The stars blinked in a multitude over the cliff side, the thin atmosphere and the distance from cities making them brighter than most people would ever see. Gamora liked the stars. They had been a familiar sight growing up, of course, with her adoptive father's love for flying chairs and asteroids in the vacuum of space. But she had grown to love the deep galaxy in later days, when she travelled of her own free will, with Adam.
He was sitting on the cliff's edge, his legs dangling down, and she made her way to sit beside him. He didn't look towards her or make any indication that he was aware of her presence at all, but she knew that he was when he quietly exhaled. She scooted by him closer, concern peppering her at the look of melancholy, even as his eyes flashed dimly in a way she couldn't place.
There was a silence, where Gamora swore she heard her own heart beat against the void of outer space. Adam breathed again, and it was like the silent whisper of morning. "There are many billions of lives for each star we can see up there. Billions of deaths unceasingly follow, but all those are irrelevant to autonomy of the awesome spheres of energy, gaseous burning light which fuses again and again on the atomic level and leaks with pure power. I wonder how many stars I am doomed to outlive?"
She reached out to his hand tentatively. It was chilly. Motivated with a passion she then clasped it with both of her hands as if to warm it, although logically she knew he experienced temperature differently. "Energy can't be created or destroyed, right? You do have a knack for rebirth, same as it all," she hummed, trying to lighten whatever was happening beyond that cosmic moodiness he'd spilled.
There was another silence before Adam spoke again, his words sounding alarmingly more outright this time. "Why must I continue to transverse this mortal coil?"
So clearly it was one of those moods he got in, time and again. She was glad at least that he could talk to her, if she didn't know what to say. Adam was a great thinker, but she often believed his knack for unique philosophy was exactly what inspired his not-infrequent plagues of depression. Gamora continued to massage his hand, before interlocking an arm into the crook of his elbow. "Because… you will have peace in this life, Adam. It happens, you know? Just trust me for a while and I promise this will pass. Das't the universe, das't 'must's. It's just me and you and for once we can be happy."
His brow creased, and he looked away for a moment. She reached out to his cheek and he returned her gaze, a mixture of frustration and distress jumbling in his luminescent eyes. She leaned closer to him, wrapping an arm about his firm back as she gazed up at his face.
"But would not happiness and togetherness still be just dangerous continuation? And now I am being a drag on you. Why do I continue?" His chin raised in dramatic plaintiveness, before moving to clench his jaw and his fists, tightly.
She shifted in concern. He loved 'happiness and togetherness,' or whatever. But she supposed he couldn't remember that right now. Sometimes Adam just seemed to wish he could feel nothing. She understood the feeling. Except for him it extended to a whole personal oblivion, at least, which was something he actually had more in common with Thanos. "I'm afraid I don't have all the answers. I can't convey the way I feel. But if nothing else, do it for me. Live for those who are important to you. Live for me." She did her best not to sound desperate, while showing how badly she meant it all the same. Perhaps it was an awkward move, because it definitely didn't help.
He took a deep breath before responding. "Clearly, you're blinded by your emotion in this circumstance," he paused intentionally. "No offense." Another pause, heavy, weighted, where she grit her teeth and wondered if he weren't trying to be rude. "This isn't nothing, Gamora. This isn't me lamenting just over the meaning of life. My continuation causes nothing but peril and danger to everyone around me, as well as the cosmos itself. I… broke reality. I killed many people. I hurt others in ways I'm ashamed to admit to you." His body shuddered, and she felt it against her own. She pulled him in tighter, her heart pounding, her belly crunching in distress.
"Adam, what are you talking about? Do you — do you mean the Magus? You can't hold yourself responsible for that," she pleaded. She looked at him with a passion, but he began avoiding her gaze, looking crumpled and deflated.
"I remember the wave of exhaustion after I cast that spell. I remember the retroactive darkening of my soul, and I remember relief. I remember the sick joy as couldn't stop I laughing inside myself at Quill. I remember hurting you, ordering your flarking torture, I, was so full of myself, Gamora, and that's me talking. I was so flarking—" he broke himself off, scowling as his left fist clenched again and unclenched.
