Actions

Work Header

Don't Call Us Plucky

Chapter Text

“I’m so happy to have you here, my boy. So glad that you’ll finally be able to join the family business!”

 

“Uh, yeah, Dad. Great,” he says, glancing around the institutional-looking hallway. “What exactly…is this place?”

 

“This is the Ultra-Enhanced Research Unit,” Dad booms, with a great deal more enthusiasm than his son, gesturing expansively around him.

 

“Yeah, but what do you guys actually do here?” Peter asks, Dad leading him down the hall.

 

Though neither of two men notice, the young Asian woman following behind them looks uneasy, clutching her clipboard and bowing her head so that her long curtain of hair covers her face. 

 

“We study enhanced individuals and supernatural lifeforms,” Dad says too cheerfully, bouncing on his toes. Gesturing to another hall of dark glass cells, his father says "Let me show you."

 

Peter's breath stutters a little. There are two women in the cell. Masks cover the lower half of their faces and they are both chained to the floor by their wrists, silver manacles that prevent them from reaching up to their mouths to remove the binding there.

 

One of them is a deep violet-blue, her eyes a pair of dark angry oil pools, a thin fall of fiery red hair falling over her shoulders. The other is a pale, sickly vine-green, with deep magenta curls, her lashes flicking up as she stares at him. She has silvery tattoos upon her skin - or at least, the parts of her skin that he can see. 

 

Peter is immediately mesmerized by them, going right up to the glass to look at the two women, despite the dark glare the blue one gives him and the bright flare of silver lines upon the visible parts of the green woman's face as their eyes meet.

 

“What are they?” he asks.

 

Amused, his father says “The blue one is a banshee – not a pleasant looking one, is she? Quite the evil eye on her.” He watches Peter gazing at the other woman as though spellbound. The silver of the tattoos begin to glow within her eyes. “The other one is a siren. She’s trying to use her power on you, you know. It’s why I have to keep their mouths shut. No telling what they could do if they still had their voices.”

 

“What would they do?” Peter asks, unable to tear his attention away from her fiery silver stare. Behind the mask, the muscles of her neck and jaw were working, but with her movement and sounds stifled, there was no way to know what she’d be saying, if she could.

 

“The banshee’s cry creates a sound that breaks your eardrums, can even paralyze you if you’re too close,” Dad says, frowning. “And a siren will use her voice to promise you all your hearts deepest desires.”

 

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” he says, with a swaggering smile. She blinks, but the glow still infuses her gaze, blazing from her gaze with some inner fire. “And what if my desire is her?”

 

“It doesn’t work like that,” the young woman says abruptly. She is anxious, fearful at the sight of the women chained in their cell. Her name tag says that her actual name is Mantis. “Not your physical desire. She can see what you want most – even if it’s something you hide from yourself, she’ll still know what it is, and no matter how impossible it is, you’ll still believe that she can give it to you.”

 

The siren blinks again and the silver fire finally begins to bank. Peter shrugs, still giving her a half-smile. “Sounds like a politician. Or a lawyer.”

 

“These creatures aren’t like us, Pete,” his father says, with a grating, lofty tone that Peter find irritating. “They don’t feel love or pain or joy. Just the urge to survive, like any animal does.”

 

“Yeah,” Peter says, turning away from the cell with the two women locked inside. “Just like animals.”

 

The young woman still looks troubled, but follows his father's path down to another block. “We’ve also captured an elf – a snow elf, probably – but she’s rather temperamental. I’ve had to reinforce the walls twice, beyond her magical abilities, she’s much stronger than she looks.” Dad smiles at her smugly. “Isn’t that right, Louhi?”

 

The woman in the cell, blue and covered in scrolling elegant patterns, a long braid of black hair braid of hair winding down her back, snorts in an unladylike manner. Her scarlet eyes watch them keenly, arms crossed, as she leans against the wall. Watching them the way a cat might watch the hole of a mouse den, despite her captivity.

 

“I must admit you’re more clever than the usual mortal,” the blue elf says, looking bored. “But this hovel can’t hold me forever, butcher. And my brother will search until I’m found.” A terrifying smile crosses her lips. “It’s a pity – he’ll have all the fun of smashing your skull open. But at least I’ll get to watch him do it.”

 

“Dream on, Lady Louhi,” his father says breezily, continuing their tour.

 

The next cell holds a young woman, around his age, locked into a straight jacket. Her powers fizzle through the air, lighting her face with it’s blazing red light – right up until a purple gas hisses through the air vents and she collapses forward onto the floor, knocked unconscious. “One of our rarer subjects,” he says conspiratorially, gazing thoughtfully at her slumped over figure, her face concealed by her auburn hair. “She’s biologically human, but somehow has telekinetic abilities. We sedate her with regularity – her powers are rather dangerous to the team.”

 

An unfamiliar young woman of Asian descent is strapped down to a table, an I.V. drip attached to her arm keeping her unconscious on a semi-permanent basis. “She appears to be some kind of elemental creature," Dad explains. "But whatever she does makes the building shake and threatens the structural integrity of the entire area within a three square miles. We keep her sedated for the safety of everyone in the area.”

 

Another unfamiliar woman, slim and blonde, and even younger than Peter is makes all the lights in her cell rapidly flicker on and off, her hands not only chained but completely covered. “This one’s biologically human as well – we’re not quite sure what she does, but she can create knives made of pure light. There are special dampening wards around her. We have to update them frequently.”

 

The blonde spits at the glass. Peter hears her screaming at their back "Tyrone! Tyrone! I WANT TYRONE!"

 

There a small figure further on who is not only muzzled and chained to the floor, but also blindfolded, with both legs bound together at the ankle. Large leathery black wings flutter on either side of her gaunt body. Her only defining feature is a head full of wavy red hair - not the burning flame-red of the banshee, but the saturated red of freshly spilled blood. “What’s with the bondage queen over here?

 

She seems to sense his approach, twisting her head in their direction despite her inability to see or hear them, the black leathery wings giving a hushed chitter as they lift with several futile flaps.

 

“One of my team’s most prized captures – she’s a succubus.” At Peter’s blank look, Dad adds “A demon who feeds on the sexual energy of her partners.”

 

Eagerly, Peter says “Can we…?”

 

“Definitely not!” Mantis says, alarmed, holding the clipboard to her chest like a shield. “It sounds appealing, but the succubus is really very dangerous! After the first experience, you will crave it again, and feel the urge to keep returning to her, until she bleeds the life from your body. For you, she is a partner. To her, you are a meal.”

 

The very last cell is filled with a familiar blue glow and slowly, deliberately, a small woman with dark tangled hair comes directly to the glass to meet them. There is a glow in the center of her chest, a bright blue light that pulses and swirls, more like a living thing than anything mechanical.

