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what spring is like on jupiter (and mars)

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i.

The first thing that Nick Fury told her was that the moon landings were faked.

Okay, technically, that was the second thing, after the thinly-veiled threat that if she revealed anything she was about to hear, even to someone within SHIELD, then she’d disappear in the middle of the night to be never heard from again. Anyway, the point is: very early on, before she even knew what was going to be asked of her, Sharon was informed that the moon landings were as fake as all those conspiracy theorists online wanted them to be.

The rest of the story went as follows: that mankind had made it onto the moon before the Second World War was even over, thanks to Howard Stark (at this point, Sharon crossed and recrossed her legs and thought ah, so that’s why I’m here), and by the sixties had established a not-entirely-terrible-or-fatal base on the moon, where SHIELD agents went for training in communicating with a universe that was rapidly opening up to them. More of the original series of Star Trek was based on actual events and peoples that SHIELD had met than the public can ever know; something that amuses Sharon these days, though hearing it at the time just made her grimace. But the Russians were trying for the moon, and the Cold War kept rushing on, and SHIELD found some all-American astronauts to spend a lifetime swearing they’d done something that they hadn’t, while SHIELD quietly expanded its lunar base and tried to build rockets capable of interstellar travel that wouldn’t implode and kill the crew inside.

By the nineties, SHIELD had bases established on a surprising number of planets, most of which Earth had never heard of, and had created an alliance with the Nova Corps to help them establish humans – or Terrans, as it turned out the rest of the universe called them – as a credible and influential lifeform in the wider universe. And, in the mid-noughties, when Sharon found herself sitting in a briefing room in a SHIELD helicarrier, with Nick Fury picking apart everything she’d ever known, they were expanding their operations to send even more SHIELD personnel out into the stars.

“I’m here because I’m a legacy, aren’t I,” Sharon said afterwards, when Fury had sent everyone off with hard drives full of classified information and a decision to make.

Peggy Carter’s niece. She tried to keep it secret when she first arrived, but shit like that gets out, especially in places like SHIELD; they stare at her in the halls.

“If that’s what you believe,” Fury responded, gaze steady, his eye as inscrutable as the patch beside it.

Sharon picked through her words, and found nothing that Fury would reply to. Fury measures out his truth in increments, hands it over only at the most vital of moments. Apparently, this wasn’t one.

“Can I tell my aunt where I am, if I go?” she asked.

Fury finally cracked a smile. “Who do you think recommended you for this programme in the first place?”

ii.

Peter Quill has a cramped spaceship full of dated pop culture references and unexpected explosive devices shoved in every available crevice, thanks to the psychopathic racoon part of his crew. Actually, Quill’s crew – who call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy in a way that Sharon initially thought was ironic and is now suspecting isn’t at all – are worth a dozen bemused mission reports, ones that she knows that nobody will believe. Even out here, where Earth is dismissed by the handful of peoples who have even heard of it, where alien peoples Sharon could never have tried to imagine live in their millions, Quill’s crew is considered something of a weird anomaly.

The last time that Sharon managed to get everything to work well enough to send a mission report back to the nearest SHIELD base, her superior laughed at her and refused to believe any of it, even when Sharon pointed out that the mess with Ronan last year was very well documented: the walking tree/talking racoon thing is definitely real, not her trying to brighten up what would’ve otherwise been a pretty boring report. Sharon doesn’t pass on much of her life – enough to prove to Earth that she’s safe, and intel on any new races she meets – because yes, she came out here to learn about the wider universe for Earth, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone needs to know about the alien alcohol she drank last night, or what it’s like to accidentally-on-purpose kiss someone with three tongues.

Quill isn’t the first person from Earth Sharon’s met out here, but he’s still enough of a rarity that she wants to linger, and he’s got enough questions for her that he doesn’t seem to mind her hanging around. His crew either don’t mind her presence, or don’t care enough to voice an objection. They’re a confusing selection of beings, and Sharon has spent the last couple of days briefly wondering why they haven’t all killed one another yet, since all of them have proven themselves capable of actual murder.

“Hey,” Quill protests, “I’m, like, manslaughter at worst. And Drax doesn’t murder people-”

“I destroy them,” Drax agrees, nodding his head. “That is why they call me Drax the Destroyer.”

“I am Groot,” Groot says.

“What Groot said,” Rocket says, “we didn’t kill nobody who wasn’t already dead when we got there, probably.”

“And Gamora’s an assassin,” Quill adds, “so she actually assassinates people.”

“‘Murder’ is as good a word as any,” Gamora says placidly, from where she’s sharpening a knife at the other end of the table.

Gamora is probably the least easy person to get a handle on here, and Sharon is including the sentient tree who can’t say more than three words in that assessment. SHIELD taught her a lot about reading people, and she’s learned a lot more out here on her own, where the only thing keeping her from getting killed and possibly actually eaten is her ability to learn cultural nuances as quickly as she can, but Gamora gives off little that Sharon can analyse.

Well, maybe that’s not completely true, but Sharon won’t be sending in a report about the sweeping grace of Gamora’s limbs, the startling shade of her skin that shifts under different lighting, the way her mouth curls like she’s the only one in on a joke that you wouldn’t understand even if it were explained to you, something bitter caught there in the corners of her lips. Sharon has a lot of thoughts about all of the above, but they’re not for anyone else to have.

iii.