The moment was tangibly painful, and Gamora was extremely aware of how useless she was inside her own mind. His pain as he reminisced was her pain, but as each moment passed with her gazing at him it only grew worse. She wasn't sure how to respond. She didn't think he had been Adam who had done those horrible things, not really — the Magus was firmly another thing to Gamora than this man who she loved. But she couldn't discount his memories. This had been a different Magus from any she'd seen before. Not the time-traveling mad god, nor an unnatural conglomeration of evil traits; this had been what he'd become, in the reality in which they lived. Time had been able to fulfill itself after all they'd done to stop it, but the cost had been crushing. Gamora sighed, massaging his side tenderly with her arm. "As much as I appreciate your self-awareness in the arrogance department, Adam, what you did that day was sacrifice yourself, your sanity, your wholeness, for all of us. For the universe. For me. I know what it meant to you. You saved us all and it cost you everything. You didn't know what you were doing afterwards. It's not your fault." She wished she could get him to smile again, but she could only comfort him, she could only hope that some of it got through to his heart.
"Yes, I knew," Adam furrowed his brow, glaring at some undiscerning point ahead and downwards. "Just because I wove together the fractured timelines, just because I overlapped them, didn't mean I had to fulfill that future right that instant. It happened because I was weak. Being the Magus felt freeing, and so called to me. I'm Warlock again now, but that evil is still within me as indeed it always has been. Please understand this. It's not a matter of debate. Every day I continue to live is another day I could become that again. As so frustratingly often is the case with me, it is not only my wellbeing at stake from my fragile psyche, but the fate of reality itself. I had a number of plans which never came to fruition, see, and if I were to loose sanity in such a manner again I would likely choose to finish a few. I could tell you if you want, but I'm fear getting lost in them. I try to bury the memories, but it's like my love for Maya used to be, back in the old days. It isn't what I want, but I can't stop it, and in a weird way, it's so deeply gratifying."
As much as it made her bristle hearing Maya's name again — that evil skank who'd stolen his first kiss before Gamora had managed to deck her — the comparison of love potion helped as an indicator (proof!) to describe the power this had over him. He wasn't the Magus. His honest-to-heavens fear made that self-evident. But she wished he could see it that way as well. The guilt he was obviously feeling was painful.
She was grateful he still felt able to confide in her so fully. It was difficult hearing him talk like this, but also weird. He'd never quite unloaded to her about being the Magus before. She supposed in the grand scheme of things it hadn't been so long since it'd happened. The Magus had always just seemed like the darker reflection that Adam felt sorry for himself over — it was so unsettling to consider the fact that he now remembered it. How, though? How was he capable of doing things like he had? What crimes was he afraid to admit to her? What did it feel like to him, remembering torturing her, methodologically? She shut out her questions. The Magus was not him. The Magus had hurt him too, and continued to hurt him still as a shadow from his memory. His dark reflection. Gamora pulled one knee up to a safer spot on the cliff side, and wrapped both her arms around Adam, embracing him. He was surprisingly receptive, if belatedly. After a pause he turned and hugged her too with his face furrowing in her shoulder, folding into her arms while his ribcage shuddered in regret.
She held him, firmly, praying he would never forget her presence long as they sat here. She would always be here for him. She hoped he knew that. The right words continued to come slow for her, but she thought back, trying to relate, perhaps give some proverb or platitude that might provide him some rein to move forth. There was nothing. "Remember… some years ago, when we served together in the Infinity Watch, how I was beginning to repair my relationship with Thanos? And yet recently I've been preoccupied with revenge in ways that have yet to turn out well." Like it was all for nothing. She spoke vaguely, not to give him some alternate avenue to do down. Maybe that meant it wasn't enough. "Parts within all us are always… different than others. It's what makes us individuals. Some parts we don't like so much. Some parts we fight. Some parts we'd rather not win at times. But you still believe in me, right?"
It was only when he laughed at her that she fully realized he was crying. His torso heaved, making her shoulder wet with each beat of unholy hybrid between chuckles and sobs. She didn't know whether to be offended or angry or hurt, but his own anguish kept her from any hard feelings. She lifted her arms to tighten them around him, shutting her own eyes against the soft creases of the fabric of his garment and the lull of his hair.