 

“Is that…Toni Stark?” Peter asks, blinking rapidly. “The heiress? Why are we keeping Antonia Stark here?”

 

Peter meets her eyes and Toni begins to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,” she coos, dark eyes wide and wild. “Had a wife and couldn’t keep her! What would mommy think of her Peter?”

 

She is pretty, despite her madness and her surroundings, there is clear markers of the beautiful woman she was and still is. Short and voluptuous, Toni has softly curled brown hair and velvet-brown eyes with enormous lashes, her mouth a full curve that twists easily into a smile, and fingers covered in callouses and the scars of old burns.

 

“Her godfather gave her to us for treatment. She’s a Seer,” his father says, closely examining her and the way she watches his son. The mention of Meredith, however vague, has made Peter go as still as a bird dog on point. “But it seems to have driven her up the wall. We were hoping for prophecy, but she gives us nothing but nonsense.”  

 

“Maybe Peter should learn to read and spell!” Toni laughs, the light in her chest like a beacon in the heavy darkness of her cell. “Then you might love her well! Didn’t mommy ever teach you about the harpies and the trees, pumpkin eater? You might be dragged off into the night by the big bad wolf, little Peter! Ah, but that’s a different story…”

 

His dad says something about lunch and his young assistant - Mantis - leads him on to the cafeteria. Peter mumbles something about the restroom, but goes right back to the cell holding Toni.

 

“What were you trying to tell me?” he asks urgently, his face lit up by the blue glow.

 

“Your mother was one of us,” Toni tells him, looking much more lucid now. “And your father coveted her powers.” Palms pressed to the glass, she whispers, “Careful, Pete, or you’ll wind up part of the collection.”

 

“But all of you are women,” he says, and then repeats in horror “All of you are women.”

 

“He wants to make a little god, small g,” she murmurs, leaning against the corner. “A little Zeus of his very own. Why start from scratch all over again when his half-blood Peter pumpkin eater can do the work for him? Luckily, he has no idea that the siren has picked you out as her mate, or you’d really be in deep then.”

 

“Wait – what?!”

 

Sing-song, she says “If only Peter could learn to read and spell, then he might be able to love her well!”

 

“Read and sp-…so, I should learn more about the siren and about how magic works?” he guesses, fidgeting nervously and looking over his shoulder down the corridor.

 

She shrugs. “Do what you like. After all, I’m just an animal, remember?” Brightening, eyes shocked, she sings, “Oh, Peter! A wolf, a wolf, to catch a lamb.”

 

After quickly looking over his shoulder to see nothing there, Peter shakes his head at her, staring at her sadly, this pretty creature of madness and genius reduced to being held in a cage like a bear at the zoo. “I’m coming back,” he says, quietly, his hand pressed to hers on the glass. “I’m getting you out of here. I’m getting all of you out of here. I just...need time.”

 

Toni smiles at him then, not her crazed expression of amusement but this time a mischievous grin that almost looks like the pictures of her that used to be plastered over magazine covers. “Oh, I’ll run off into the night, little Peter, but it won’t be you that lets me out.”

 

Peter frowns. “Is there someone coming to get you, Toni?”

 

“Just because I am leaving, doesn’t mean I’ll be rescued.” She laughs, twirling, and hums in her sweet voice, “A wolf, a wolf, a wolf! To catch a lamb, to catch a lamb – for his dinner.”

 

Peter says “They...wait, they’re going to hurt you?”

 

Pressed to the glass, Toni tells him, “He howls and growls to the snows, crying for his supper. And what will he find? A lamb all tied up for him.” Lower, she says “When he howls, Peter shouldn’t come running, because he is only a rabbit, and not a very filling meal. Better to give a lamb.”

 

“I can’t just let them hurt you!” he argues. “Are you in danger?”

 

Again, she shrugs. “We’re all in danger here, Peter. Don’t spend your time on my predicament – you have something more important to do.”

 

Desperately, he asks “But will you live? If I let…the wolf…take you?”

 

“If you do not stop him, I will go,” she says, eyes distant, spine straightening. “If you do stop him, I will go…in pieces.”

 

Peter has to make a real effort not to fidget all through lunch with his father – the assistant is still there, and she keeps staring at him, but doesn’t seem to want to talk around Dad. He makes a note to corner her the next time Dad finally leaves him alone.

 

But it doesn’t happen again, and he has to keep the annoyance off his face as they leave the facility for the day. He supposes that he can wait a little longer. After all, if Toni’s implications about her escape from the cell are too, she’ll be leaving before he figures out how to release the other women there.

 

If he’s going to get what he wants – and survive whoever comes for Toni – Peter needs to find resources on supernatural creatures – and maybe how magic works, too. Especially the siren.

 

Peter’s only link to that is Yondu.

 

His real dad.

Chapter Text

Nebula’s hands are as bound as her own are, and her mouth as well. It doesn’t matter – after nearly two millennia together, Nebula does not need to speak for Gamora to interpret her expression, thin red brows drawn sharply together, visible even through the wispy curtain of her fiery hair. Gamora imagines she looked just this disapproving when she realized the Romans would defeat her.

 

Your male is hardly an impressive specimen.

 

Gamora shifts restlessly, the chain jingling around her knees. A normal woman would have bodily functions and could not be held like this perpetually. A normal woman probably would’ve died from the infection ravaging the open wounds around her wrists, both their manacles caked with blood from the first few weeks of struggling. For Gamora it was merely an irritating and relentless itch.

 

Painful, yes, but not debilitating.

 

She hopes the visible part of her face adequately conveys her own feelings.

 

It isn’t as though I chose him.

 

His eyes had locked with hers, and she’d felt the knowledge of all his desires, heard them as clearly as if he’d whispered it directly to her, and felt that knowledge imprinting itself in her very blood, into the deepest parts of Gamora’s being. She couldn’t have stopped it if she wanted to – the sea-fire had blazed through her, settling him within her bones like a cat before a hearth-fire and trying to bring him near to her. Near so that he would never escape her call again.

 

But of course Gamora had been silenced and she had no voice to call him with, no song to wind around his spirit and keep him from walking away from her.

 

…Even so, Gamora thinks he may have felt it too. No one should be that reluctant to turn away from her without needing to use her voice.

 

Two and a half millennia of freedom and an ordinary human boy had captured her very soul. The fates had such cruel jokes for Gamora of Heraklion.

 

Well, she supposed that was alright. Gamora was not known for her sense of humor, but her temper was legendary.

---

There is a house beside the sea – which sounds like the beginning of a bad nursey rhyme, but here he is – there is a house by the sea where the gate in the front gate never latches and the bay window is covered in plywood. The chimney is crumbling, the porch is new, and the front door is old.

