brought his eyes up to look into the black depths of one of the last people he was hoping to see about now......"