Mar-Vell sat up slowly, back aching from the too-thin mattress she slept on. Blank white walls, floor and ceiling greeted her, as they had for... how long had it been, now? She hated to admit she was losing track of the time that had passed since her plans on Terra had been discovered and foiled, and she'd been brought here as a captive. But, aside from the two meager meals she received per day, delivered through a slot in the door that opened only to slide the tray through, there was nothing and no-one to help her mark the passage of time. Upon waking in this cell, she had been told, via a temporary link to the Intelligence, that she had been judged guilty of treason in absentia, and was to be detained indefinitely at Its pleasure. Which meant, like as not, she would rot in here for the rest of her life.
To keep despair from crushing her, she resorted to one of her rituals, listing reasons to keep fighting, people she needed to atone for. “Talos, Soren, their people, the thousands of Skrulls I had a hand in the death of, Carol....” The thought of that brilliant, vivacious young Terran, dead because of Mar's dragging her into this war, the latest in a series of deaths on her conscience, choked her up, and she pushed Carol from her mind, or tried to. Instead, she let earlier, somewhat happier thoughts fill her mind. Thoughts of a time that was both happier, and more terrifying than anything she had known before... when she had fallen in love, and dared to think, to dream that she could be happy, that she could leave her people behind and start anew... A smile played on her lips as she recalled how it had all started.
Mar fought the urge to grimace as the tight, heeled shoes she was wearing, paired with the ridiculously ostentatious gown she had been given to wear to this gala, sent another pulse of pain through her feet. The gala was being held at the Shi'ar embassy on Chandilar, a biannual celebration of the peace between the Shi'ar and the Kree. Many other races also attended- it was, essentially, a gathering of the rich, famous and well-dressed. Blue Kree clad in elaborate tunics or gowns mingled with bird-like Shi'ar, their feathered plumes styled in fantastic ways. There were also pink Krylorians, dressed in bright shocks of neon-colored fabric, and even a handful of Xandarians- Nova Corps, no doubt, present at the Shi'ar's request, despite the ongoing feud between them and the Kree. A gala like this demanded a truce from all attendees.
Mar would have gotten out of coming here if she could. She hated this sort of event. Rubbing her bare arms to ward off the chill of the cooling evening, she glanced around. The gala was being held outdoors, so everything was basked in the red haze of Chandilar's setting sun. Everyone else here seemed to be enjoying themselves, huddled in groups sipping fine wine, talking and laughing, or listening to the light, almost ethereal music that wafted over the party from some concealed sound system. Lights in the trees twinkled merrily, and the decorations of living flowers lent a festive, natural air to the gathering. It was beautiful, and relaxing. And Mar was bored out of her mind. She was the only Pink Kree here, and had warranted an invite only because the Shi'ar Majestor (who was currently deep in conversation with Tanalth, a young Blue Kree Accuser) had wanted to meet the Kree behind the majority of their latest inventions, many of which he had bought for his own people's use. She had been introduced, briefly, then left to her own devices. Leaving, however, would be viewed as an insult to the host.
Sighing heavily, she toyed with the idea of actually getting drunk- she hated resorting to that, always worried she would make a fool of herself while intoxicated, but it seemed appealing now, if only so she could get through the next few hours without dying of boredom.
Out of nowhere, a slender wine glass filled with clear fizzing liquid was placed into her hand. She gripped it instinctively, turning to see a tall man, (a beautiful man, her mind noted), about her age, with a shock of startling red hair and twinkling green eyes standing next to her. He smiled, and for a second she was dazzled, forgetting to breathe. Mentally shaking herself, she attempted to smile back, but was worried it came out looking strange. (And why was she worried anyway? She didn't know this man, and she certainly wasn't here to find a partner!) Tearing her eyes from his face, cursing herself for blushing, she eyed the drink instead. “Thank you...” She spoke tentatively, not wanting him to think that accepting a drink from a stranger meant anything other than good manners. Thinking back, she did remember seeing him when she'd arrived here- he had been accompanied by two other young women at the time, a tall statuesque blonde and a sultry looking black-haired temptress. That recollection toughened her up enough to speak again. “What happened to your other friends, the ones I saw you with earlier?”
He arched a brow, but his grin widened, making him even more attractive. “Oh, you mean Thena and Sersi.” He chuckled, and the sound of it made Mar join in as well. “They're my cousins, that's all. I'm playing escort for the evening.”