 

An outsider might’ve hesitated opening that gate, but this is where Peter grew up, and for all its imperfections, it’s still the only place he really calls home. He doesn’t bother calling for Yondu – there’s another hour, at least, until dusk settles in on the sea. As an adult, its something he knows without even having to think of it, but he vaguely remembers being a child and wondering why Yondu wouldn’t come when he asked for him, sometimes not even until bedtime. When he was old enough to understand winter became his favorite season, because in winter, the sun set earlier and rose later.

 

Now he simply walks through the door, dumping the bag of apples into Kraglin’s lap, startling him awake and making him jerk violently upright.

 

Peter cackles at his cursing. “After all this time, you’d think you’d be used to that. Dumbass.”

 

Kraglin hisses at him, sharp teeth bared, his lion’s tail lashing around his legs. “Just when I thought we’d finally gotten rid you,” the hulder grumbles. “Weren’t you going off to find your daddy?”

 

Peter bites back his knee-jerk retort (‘that man isn’t my father!’), knowing it was what Kraglin was trying to get from him anyway. “Yeah,” he says, propping his feet on the table. “And boy, it was a doozy.”

 

Kraglin grunts, chewing through the first apple with his razorblade teeth. Kraglin, like all huldrefolk, does not eat meat – they exist for intimidation and defense. Like all male hulder, he’s very ugly, at least by human standards. And, for what little it’s worth, he’s the closest thing to a brother Peter has.

 

Even when he wants to punch him in the nuts.

 

“So, did you get what you wanted?” he asks Peter, without hiding the derision in his tone.

 

“If by that you mean, even more questions, then yeah, I guess so,” he says, frowning at the wall. Kraglin begins eating a second apple – they’re the green granny smiths, cheap as dirt and completely unpalatable for most humans. He kicks him in the leg. “Don’t eat all of them. I didn’t bring it for you.”

 

Kraglin swallows the last of the second apple, core and all, and wipes his face on his sleeve. Peter rolls his eyes and hands him a bottle of red vinegar from the counter and Kraglin eagerly twists the top off, flicking a handful of salt into bottle before downing a third of it in a single breath. Peter grimaces.

 

Growing up here was rough before Yondu learned the fine art of cooking for the human palate. Until then, everything had tasted like swamp water and battery acid. Not, he thinks, getting up to peer at the kettle of soup simmering on the ancient stove, that he’s improved a whole lot. Christ.

 

At least it won’t kill him.

 

Probably.

 

“What do you know about sirens?” he asks Kraglin idly, as they watch reruns of Bonanza on public broadcasting. This tv is from the era when the television barely existed – basic cable is not a thing.

 

“Like…actual sirens or like…the human idea of sirens?” Kraglin answers slowly.

 

“Uh…there’s a difference?”

 

Kraglin sighs, a familiar sound of long-suffering the echoes throughout years of childhood and adulthood, whenever Quill starts trying to grill him for information about the parts of the world he doesn’t understand. “Yeah. Big difference, actually. The Greeks, for some reason, thought they had bird parts. Probably mixed them up with Harpies.”

 

“Definitely not that kind,” Peter says, shaking his head.

 

“Okay, then we’re talking about real sirens. They’re always girls, which might be why the early Greeks confused them with Harpies. They’re…um, they’re the daughter of a mermaid and a male forest fey – kind of the opposite of the dryads.”

 

“Dryad?”

 

“Yeah, dryad. Tree nymphs. They’re a child of a merman and a female forest fey – they’re more common than sirens because…” He grimaces. “Mermaids are usually pretty violent toward their male partners. They don’t usually kill them, but most men won’t willingly go to their bed if they’re in their right mind.”

 

“So you’ve never seen one?”

 

“Hell no.” Kraglin’s eyes widen comically. “I’d like to.”

 

“Why? I thought they were dangerous. Don’t they lure sailors to their deaths?”

 

“You’re thinking of the Greeks again,” he scolds, belching inelegantly before taking another swig of vinegar. “No, real sirens don’t lure sailors anywhere. But – and this is a very important ‘but’ – you shouldn’t ever make a siren angry with you.”

 

“Like a huldra?” Huldra were the female members of the huldrefolk – unlike Kraglin, a huldra would be incredibly beautiful by any human’s standard. Someone who was nice to them might be granted some small help or token of luck, like a lucky penny or passing a math test they were nervous about. Someone who’d been rude to them might break their ankle or experience a week of misfortunes.

 

No.” Kraglin was uncharacteristically somber. “An angry huldra can give you a really bad case of crabs or make your car keep breaking down for no reason, Quill. An angry siren is going to rip your heart out of your chest cavity and eat it.”

 

There is a long pregnant pause as Peter blinks at the television, trying to absorb that statement. “…literally?”

 

Very.” Stretching back in his chair, Kraglin puts his boots on the coffee table. “Sirens are special, Quill. They have a…a power. They see the truth of things.”

 

“So they’re Seers?” He didn’t think the siren had much in common with Toni. Peter couldn’t speak to her, of course, but she seemed a lot more consistently aware of her environment. “That’s doesn’t seem that interesting.”

 

After meeting Toni Stark in person, Peter isn’t certain any person claiming to be a fortune-teller will ever be able to impress him again.

 

“No. Yes. They can’t see the future, you little shit. But they can see you.” He throws his hands up. “Get Dad to explain it to you, for fuck’s sake.”

 

Peter glances out the window, vibrating with excitement as he realizes that he can barely see the sun through the forest far beyond the beachline. Hopping out of his seat, he grabbed two beers from the rattling refrigerator and settles down to wait on the steps of the porch.

 

As soon as the sun sank below the horizon, the last orange flickers of light fading away, Yondu shimmered back into existence in the front garden just beyond the gate. That was the way of the Svartalfar – the black elves – they did not exist in the human world until after the last light of day.

 

The nearly black shade of blue that makes up Yondu’s skin causes his vermillion eyes to be especially striking. Peter thinks back on Louhi, the elf woman kept in the research base. If they’ve figured out a way to capture a succubus, a banshee, and a siren, maybe they’ve discovered a way to make one of the Svartalfar appear during the daylight?

 

“Back already, boy?”

 

Peter huffs. “You could at least pretend to miss me.”

 

“Knew you’d wander back,” Yondu grunts dismissively. “You always come back. Sooner or later.”

 

“I’m…not sure that I can come back,” Peter says slowly. “At least not for a while.”

 

Away from the dark cages and sterile white hallways, he is beginning to comprehend the terrible thing his father wants to do in that building. Presumably, he is supposed to impregnate one of the women in the cages. Against their will? Against his, maybe? He’s not certain how far his father’s willing to take this.