"I… appreciate your initiative, but the endeavor to compare our two dilemmas is more than minimally fruitless," he paused, and his damp lips against her skin felt soothing. "I do believe in you, though, if that wasn't rhetorical. Thanos can be a bit much. You could've asked me to speak with him for you… provided I wasn't dead at the time… which I am insanely bad at remaining for any considerable amount of time anyway… a predicament with all my consideration I honestly don't know how to fix," he spoke slowly as the kind offer degenerated to self-reflection, as if thinking. His brow drew tight now, crunching her neck, and he pulled away from her, wiping his face in intense enthusiasm with the palms of his gloves. At length he looked at her again. He pulled a very plastic smile, as if imitating the expression from no more than a crude cave painting. "Let me know if you still need help still with your family then. I'll just be tuning hypotheses comparing varying methods of ending my existence." He pointlessly brushed at his arms, as he made as if to get up, but she pulled him down instantly, practically flabbergasted as she struggled to pull together what he'd actually just said to her.
"You're being so dramatic, I swear," she gawked, gripping his arm tightly in mild disbelief. It was one thing for Adam to loudly lament over the meaninglessness of some state of reality, that was just a regular Tuesday. It was another thing entirely however to state an actual intention like that as if he expected it to simply lay like that. A panic overcrowded the disbelieving swirl of emotions in her tightening chest.
He pursed his lips into a pouting scowl at her outward flippancy, yanking his bicep away from her hands. "Dramatic?" he gave her almost a look of hurt, and the fear returned to her in kind as he continued with his next words. "Is that what you were thinking when I strung you up in those chambers to pay for your so-called sins? Is that what Phyla thought as well? Just Adam being dramatic, no cause for caution there. Oh, wait—"
Automatically Gamora slapped him before he could say another word, and he winced, lowering his head as if subdued as he moved his own hand to rub at his cheek. A feeling of horror raced through her like lightning as she realized very abruptly from his subtle response that she was playing right into his hand. She grabbed his shoulder, her heart racing, a mix of worry and rage that even she with her intense daddy issues didn't know how to handle in the moment. Her thumb pressed under his golden chin, wishing she knew how to talk to him in a way that might actually just get through.
"Phyla's death was not your fault," she said, and his head jolted upright in what looked like legitimate surprise. Her heart was low in her chest as she knew he'd expected her to say the opposite. He wanted to be blamed for Magus' deeds. He thought he deserved it. Well, worst of luck there. "Stop flarking speaking of her and any of us that way," she proceeded, like a shade of what she suspected he'd been more looking for. "We need to think about this rationally, hear me? You feel guilty for becoming the Magus that time, and you're afraid of it happening again. Killing you permanently is a drastic solution, okay? Maybe we can find a new future or something."
Adam snorted, and her heart sank at the disparagement. "We can't go rewriting timelines whenever we see fit. What I did is a fundamental part of who I am. I'm more evil than I am good, Gamora, and evil is what we stop, last I checked. I've never exactly had an uplifting perspective on life anyway, and now it is a danger to everyone, so why throw a fit? I would be tempted to simply retreat into the soul gem, but I don't know where it is anymore. I cannot sense it. I get that you don't understand the imminence, but I'm telling you what I know. I'm going insane by trying to remain sane, Gamora, and it could be sooner or later but I cannot hold myself as I am indefinitely when my very nature is change. I must always be vigilant. I want to sleep but I can't for fear of what I'll wake up as."
This matter-of-fact, almost chilly now way he spoke sent a prickle of ice through her spine. She carefully brushed a stray hair behind his ear, looking into his clouded eyes. "When is the last time you slept, Adam?"
He hesitated, eyes squinting just barely as if he hadn't expected to hear that. The ridge that would be his eyebrows drew inwards. "I can't remember."
Gamora knew that could be as short or long as the mind could imagine, with Adam. Also he didn't need much sleep, if any, though it certainly allowed for better function. His mind needed some hours to have peace and recharge, she'd noticed, and she remembered, for all his physical generosity, he always used to fall asleep like a rock after they'd… well, when they had been together. She met Adam's distressed and concerningly searching gaze, and asked, stroking his cheek with her thumb, "Do you want to sleep?"