“Oh.” Mar looked away, trying to think of what to say that didn't either make her sound foolish, or relieved to learn that. She was not relieved. Whether or not he had a partner was nothing to do with her. A stunningly good looking man like this would not want anything to do with her, short in stature, brown-haired and with nothing remotely beautiful about her. She swallowed hard. “Thanks for the drink. Oh, hold on, I already said that...” She could have kicked herself. She'd dealt with flirtatious Kree males in the army for years, fending them off with ease, so why was she acting like a fool now?
His smile, which was so bright it should have been obnoxious, but somehow wasn't, gentled a little. “You're welcome. It just occurred to me that such a lovely woman shouldn't be standing at a party as if it were a funeral. I thought I'd introduce myself, see if you wanted some company.” He glanced around at the other partygoers. “These affairs can be dull if you don't have a friend with you.”
It was her turn to raise an eyebrow. “A friend, hmm? Odd, since I don't recall meeting you before tonight.”
His eyes met hers again. “Does that mean you don't want me as a friend?” He put his free hand on his chest. “I'm wounded.” The gleam in his eyes was more noticeable now, as if he was enjoying the verbal banter.
Only then did Mar notice that his right hand was still grasping hers, where he'd handed her the wineglass. Now color did flood to her face, and she tugged her hand free quickly. He must think she was an idiot, holding onto his hand like that! He jumped a little at the sudden movement, almost as if he too had forgotten their hands were joined. Mar dismissed that straight away. If he had kept hold of her, it wasn't because he felt comfortable holding her hand to not have noticed, it was simply him trying to make her look less stupid.
He released her from his eyes, raising his own glass as if he were toasting her, before taking a sip and winking.
Mar was sure, now, that her face was as red as his hair, and she ducked her head, trying to hide her expression from him. Snap out of it! She told herself silently. Here was someone who, for some crazy reason, seemed to possibly like her, and she was acting like an utter imbecile, who'd barely said two complete sentences!
She could feel his eyes on her though, even though she wasn't looking at him. Come on, she pleaded silently, Just get fed up and leave so I don't act any more foolish, and I can relive this later, and dream about what might have been... That was the usual routine, if someone she genuinely liked showed interest in her- they would talk, the person would become bored and leave, and she would have to resort to fantasies about how things could have been, if she weren't so dull.
Instead, his arm slid through hers, like he intended to escort her somewhere. “Have you ever seen the gardens of the Majestor's palace?”
Without his beautiful face and intense eyes melting her brain, Mar found she could relax and answer properly. “No, I've never been to Chandilar before. But I thought those gardens were off limits to everyone except royalty?”
He laughed, already leading her away. “There's no harm in having fun, is there? And nobody will miss us.”
Relaxed, and going along with him, though she wasn't sure why, Mar nodded. “I suppose not...” She knew, in some detached way, that they shouldn't be doing this. They would get caught, and then she (and him as well, most likely) would get into a lot of trouble for trespassing where common folk weren't permitted to go. Yet she went along with him, letting him lead her. Something about him was reassuring, as if nothing could go wrong in his presence. It was as if happiness radiated from him, and she couldn't bring herself to question it.
“Did you know the Majestor has one of the biggest collections of inter-world flora in this quadrant?” Her new friend began as they walked away from the party. “He even has his gardeners working on interbreeding native Chandilar flowers with species from other worlds. Not sure what the point of it all is, but some of his specimens are beautiful.”
Mar was intrigued. “Interbreeding flowers could produce hardier species, and with the right combination, new medicines or foods could be sourced from them.”
“I suppose,” he concurred. “If the hybrids were viable enough, and if there was a market for them.” He turned down a passageway, 'fenced' by overgrown trees, ducking to avoid getting leaves in his hair. “I've offered to help. I have experience in genetic manipulation, and encouraging new cells to thrive, but the Majestor is very protective of his prized plants.”
“You are interested in botanical science?” The words left her mouth before she really thought them through. But, really, with his typical pretty-boy handsomeness, he looked like his only interests would be in attending parties, and attracting attention. She'd assumed he was here at the gala, because of riches, and/or family or political connections. Hearing that he actually had a brain, and used it, surprised her.
“Botanical, genetic, technological... my father saw to my education, and he made sure I was well grounded in everything.” He turned a wry half-grin on her. “I'm not just a pretty face.”