 

And how does he expect Peter to survive a mating with one of them? He looks every bit like an ordinary human – as far as he can tell he’s never displayed any sign of whatever power his mother possessed. Mantis said the succubus would drain his body of all energy and leave him nothing but a lifeless husk. What would the banshee or the snow elf to do him? What could his siren do?

 

“Why? I told ya before, ain’t nothing to find,” Yondu grumbles, clipping Kraglin on the back of the head as he moves through the living area. “Best to go back to fishing with the rest of us, boy.”

 

“But that’s the thing, Yondu. I found him.”

 

It’s tough, but he has to resist the urge the hide or cower at the look his foster father gives him. “Is that so?” he sneers. “Proud of that, are you?”

 

“No,” he can barely get the word out, his throat feels so dry. He sounds small and scared, like a child. “What was my mother, Dad?”

 

The decision to say it is calculated, but true. Peter is making a point here. Finding his biological father has not changed anything this house.

 

Yondu gives him a him a gimlet stare. “You think you’re pretty clever, don’t you?” He shakes his head. “Shit. Find us some more beer, boy. This ain’t a conversation to have sober.”

 

“Alright, so, it’s like this – your daddy sent me to find you, just like I told you. But he told me yer mama was dead – told me his poor baby was all alone and I needed to go and get ya, so’s you could come live with him.”

 

“Yondu…Mom is dead. Isn’t she?”

 

“That’s right. When I started lookin’ for you though, she was still alive. But she was feelin’ poorly and all, and my nose started itching the way it does when somethin’ ain’t right – so I talked to yer mama. Meredith said yer daddy was some rich human asshole that kept mythfolk in cages like pets, trying to studying their DNA and doing…weird things in there. Giving a witch the fetal cells of a vampire and forcing her to give birth to it. Putting a werewolf in heat in a cell with an incubus. Injecting a zombie with different cell strands. Strange things. Unnatural things. She didn’t want you anywhere near that, and ran away with you. But she knew he’d found her, and she was dying. Made me promise to take you anywhere but back to him.”

 

“So you kept me.”

 

Yondu shrugs. “You were a useful. A little bastard, but I suppose I don’t mind a bit of that.”

 

They look away from each other. That is about as demonstrative as Yondu ever gets. Peter finds that it doesn’t bother him as much now. It’s better than his biological father’s effusive – and insincere – affection.

 

“You still didn’t answer me. What kind of mythfolk was Mom? Don’t I have some kind of power?”

 

Yondu eyes him, the look that questions whether Peter is fucking with him. “Ya still got that fiddly thing yer mama gave ya? That plays music?”

 

Peter’s hand goes automatically to the messenger bag sitting at his hip (“Shut up, you ugly little goblin, it’s NOT a purse!”). “Yeah. Of course. It’s all I have of her.”

 

“And you’re telling me ya never wondered why the beach here is always clear?” he asks, making a sweeping gesture out toward the window. “Why ya think swimming is a terrific idea, even a week before Christmas?”

 

“That was ONE time!”

 

“But ya lived, Pete! Ya lived, and a real human boy wouldn’t have last ten minutes.” He stares at him, the quiet hint of genuine sympathy on his face that Peter finds deeply unsettling. “You’ve really never wondered why there’s no trash on this beach and we always have money, no matter how hard the fishing season is? Why our catches are better than any other boat in the harbor?”

 

“I just thought…no…” he says, in a tiny voice. “…I didn’t really think about it. I…just thought it was the way things were.”

 

“No, dummy. Normal boys don’t swim in December, the beach ain’t this clear anywhere else, sometimes the fish just don’t bite, and luck ain’t that easy to come by. Unless ya can bring the fish and the fortune yerself.”

 

“But how could I do that without knowing?”

 

“Ya don’t know it, Peter. It just is. Ya do it with yer heart, not yer head. Yer mama was a Nøkken, boy. A Nix. The singing water-guardian bound to rivers and lakes. And so are you.”

Chapter Text

“How do I seduce a siren?”

 

Yondu does an actual double take. “You don’t. Idiot boy, haven’t a taught you a thing? Ain’t no woman in the mythfolk you can trick with your dick and expect to get out alive. And besides that…” He grimaces. “Pete, you might be the greatest Nix ever born and you couldn’t do that. All mythfolk are beyond mortal. Sirens, and the things like them – the phantoms, succubi, incubi, and demigods – they’re beyond immortal.”

 

“Okay, see, you can’t just say that and not explain yourself,” Peter says pointedly. “I already know they can see your…heart’s greatest desire, or something?”

 

He sighs, aggravated. “That’s the least of what they can see. Just by seeing your face, she’ll know the thing you want most in life. The sound of your voice can tell her your wishes and fears. Sing her a song, and she’ll know the path of your destiny. It’s why so many people what to meet one and fear it, too. In an instant, she’ll have everything she needs to destroy you. But if you give her a good song and treat her with respect, she might be kind enough to give you a piece of that destiny.”

 

“Alright, let me rephrase that, then: how do I win her?”

 

Yondu studies him, rather severely. “You’re talkin’ serious here, aren’t you? You’re telling me you actually want to win the favor of a sea-seer.”

 

“Yes, Dad.” He meets his eyes steadily. “I think it might be my destiny.”

 

Yondu swears under his breath, in the language of Svartalfari, the shadows around the house growing thicker at his voice. “You’re gonna need a better handle on those powers, boy. Drawing dumb luck to yourself is only gonna get you so far. And you’re gonna need a song.”

 

Patting the messenger bag again, Peter grins faintly. “I’m a Nix. I’ve always got a song.”

 

“Well, you’re short on brains, but I can’t say you lack guts.” Yondu grabs him by the arm before he can walk away. “You’d better know what you want, Peter. What you really want. Or she will kill you. Maybe not with her hands, but you’ll be a dead man either way.”

 

It took no small amount of fast-talking on his part, but that had never been a problem for Peter. Eventually his father agreed to allow him into some of the enclosures where he was keeping the women. Not all of them. Just the succubus, Toni, the banshee and the siren – all the women who were restrained or possessed only normal human strength. Bet you’re hoping I get handsy with ‘em too, don’t you, you sick fuck?

 

Still, he wasn’t dumb enough to start with the siren and the banshee. Unlike the succubus, the siren and the banshee could both see him, and the banshee did not seem enthusiastic about him approaching, even as the siren watched him with a sort bored, weary curiosity.

 

So he decided to test his new skills on someone less likely to butcher him if made some kind of mistake.

 

Toni sits on her cot in the dark, lounging carelessly as she watches him set down his supplies. She is the only one here who, as far as he can tell, possesses no more power than her gift of Sight. Of course, that’s power enough.