"Honestly I want to roll myself up in a cocoon, but such an choice on my part could be cataclysmic," he admitted, all the hardness falling from his voice like all he'd really needed was some proper concern. He was such a toddler in that way.
She nodded her understanding, thumb still against his cheek. That was Adam's one true way of rejuvenating, and he came out something new every time. But if, say, he imagined his healthy self would be the Magus, it was no wonder he'd avoid turning to that route. However the Magus could be healthy. Wasn't part of his thing that he was batflark insane? She blinked, still without breaking from his gaze. "I have an idea. You lay down, and I'll stay right here with you, by your side the whole time. If I see the slightest hint of purple, I promise, I'll wake you right away."
The look he gave her was a part of the reason she'd fallen in love with him the first place. Tentatively grateful, but concerned; his wide glowing eyes against the surrounding black skin reminded her of a small mewling baby animal: adorably in need of help. "You can't catch everything by looking at it. I was Magus here," he pointed at his cranium, "long before I was Magus here," he gave a vague gesture at his gorgeous features.
"Hey," Gamora gave him a deep, almost intimate look. It sent a shudder of memory through her when Adam fully returned it. "We've been through a lot together. Nobody knows me the way you do, and I might say the same likewise, is that right?" When he gave a humiliatingly hesitant nod, she continued more slowly. "I know you. I can tell if you're yourself, if I listen. And right now I'm listening. I'll be right here for you. Trust me, Adam. Please trust me."
He closed his eyes, submitting his forehead against her. They both knew she hadn't 'listened' well of late, not for a long time. That was why this was able to happen in the first place, how he could slowly fade into the Magus before their very eyes. But now she was. She was on guard for him, realizing his pain, and just maybe they could again be on a closer wavelength as they once had been. If only he would forgive her not reaching out to him, if only he would understand… if only he would trust her. "Okay," he whispered through moist, stifled lips.
Relief overwhelmed her as he took her hand, standing him up to lead him to their ship. They were parked on this asteroid of stunning rare minerals (Gamora had missed the gleaming colors in contrast to Adam's lovely brighter eyes), but the nearest bed was what they'd brought with them inside. As they entered the airlock, she could feel the slight twitch of release as Adam let down the miniature atmosphere that his background concentration alone had kept up for her. She sat down as he stretched himself out on the mattress, yawning as if suddenly unable to hold it in. She knelt snugly in the bed, caressing his hair between her hands as he laid down his head on her pillow.
He blinked up at her through bleary eyes. "Is that even comfortable, Gamora?"
"I'm fine," she promised, and without further protest, he closed his eyes, confident he was being watched over. She sat there, leaning against the painted metal wall of the room, gazing at the form of her best friend in the world. He still had complete faith in her. Why was that?
She hadn't watched out for him when they'd served together in the Guardians of the Galaxy, even though he'd been an incoherent disaster — hadn't listened — she had watched out for herself; pissed at the team, disappointed with Richard, angry and bitter at the universe around her for changing and leaving her behind. She'd found her way back with Drax, in time — but Adam hadn't been allowed that same chance. Adam, who she'd known longer than anyone else on that ragtag team — and her indifference had allowed him to fall apart at the seams. She wasn't at all concerned about him actually turning into the Magus now, because she knew him, and she could see that he was stronger and better than that. But he was worried about it, so she was happy to look out for it anyway. It was the least she could do.
She watched his chest begin to gently rise and fall in tune to her heart, and her gaze turned up out the window towards the countless stars that dotted the airless void of space. There were so many. She'd tried to count them, sometimes, when she was a kid; but she'd never made progress before hopelessly loosing track. She'd never imagined she would visit so many. Adam loved the stars. And it was no wonder. He was just like them. Bright and beautiful and gold and eternal. He would be reborn just like their atoms after a supernova cycled into a white dwarf. He wouldn't always need her, and that was perhaps how it should be. But as long as he did, she wouldn't stop listening for him again again. She wouldn't leave him alone against the darker shade within his mind.