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Book Three: Phyla-Vell

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Since both of them decide to be sensible, Hallie and Norbert end up drinking juice. Coffee or coke would keep them awake, though Norbert has to wonder wryly if it’d be so much of a change. It’s not like he wanted to sleep before. Still, perhaps talking will help?

He tries to gather his thoughts. But it’s hard. It’s so hard to think about all of it—even his mind balks at understanding what had happened to him. His memories are jumbled and fragmentary, like a kaleidoscope. Try as he might he can’t make sense of them.

There’s the time-traveling he did with… Moonstone appears in his memories, dressed like she’s visiting the court of King Arthur. There is a dark-haired woman in a Victorian dress, and some more flashes. And finally there’s the smell of burnt flesh and darkness, until he wakes up in SHIELD prison, paralysed from the neck down, his techpac torn away.

He’d assumed they did something to him there. It’s the logical explanation.

Hallie looks expectant but doesn’t pester him.

“My memories are missing,” he says eventually. “I know I was time-travelling with Moonstone and some other people, but I don’t remember why or where. And then, there’s a hole, and I wake up in prison.” Which doesn’t explain why he is not sleeping, so he adds: “I have nightmares, of the stuff I don’t remember… But that isn’t why I prefer staying awake.”

Hallie reaches out to put her hand on his. “It’s OK. You can tell me—I won’t think less of you.”

He can’t help but smile at her, though he’s certain it comes out rather pathetic. “I’m afraid that when I wake up again, I’ll be trapped again, days, or years or months since I went to sleep.”

She nods. “Do you know how you ended up in prison?”

Norbert shakes his head. “No. I don’t know if I want to know, to be honest. I also don’t know how I returned from the timestream, either.”

“Maybe it was the same thing that brought me back?” she wonders. “We used my powers to make me punch through the realities, but for the longest time it didn’t work. And then suddenly… I was through.”

Norbert nods. “It’s a pity I didn’t think to ask you sooner. Then we could have taken some readings. If it’s the same things, we’d likely be able to find traces of exotic particles.”

Now that it’s a scientific problem, he finds it easier to think about it. It’s an unsolvable one at the moment, but that doesn’t mean it has to remain one…

“Sure, we can do that,” Hallie says with a smile. “Maybe if we find out how, then you will feel safer?” Then she wags her finger jokingly at him. “But I want you rested for that. I’m not letting you fiddle with my particles while you’re falling on your nose.”

That’s probably wise. He doesn’t really feel up to any difficult computations now. He nods.

Hallie gets up and puts her arm around his shoulder. “I’ll watch out so nobody steals you?” she suggests with a smile so it doesn’t sound so patronising.

Norbert smiles back. “I can manage. But thanks. I appreciate it.”

  


 

 

The first thing Mar-Vell registers when he wakes up is Carol's hand stroking his cheek. For a moment, he just lies still, enjoying the sensation. Then he opens his eyes and sees her resting her head on her elbow and grinning at him.

He smiles back and reaches up to mirror her gesture. Carol is still grinning, as she leans down and kisses him. Mar-Vell pulls her as close as he can and wraps his arms around her tightly. But like yesterday, that is not nearly enough for either of them.

Eventually, they part.

“I love you,” Carol says, a slight flush colouring her cheeks.

“You might have mentioned that yesterday,” Mar-Vell replies. The urge to touch is still irresistible (and to be fair, he has no particular intention of resisting), so he starts brushing his fingers lazily against her back.

Carol gives him an amused look, gently touches the tip of his nose and asks, “Are you flirting with me?”

“Badly,” he says, and shakes his head. “You will have to bear with that occasionally.”

“I like your bad flirting. Besides, I'm awesome enough to make up for that,” Carol replies without missing a beat.

That makes him grin. “I am not going to argue with you about that.”

Carol grins back. “You'd better not,” she says. “I'd be worried, if you did.” She leans closer and kisses his cheek. “For maybe five seconds.”

Mar-Vell chuckles, and then falls silent, when he feels Moondragon's thoughts brush against his mind. It's the lightest touch, but it still makes him want to snarl and lash out, and he barely manages not to jump.