 

Lips twitching upward as he enters the room, Toni says “Peter, my weeper. You’ve learned to read and spell!”

 

“Thanks for the hint,” he agrees in a whisper, cautiously watch the pair of staffers talking across from Toni’s cage.

 

“Have you come help me prepare for the ball?” she asks, entirely serious, though her eyes are laughing at him. “Sing me a song of six-pence? Remember, Peter, you only have until midnight!”

 

Peter scratches the back of his neck. “I’m gonna try,” he admits, feeling foolish. At least the worst Toni can do is laugh at him. Louhi could probably strangle him with his own guts. “…can I get another hint?”

 

Toni hums. “You have your fiddle, Johnny, and we’re not short on devils. All you need is a song. Mama gave you all you’ll need. But choose wisely: the right song to the right devil. A lock needs a key.”

 

“I’ll..think about that.” Peter gestures to the chair, picking up his supplies again. Basin. Shampoo. Conditioner. Towels. Hand cream. Nail clippers. Polish. Comb. Hair brush.

 

“You did this for your mother,” she says dreamily. “When she was dying. And you sang to her. It did help, in case you were wondering. It couldn’t save her, obviously, but she didn’t feel the pain of it.”  

 

Peter freezes.

 

He hadn’t realized – well, of course Peter knew he’d done that, but he hadn’t made the conscious choice to sing to his mother then and he didn’t make the conscious decision to reenact it now. He begins to hum a few distracted bars, flipping a towel around her shoulders.

 

He combs his fingers through her dark hair, concentrating hard before testing it out, “I am a linemen for the…”

 

Toni jerks her head to the side, a strong twitch, but he almost doesn’t need her to tell him. Peter can feel that it’s the wrong choice. He’d picked it because the melody was soothing and he was trying to relax her, but this isn’t the right way. He can’t explain how or why he knows, but he does. He lets himself get distracted again, wetting her hair with warm water and combing shampoo through the lank strands. He starts humming again without even noticing.

 

My sweet Lord. Oh my Lord. My sweet Lord…”

 

It’s really repetitive, which should be annoying, but Peter keeps his mind ultra-focused on his task. His hands remember this, long after his mind had forgotten.

 

I really wanna be with you…” He thinks of nothing in particular, just moves through the steps of giving care, remembering…patience. Remembering love. Remembering his mother. He doesn’t really concentrate on the words – they don’t matter, not this time. Instead he continues to think of his mother and his connection to her. Of Toni, sitting in this cell for months by herself, half-mad, her only contact to the outside world people who treat her like an asset or an animal.

 

When he’s rinsed the conditioner thoroughly enough, he wraps her wet hair in the towel. It’s not cold here, but it isn’t warm either and Toni doesn’t have the level of protection to the elements that he does. He clips her nails, polishes them with extreme care. “I’d like to go with you...”

 

He thinks about her…prophecy? Prediction? The certainty that she would be taken away from here, probably by force. The certainty that he couldn’t help her – that he shouldn’t help her, even, from being taken. “It won’t be your fault, Peter,” she murmurs, sounding exhausted for the first time since he’s met her. He pauses, half hugging her around the shoulders. “Whatever happens to me next is an event that has been set in motion by circumstances that occurred long before you were born. Maybe before I was born. No matter what any of us did, he would always be coming for me, and I would always be unable to stop him.”

 

Peter is silent for one of the longest minutes of his life. “Will he kill you? Am I ever going to see you again?”

 

Toni reaches up and gently squeezes his forearm. “I can’t tell you that, Peter, because I don’t know. That part of my future keeps changing.”

 

“If you…if you figure it out, can you tell me, please? Even if it’s…bad.” If his mother’s death had taught him anything, it was that it was better to have a goodbye. Even if it was terrible, even if it was one of the worst memories of his life. Having some kind of farewell was better than an empty space.

 

“If the time comes, I’ll tell you. I promise.”

 

Peter spends a week practicing before he decides that he can’t put it off any longer. Yondu was right – the trick to making it work is that he can’t put too much thought into it. If he tries to work his powers using his brain, all his spells are garbage – Toni’s words, not his.

 

But he needs to go to her. In the same instinctive way he knows when a song is wrong, he knows that he can’t stay away from her.

 

That being said, he did think about what he could give her in there. What she needed more than anything.

 

Mantis, his father’s terrified and timid assistant, actually begs him not to go into their cell as he’s looking over their papers. The banshee’s name is Nebula, apparently, and his siren is called ‘Gamora’.

 

He’s going to start with the banshee first. Nebula doesn’t like him, he can tell, but he’s hoping that her attitude toward him will soften.

 

Now that he’s in the room with them, he can see the blood dried onto the manacles around their wrists. Shit.

 

“Mr. Quill, they are –”

 

“I don’t wanna hear it,” he snaps. “Find me some gauze and ointment. Now.”

---

Gamora twists in her bindings, turning to watch him as he approaches Nebula, who tries to keep him in her eyeline wherever he moves. What is the idiot doing?

 

I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you,” he croons gently, his eyes on the cement floor, head bowed submissively. A wave of warm safety follows in the wake of his voice. What…what is he?


Keep your electric on me, babe. Put your ray gun to my head…”

 

I am not a threat.

 

Both women jerk hard, chains rattling violently around their knees as both of them jump with surprise. Undeterred, he murmurs, “Press your space face close to mine, love. Freak out in a moonage daydream, oh yeah.”

 

I will not hurt you.

 

His voice weaves Nebula into a soft fluffy blanket of safety. Gamora stares at her sister in tense weariness, watching the boy clean her arms with a sponge, washing away the blood and dedicating himself to the tedious task of wrapping her wrists beneath the manacles, keeping the metal off her skin – the manacles are especially hard for Nebula to endure. Since banshees are creatures both undead and made from dark magic, the pure iron of the cuffs burn her. She bleeds less than Gamora, but it hurts her more.

 

Gamora shifts, pulling on her own cuffs to keep them in her sights, fists clenching. As old as she is, she has no words for how unsettling it is to watch him tending to Nebula – he could do anything to her sister. Decapitate her, torture her…take Nebula away from her. And Gamora would be helpless to stop him.

 

She hates it.

 

But he doesn’t do any of those things – instead he cleans and bandages Nebula’s arms, her body language more and more relaxed.

 

Then the song is over, and she realizes that he is moving toward her. He is some sort of song-spirit, some kind of kindred to her people, though Gamora doesn’t know what kind he is, exactly. Not like her, not one of the merfolk, he looks too human.

 

There’s a port on a western bay, and it serves a hundred ships a day…” Her head hangs forward, his fingers slipping through the brightly colored strands.