“I didn't say that-”
“But you were thinking it.” He shrugged. “It's OK, everyone does. Usually, I just let them go on thinking that. It's easier than proving otherwise. Besides, I prefer having fun than burying myself in studies and labs all the time.” Something in his gaze suggested he knew he'd just described most of Mar's life.
“But... you don't mind me knowing that you're not solely focused on fun?” Mar's heart fluttered. She firmly told it to stop. She should not be flattered like this! How did she know he didn't tell hundreds of girls the same thing to win them over?
But then he stopped at a glass door, keying something in too fast for her to see, and the door clicked open, letting out a rush of warm air that smelled of earth and the mingled scent of flowers. Her companion bowed theatrically, gesturing for her to precede him into the greenhouse. The movement was so over the top that she laughed even as she stepped inside.
She gasped- the greenhouse stretched as far as the eye could see, every aisle filled with tables laden with trays. There had to be hundreds of flowers in these trays, all at various stages in their life cycles, some barely sprouting, other heavy with opened flowers, in a heady swirl of colors, more still bearing fruit... It was amazing. No Kree would have ever 'wasted' time on a project like this. They never used resources on anything that didn't have immediate results or a definite purpose.
“Beautiful, isn't it?” Her new friend remarked, coming to stand beside her.
“Yes,” Mar said, dreamily, her eyes on the incredible sight before her. “It's like a garden for the gods...”
That made him laugh softly, before turning back to her. “It's unusual to see a Kree who understands the worth of creating and preserving fragile life.”
Mar nodded. “Most of my people are more focused on conquering than nurturing.” She bit her lip. Why had she just voiced that thought aloud? Fine, she had thought it for a long time, but she'd never told anyone before! Casting about for a way to change the subject, she just blurted, “What about yours?”
He blinked. “My what?”
Again, she'd sounded like an idiot. Cursing her awkwardness- she was a genius level inventor among her people, so why couldn't she, with such a 'great' mind, have a coherent conversation with someone she liked?! She rushed to clarify what she'd meant. “Your people. Who are they? How would they view something like this?”
He hesitated, and she tried to backpedal. “It's alright, you don't have to answer if I'm prying. I was just curious about how other species view the universe as a whole. I've rarely spent time with races that aren't my own.”
“No, it's fine, it's just...” He took a deep breath. “My people are pacifists for the most part. We work to try and live in harmony, using what we have to better the lives of others. But... it's been hard for a long time, for us.” His voice had changed, no longer jovial with the constant hint of laughter. Now he sounded somber, almost sad.
Acting on instinct, Mar placed her hand on his. “What happened?” For some reason, she spoke in a soft voice. That way, she reasoned, if he didn't want to answer, he could pretend he hadn't heard her.
“Some time ago, as we reckon it, one of our people went rogue. His philosophies went against ours, so he was exiled from our world.” He paused. “He came back... for revenge. My people were decimated, our world rendered uninhabitable, the few survivors scattered to the winds. We only meet up in small groups now, keeping our heads down, not drawing too much attention to ourselves.” His voice was thick, and his gaze was on the floor, his shoulders hunched. "I miss home, but... that's just how it is."
Mar backed up, her hand on her mouth. “I... I'm so sorry, I didn't mean....” She cursed her inquisitiveness. She shook her head. “I should... go. I'll...” She couldn't think what else to say, so just got out of there quickly. She thought he might have called after her, but she only moved faster. Apologizing wouldn't make him feel better, it would only comfort her, so best to just move on now she'd ruined their conversation.
Well done! She scolded herself. This is why you don't have any friends- your big mouth gets you into trouble, all the time. She all but ran back to the party, feeling sick with guilt over having upset someone who had only been friendly towards her. She'd actually been enjoying their talk, (and his attention) until she'd put her foot in it. She blinked back tears. It didn't matter now. He wouldn't want to talk to her again, and that was for the best. She felt a stab of regret that she hadn't even gotten his name, or given him hers- how could she apologize if she didn't even know who he was? She'd just have to let it go, she realized, her heart sinking. She'd probably never see him again after she and her fellow Kree left Chandilar anyway.
Mar let a bitter smile cross her face, remembering that disastrous first meeting. Of course, it hadn't ended there... he'd been too resilient and tenacious to give up! That night though, she honestly thought she had ruined everything, and recalling how callous she had been, given what she'd learned later, still made her feel bad, even though that mistake had long been forgiven.
Her eyes stung with tears- of mixed sadness and joy- as she remembered the ludicrous way he had gone about finding her again, the next day...