He focuses as hard as he can on blocking almost everything—there is a number of things he will not share, and he definitely isn't going to let Heather Douglas see Carol naked through his eyes.

“Mar-Vell? What's wrong?” Carol asks, probably noticing the tension that grips him.

+We found Eros,+ Heather sends at the same time. +The Kree were rather over-enthusiastic. We will not be meeting you in a while. Don’t wait for us.+

“Moondragon,” he explains, “She's telling me they have Eros and that they won’t meet us.” Then, he adds, “That’s not what we planned.” Considering what Carol told him, cosmic awareness is unnecessary to know something is really wrong. “Pama, I hate this.” He grits his teeth, fighting the urge to scream and run.

Carol sits up and pulls him with her. He presses his forehead to her shoulder, as she runs her hand through his hair and then down his neck. It helps him bear the mental intrusion for now.

“There must be something wrong,” Carol says tensely. “This was too easy so far.” The way she holds him speaks volumes about her own anxieties.

+And now tell me the whole truth,+ he urges Moondragon.

+Truth is a four letter word.+ Moondragon is blocking him about as hard as he is blocking her. None of her emotions slip by for him to pick up. +Don’t even think of coming here. There is no way you can help. Take your son, take your girlfriend and go home.+

Mar-Vell nearly tells Moondragon that 'truth' has five letters but realises she wouldn't make that kind of mistake—it's clearly a phrase.

“What does 'truth is a four letter word' mean?” he asks Carol instead.

“A four letter word is an expletive,” Carol replies, her tone dry. “Don’t tell me she wants to be noble.”

“She’s telling me to leave them,” Mar-Vell says, trying very hard to keep at least some of his mounting trepidation from showing. Now he's not just coiled up like a spring, he's also starting to have a headache. His answer to Moondragon is sharp, probably unnecessarily so. +Phyla is my daughter, and if you think I will let another of my children suffer, you are deluding yourself. What happened?+

+They were never after Eros. They are after you. When he couldn’t give them your location, they made him their bait. You didn’t bite, which is your good luck. We are evading them, so do yourself a favour and don’t walk into the trap.+

“The Kree were after me.” Mar-Vell tastes blood from a bitten lip. “And they were trying to use Eros as bait.”

Carol curses. “I knew it. I knew it.” She lets out a deep breath. “OK, how bad is it?”

+You are not going to make me abandon my child!+ Mar-vell puts all his determination in his mental voice.

Moondragon hesitates and then sends, +You know that endangering you is the last thing Phy will want. She already has enough on her conscience. We will be fine.+

He isn’t a telepath, but she is leaking enough worry for him to realise she is lying. She doesn’t actually see a way they are getting out of it. So, he abandons his usual restraint and looks for them, using his cosmic awareness.

It’s easy to find Heather and the others on Equivox. Just as easy to realise why she did not want him to see them. They are literally stuck in a hole in the ground, damp and dark, with minimal supplies and a chemical light that will run out in a few hours.

He sees Phyla, fortunately unhurt but tired, confused and almost frantic with worry. His daughter is cradling a broken Eros in her arms. The Eternal is unconscious and even without the cosmic awareness showing Mar-vell all the breaks in Eros’s skull, the torn ligaments in his shoulders, the shattered right hand, broken ribs and internal bleeding, the Kree has been on enough battlefields to realise someone hurt this badly might not last the night.

With the enhanced perception of Cosmic Awareness he can also see where Moondragon blocked Eros’s nerves, to keep him from suffering needlessly, which show as bright red marks all over his body. For a moment, Mar-Vell wonders why Eros is not healing, since Eternals are normally nearly indestructible and capable regenerating even lost limbs. That’s when he notices that in addition to those injuries, Eros is also completely exhausted, on the verge of starvation und out of the cosmic energy that more than anything mundane sustains his kind. And all this was done to the Eternal just to get Mar-Vell himself.

“Pama,” he curses. +I hate it when you have the right idea about me.+

+What?+ Heather’s response so utterly nonplussed it would be almost comical.

+Take care of Phyla. Keep her safe.+

With Moondragon still distracted and confused, he manages to throw her out of his brain.

And then, he proves to Carol that Kree military cursing is at least as inventive as the American version.