 

In the east, the humans believe in something called ‘the red string of fate’, which ties two souls together. They are tied together as surely as any two people are and if there is such a thing as this red thread, he is pulling on it right now, a strange tugging in her lower belly as he bandages Gamora’s wrists too.

 

There’s a girl in this harbor town, and she works layin’ whiskey down…”

 

My name is Peter Jason Quill, and I am a Nix.

 

Your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea…”

 

I am your Nix.

 

Goddess above, his bewitchment works better on her than it did on Nebula – and Gamora grabs his arm, tough black nails gouging his skin to keep him from moving away. If she cannot keep him here with her voice, she will force him to stay with her hands. The boy gains a few notches in her estimation when he hisses but not only endures her grip, he puts an arm around her waist. “He came on a summer’s day, bringing gifts from far away.”

 

Please accept my song, Gamora. Take my voice.

 

Her knees are trembling beneath her, of all shameful things. His voice pulls and pulls at her, Gamora’s body glowing with an aching warmth. What is this pelvic sorcery?

 

“Mmmm!” she growls, anger blossoming anew at her enforced silence. Peter shudders and twitches at the strength of her grip. But he doesn't break away from her.

 

But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea.”

 

She gasps behind the mask, his voice plunging her into the cool embrace of her birthplace, into the waiting arms of the ocean.

 

She could feel the ocean fall and rise, she saw its raging glory.”

 

Somehow, he could conjure the waves lapping at her legs, the brine-filled wind slapping her in the face. Gamora felt her knees collapsing beneath her and he follows her to the floor, her nails still attached to his skin. He would never withstand the mating rituals her mother described, but Gamora was confident he could endure a few proper bites.

 

Stroking her hair adoringly, he murmurs, “My life, my lover, my lady is the sea…”

---

“It was awesome,” Peter tells Toni dreamily, engaged in the hypnotic motion of brushing out her hair. He shows her the thick bandage on his forearm. “When she broke the skin, I thought I was gonna pass out, but I totally stayed conscious the whole time and finished the entire song.”

 

“Peter learned to read and spell,” Toni agrees with a laugh. “I think he’ll keep her very well.”

 

He stays and eats lunch with Toni – she’s also the only person Peter’s allowed to visit who has human requirements like food – but in the middle of the meal she stiffens abruptly, dropping her glass so that it shatters on the floor around her feet.

 

“Toni, what the hell?!” He yelps as she grabs him right over the bandage.

 

“We will meet again someday, Peter Quill,” she breathes. “I have seen it now – in a place far away from here, you will see me again. The sky will be filled with thousands of stars and we will each be surrounded by new friends.”

 

He smiles widely, elated. “That’s fantastic-!”

 

Then Toni punches him in the stomach and Peter falls off his chair as the wall of her cell shatters, an enormous shard of glass slicing through the air where his head used to be.

 

“Stay,” she hisses, her dark eyes wide with fear as he groans in pain on the floor. Her skin seems bleached of color, like bone. “Stay down. Peter is only a rabbit and the wolf is so, so hungry. Best to give him a lamb…”

 

“Toni…no…” She squeezes his hand, fingers laced with his.

 

His voice dies as the murky dust raining from the ceiling clears and a figure walks through the haze.

 

‘The wolf’ is a tall, heavily muscled man dressed in the dark tactical leathers of a soldier in active combat. His left arm is a creation of metal plating covered in runes, and his hair hangs, brown and limp, into his face. His pale eyes have the unholy, feverish glow of someone under a Thrall.

 

Peter watches, horrified, as the stranger’s eyes lock on Toni with single-minded focus. Whoever his master is, he or she wants Toni real bad. Glass and rubble crunch below his heavy black boots as he stomps forward. Her other arm is already raised, waiting for him to lift her.

 

We will meet again

 

He has nothing but his faith in Toni that she will survive, but he has to trust her or the soldier might maim or even kill her.

 

Peter swallows down the bile rising at the back of his throat as her fingers slip away from his grip when he lifts her, without any resistance, up into his arms, tossing her over his shoulder with no more effort than he’d use to lift a pillow. Toni is dwarfed against his massive bulk, her legs dangling uselessly in midair beside his belt.

 

She looks childlike, small and helpless in his arms.

 

Peter has to clench his fingers around handfuls of glass to stop himself from leaping up to stop him.

 

She is still looking at Peter over one broad shoulder as the soldier takes her away.

Chapter Text

There are questions, of course – Peter was the only person present when Toni’s cell was breached and she was captured, but obviously, he couldn’t really give any more details than the other staff members who’d seen the soldier who took her away. He was big, muscular, military, with a metal arm and dark hair. He had the creepy white ghost eyes of someone being controlled with a very high level Thrall but otherwise looked entirely human.

 

But there was no hint of where he’d come from or where the soldier was intending to take her. She was simply…gone.

 

Peter couldn’t think about that too long. He honestly couldn’t think about Toni too long, right now. Maybe not until he saw her again. If he saw her again. No, no he is definitely not thinking about this anymore.

 

But after ages of pointless questions, he finds Mantis waiting for him when he tries to leave the building.

 

“Got something to say?” His – possibly only – friend was kidnapped in front of him and Peter was forced to basically help it happen. He’s a little grumpy right now, so sue him.

 

“You…you need to leave,” she whispers, eyes darting down the hall. “Now. Quickly.”

 

“Yeah, what does it look like I’m doing?” he mutters carelessly, trying to brush past her again.

 

“No,” she says insistently, grabbing his arm and visibly wincing before she hastily pulls her hand away. “You need to run from here and do not come back!”

 

“What the hell are you talking about?!”

 

“Your father will find a way to trap you here if you do not run away,” she says, looking distressed as she begins wringing her hands. “You do not seem attached to a body of water the way that your mother was, but eventually he will find a way to keep you from leaving and how to harness the power of your voice.”

 

Peter jerks to a stop. “How the hell do you know that?”

 

Mantis wrings her hands more fervently. “I am…like them. Like you.”

 

Furiously, he hisses “No way, you’re a Nix?!”

 

“No, no, I am a human,” she says, chewing her lips. “I am an empath. I am able to feel emotions with touch.”

 

“And you’ve been here helping him?!” he demands, grabbing her by the shoulders to give her a harsh shake. “You’re one of us and you’ve been in here helping him this whole time!”

 

Mantis whimpers. “No, I did not know what I was – I thought my abilities were normal, and I was very young when I met him, and he was kind to me. He begin teaching me about this world when I had nowhere else to go, he was like a father to me. And then he brought me here and I realized what he was doing.” Low and pleading, she says “Please, you cannot tell him what I just told you – if he knows that I am extra-human I will also be thrown into the cages.”

 

“But you said he practically raised you, he wouldn’t-” He stops speaking, staring at Mantis’s ashen face. No, of course he would. Father sees him as nothing more than a breeding stud and he’s known Peter was his biological son the whole time. Mantis would never stand a snowball’s chance in hell. “Okay, okay. I won’t tell. But I’m not leaving, either.”

 

“Please,” Mantis whispers urgently. “There is nothing I can do for them now that they are in the cages, but I cannot let you stay and wander into one.”

 

“Couldn’t you free them?” he asks, mind suddenly firing through a dozen different plans.

 

“I have thought about it,” Mantis admits, flushed with shame. “But there is no way to open every cell at the same time – everything here is manual, not electronic. And the most powerful women have ward-spells placed over their cells.”

 

“You can’t break those?” Peter asks, a bit disappointed.

 

“I’m not actually a witch,” Mantis points out, rather glumly. “Even if I managed to free one of the women without a ward on them, she would likely kill me immediately and be captured before she could leave the building.”

 

“So I definitely need to find a way to open every cell at once,” Peter mutters under his breath, ignoring Mantis’s very alarmed expression. She is even more alarmed when Peter’s face suddenly lights up. “Ooh, I think I’m gonna need a fiddle…”

 

Fuck fiddles, Peter decides two hours later. Seriously.

 

 Fuck. Fiddles.

 

Yondu told him that a Nix’s natural instrument of choice was a fiddle, and it was true enough that Peter’s fingers seemed to understand how it worked before his brain did. But 70’s dad music wasn’t designed to be played with a fucking fiddle and every attempt at it grated on him – it didn’t matter which one he tried (and he tried all of them, every one of them on his mother’s tapes). All of them scraped over his nervous like sandpaper embedded with nails.

 

“BOY, will you cut that shit out!?” Yondu barks, he and Kraglin covering their ears. “Give it up and find a goddamn guitar already!”

 

Peter pauses to flex his fingers, calling “I thought it had to be a fiddle?!”

 

“Any instrument with strings will work, boy! Now quit trying to make my ears bleed and go find yerself a guitar!”

 

“Yes, Dad,” he answers, only half sarcastically. Well, that will certainly be harder to sneak into the building. Unless… “Hey, Dad…”

---

Despite Mantis’ nervous looks, Peter carries out his routine as normal, visiting the pair of unlikely sisters in their cell, even stepping into the succubus’ cage.

 

He tries to avoid the succubus whenever possible. Her papers say that her name is Natasha, which seems a little…common…for a semi-divine being, but who the hell is he to judge? But he does he best to make sure she isn’t bleeding in her chains like Nebula and Gamora and quickly exits the room.

 

He finds her – and everything about her – unsettling. Natasha always seems to know where he is, no matter that she can’t see him. Even when he’s outside of her cage, separated from him by layers of glass and steel, where she can’t hear or smell him, somehow she knows where Peter is at all times, as though she possesses some kind of sixth sense that tells her of his presence.

 

Like the sisters, Natasha is prevented from speaking. Peter wonders if she too has some power that requires her voice, or if it’s because they’re just so scared of her that they won’t allow her to speak – he could believe either one.

 

He’s antsy, but he won’t show it, idling around and finding tasks to do. Whatever it takes to keep himself occupied until the sun goes down.

 

At dusk the air shimmers with a strange light and right on cue, the box is dumped at the end of the hall. Mantis blinks at him, startled. Peter says “Time for the show to begin.”

 

“The show?”

 

Plugging in the amplifier and throwing the strap across his back, Peter gives her a grin over his shoulder. “You might wanna leave the building now. In fact, I actually recommend it.”

 

“What-what are you doing?”

 

“My father has the wrong idea about the current state of our relationship,” he says cheerfully, giving a single powerful note to test the guitar’s sound. Perfect. “I’m just here to correct that real quick, and then I’ll be on my way.”

 

She stares at him, speechless with surprise.

 

“Mantis, now is a good time to run.”

 

She squeaks and scrambles off at the warning, Peter reaching down to increase the volume on the amplifier before beginning his song.

 

Can’t stay at home, can’t stay in school. Old folks say, ‘you poor little fool’. Down the street, I’m the girl next door. I’m the fox you’ve been waiting for!!” Peter crows, half laughing and half sneering his song. “Hello, daddy! Hello, mom. I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! Hello world! I’m your wild girl!”

 

He words are uttered with a cackle at the back of his throat. The glass in the cell walls rattle and the floor beneath his feet begins to shake.

 

Stone age love and strange sounds, too. Come on, baby, lemme get to you. Bad nights causing teenage blues. Get down ladies, you’ve got nothing to lose!”

 

Louhi’s cell is the closest to his music and so it’s the wall that shatters first. Her smile as she leaves it is utterly terrifying and he has no doubt that whomever encounters her first will have a painful and bloody death ahead of them.

 

Hello, daddy! Hello, mom. I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! Hello world, I’m your wild girl! I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb!”

 

The glass bursts outward, Peter standing fearlessly in the middle of the explosions on the next cells in line – the young woman in a coma, the human witch, and the blond teenager should now be free. And right on cue, the witch storms from her prison, eyes ablaze with fiery scarlet light.

 

Staff members race down the hall, scrambling to contain this breach and they all scream in terror as she lifts them off their feet, throws them into walls, and sends them hurling back down the hall. The blond bursts out with her hands filled with daggers of light, smashing right through the walls of the building to carve herself a piece of the black night sky.

 

“Hey street boy, want some style? Your dead-end dreams don’t make you smile. I’ll give you something to live for. Have you and grab you until you’re sore!” Finally, at long last, the sisters and the succubus’ cells burst open and it only makes Peter sing loud, howling out each other words as the floor vibrates. “Hello, daddy! Hello, mom. I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb! Hello world, I’m your wild girl!”

 

With a loud snapping ‘clink’, chains around the succubus break open. He hears the susurrus of her wings, beating frantically against the air as they’re freed from the anchors pinning them to the floor.

 

Peter is scared, but he can’t stop playing. Not until he’s absolutely sure that Nebula and Gamora have escaped. “Cherry bomb! Cherry bomb!”

 

The shape of her is truly massive, the span of her demonic wings too large to spread out in the hall, glass crunching beneath her feet as she steps out. His fingers falter on the frets as he realizes that Natasha is walking directly toward him, membranes dragging against the ground. She is beautiful, with jade-green eyes and a face designed to lead men to their doom, and Peter is frozen in fear.

 

Gamora is a blur as she darts in front of him, coiled like a serpent. Nebula, never far from her sister, stands beside her. Peter hears her voice for the very first time, throaty and even, like a slow tide. “Quill is mine and I will not permit you to interfere with him.”

 

Natasha looks almost amused, her voice raspy and surprisingly deep. “You have not claimed him, Sea-Seer.”

 

“My statement stands.” Peter is smitten with the haughty tilt of Gamora’s chin, her careless certainty that her words are law.

 

Slyly, Natasha purrs “Perhaps I may convince him otherwise.” Her marble-green eyes stare at Peter, her intentions clear. “Your beauty is not nearly as renown as your temper. You are no equal to your cousins.”

 

A growl – a literal, actual vibration of animal anger – comes from the back of her throat, and Gamora bares sharp teeth at Natasha. The sound ripples through Peter’s body. Not quite fear, not quite lust, but neither and both at the same time. Impulsively, he barks “Hey, fuck you! Nobody talks to my girl that way!”

 

“Perhaps we may convince you to return to your homeland, Na’amah,” Nebula hisses. “With force, if necessary.”

 

“Peter!”

 

Ah, finally. His father received his message!

 

“Peter, what the hell are you doing?!!!”

 

Natasha….turns…slowly…

 

Her voice is deeper still, and despite her lips not moving, her words make his ears ring.

 

YOU. HAVE. BEEN. JUDGED. MORTAL.

 

With a sweep of wings, she picks his father up and slams him into the floor. “Oh, gross, please don’t have sex with him in front of me! Like, I know you have to eat, but seriously…!”

 

That’s when Peter realizes that his father’s body is both in front of him, still and staring unblinking and shocked at the ceiling, and also pinned beneath Natasha’s clawed hands, shrieking in terror. With another surge of her wings, she flies right through the floor.

 

His father’s body is still lying in the hallway.

 

“What…just happened?”

 

“Na’amah has fulfilled her duty,” Gamora says calmly, with a pleased quirk of her lips. His siren does not smile – she smirks. At his continued confusion, she explains “The succubi and incubi are the highest order of the legions of hell. A kind of…reverse archangel.”

 

“So she took him to…?” He points to the floor.

 

Her smirk is a full grin, wicked and filled with teeth. “Oh yes.” Eyeing him up and down, Gamora’s smile fades. “But Na’amah is correct. I have not claimed you.”

 

“Oh, I am very claimed,” Peter says, and she sees the hungry way his eyes take in her form, free of those grotesque human shackles. “I feel very, very claimed.”

 

Nebula shakes her head and sneers, addressing her sister. “No one will want him, Gamora. Na’amah was trying to goad you into a battle.”

 

He wouldn’t call her expression a pout, but it’s rather close. “He has no marks. You will not steal him, but the Jotunn is a rival…”

 

“Ah, wait you’re actually serious about that?” Peter asks, bemused. “What the hell is a Jotunn?”

 

“Louhi,” Gamora says absently. “She is a Jotunn, not a snow elf – it would be more accurate to call her a frost giant.”

 

Nebula snorts, either at his ignorance or the possibility that Louhi could be a rival, it was hard to say. “I can see that I won’t talk you out of it, but could you please hurry this along, sister?”

 

“What-what is she talking about?”

 

Despite the shaking of the earth beneath their feet, Gamora shoves him right onto the floor. “Take your pants off, Peter."

---

She could’ve taken the Thrall off him first, but that seemed like a waste of her carefully hoarded magic when she knew the real problem was his brains. Or the lack of thereof.

 

The path of James Buchanan Barnes to this exact moment in time was a winding road, twisted with brambles and thorns, and Toni could see it all laid before her, the whole long tragic story. She was very sorry to have to make him remember it, but the next part of their journey would require at least one of them to be of (mostly) sound mind, and it wouldn't be her. The spell over his body was so powerful, she knew that there would be no breaking it. She would simply have to work around that.

 

The spell left her hand as a drop of dew, the Arc Stone keeping her alive swirling and flickering with unsteady light as she expended some of its power on bringing her companion back to his senses. It hit him directly upon the face, the drop spreading over his skin like oil. She was there, panting and half-alive as he cried and screamed and mourned for the person he'd once been, the mind they'd destroyed.

 

"Stark, Stark, by the gods, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"

 

Toni was puzzled for a moment, then realized that he was referring to her parents. "Ah...I think I'll choose to forgive you for that, in light of what I'm about to do."

 

He was still staring back at her in confusion as she wrapped her skirt around the large shard of glass she'd taken from the floor and stabbed him in the neck. She cooed and stroked his hair as he bled all over her, betrayed and whimpering with shock as the blood left his body. "St-Stark..."

 

When they'd killed his mind, he'd been all alone, left to scream his agonies all by himself. Toni strokes his hair and holds him, the warm flow of blood soaking through her dress and coating her fingers, whispering reassurances to him as he leaves this world.

 

"Why...why..." he pleads, like a lost child, clinging to her tiny form as his body shivers in the shock of death.

 

Toni kisses his cheek, refusing to look away as the light leaves his eyes. "You'll only be free beyond the realm of flesh. But don't worry - I'll bring you back whole. I promise."

---

He can't say if it's the earth beneath them or just the moment she perches herself over his lap. Peter's sure he cried out when she bites him the first time, sinking her teeth into his flesh without grazing his collar bone. "Give me your desires."

 

He doesn't say yes, so much as allow the images to flood his mind, passing them through the space of shared connection.

 

"Give me your fear."

 

Gamora wonders if he knows that he's clawing at her sides, whimpering as his body surrenders quickly and his mind more gradually. The second bite is on his chest, at his ribcage. Distantly, she recalls that nicking his bones would be bad.

 

His body may be human, but his blood is not - it tastes of the brine and salt of the Atlantic, distinctive and rich, and Gamora finds it quite irresistible. The third bite is at the juncture of neck and shoulder and Peter shakes beneath her, blinded by pain and pleasure and he spills more of that brackish liquid into her body, satisfying and nourishing in a way no food ever could be to her.

 

He shivers. "That...was...Is that always going to be so intense?"

 

"Probably," she admits. "Though you will need to spend more time in the water if you want me with child."

 

Peter chokes. "Excuse me?"

 

"The...transferring of essence. I will need a hundred times more of the water from your sea if you would like me to carry a babe."

 

"I can do this a hundred times before you get pregnant?" he asks, gaping in surprise.

 

She hums "You consume less of your homewaters than a full-blooded Nix. It will take much longer to fill me with a child."

 

Peter chokes on air, her mind filling his with a sudden vision of her standing on the shore of the beach where he grew up, the Atlantic lapping at her full belly, her vibrant hair curling in the breeze. Her mouth curves into a knowing smile as he twitches, still buried within her, hands pressing tightly into her hips. "I think-yeah, yeah, I think I could manage that."