Today, a man spat at Gamora in the street. She ducked in time, had moved before Sharon had any idea what was happening, and said nothing at all. She ignored the words thrown after her in a language Carter didn’t understand, jaw tightening, head held high. Drax raised his arm, and Groot twisted around, but Quill waved a discreet hand and they both relaxed a little, allowing Gamora to stride ahead, hips swaying like knife edges.

Sharon knows enough about Gamora to know not to bring it up again, not to ask for more details. The rest of the day passes with no more than a few double-takes in their direction, and those could equally be for Rocket or Groot. If they bother Gamora, she doesn’t let it show, but then that’s not exactly something unusual: Sharon’s still learning to read the minutiae of her facial expressions, and it seems like the others aren’t much more expert than she is. Sharon frowns an enquiry at Quill before they go for dinner, and he gives a helpless shrug in return.

“Holy shit!” Quill leans back in his chair, swiping a hand over his face. They’re in what feels like the space version of a diner, the walls shimmering between different holograms, the music twisting around them: it’s a beautiful to look at, but the food’s fairly indifferent. Not that this seems to bother Rocket, who’s eaten four of the Mystery Special Platters so far and is negotiating with their mouthless waitress for a fifth, or Drax, who is drinking something startlingly pink in colour. “Holy shit, you’re Peggy Carter’s niece!”

Part of what Sharon liked about space was that this didn’t come up anymore. She musters up a sheepish smile, and tucks her hair behind her ear.

“She famous?” Rocket asks, finally raising his head from his new Mystery Special Platter, blue sauce dripping off his chin. “In a way that’s worth stuff to us?”

“No,” Sharon corrects him swiftly. “Shut down that not-actually-a-ransom-demand plan immediately, it won’t work.”

“I am Groot,” Groot says to Rocket, in a way that might be slightly reproachful.

“It needed checking!” Rocket protests, and buries his face back in his dinner.

“Your aunt’s a legend,” Peter says, oblivious to everyone else. “Damn, girl.”

Sharon kicks him under the table.

Later, she watches the stars through the somewhat smoky atmosphere of this particular planet, and idly lists Things Or Beings She Would Kill In Exchange For An Ice Cold Beer Right Now. Those weren’t the things they prepared them for before they left Earth: they had training courses for missing family, friends, and all that’s familiar, but they didn’t tell them how fucking much they’d miss the food. Sharon’s eaten some of the most amazing things since leaving the solar system, but she’s pretty sure she’d trade it all in for a tub of Ben & Jerry’s in a heartbeat. Maybe she’ll mention that in her next report home.

“So, you’re famous on your planet?” Gamora moves soundlessly, even while wearing heels that Sharon could never walk in, expression a little more relaxed than it’s been in days.

“Not quite,” Sharon says, shifting to make room for Gamora to sit beside her. Gamora moves with an easy dignity and grace that she could never hope to emulate; even now, Sharon isn’t sure which parts are natural, and which parts have been created for her by Thanos. Gamora probably doesn’t even know. “My aunt is… well, part of a cultural legend, I suppose.”

Gamora raises an eyebrow, enough of a question for Sharon to have to figure out how to explain the Second World War to someone largely unfamiliar with Earth, except for the pina coladas and getting caught in the rain aspect. She stumbles over some of it, trying to work in words from other world dialects that she thinks will fill in details for Gamora, who has no idea what Nazis are, trying to tell it as most humans know it, instead of the story her aunt told her when Sharon was old enough to hear it, the one where her mouth thinned and she gazed into the distance while her fingers clenched in her lap.

There’s silence once she’s finished, and Sharon wonders whether she’s bored her, the tangle of lives light years away that are mostly finished and gone now. Quill, is different: Sharon suspects that he was the kind of boy who played with the cheap plastic Captain America figurines when he was a child, he brings a set of emotions with him. But Gamora… how could she stay interested by something that seems so petty from this distance?

“So your Captain America was genetically altered to fight for justice and freedom?” Gamora asks at last, not looking at Sharon.

“Yeah,” Sharon agrees, and watches Gamora’s profile as she swallows, head dipping forward as she nods.

“He was built better to save people.” Gamora’s voice is flat, quiet, and Sharon looks at the pale shimmery scars that adorn Gamora’s skin and thinks: oh.

iv.

“This is a crime.” Quill is shaking both his head and Sharon’s iPod, doubt writ large on his face. “What have you guys done to music?”

“Made it so that a temperamental tape deck can’t chew your cassette up and spit it back out again?” Sharon responds, remembering only too well a childhood of winding shiny black tape back up with a pencil and hoping it wasn’t too creased to stop playing. How Quill’s managed to hang on to a working Walkman this long is a minor miracle, and she makes a mental note to pass that on to someone who can tell Tony Stark; he’ll just love that.

Not all of Sharon’s ship was built by Tony Stark, but a substantial amount was – the rest has been patched together by her with duct tape (it turns out that there’s nothing better made on any other planet in the galaxy) or forced to co-operate with spare parts from alien scrapyards. Sharon wasn’t that good at engineering before she left Earth, but then she had to get good, fast. It takes time for messages or objects from Earth to get to her, even with ships that are generally capable of light speed or something near it, and the upgrades or new equipment from Stark are sporadic at best. She sometimes watches the instructional videos that accompany them, at least until Stark starts waving his hands around and using phrases that only he seems to understand. So: Sharon’s technology isn’t exactly the most up-to-date, but compared to Quill’s fragile cassettes and battered headphones, she’s doing okay.

Quill rolls his eyes and hands her iPod back to her with a twist to his mouth.

“Do you have more music of Earth?” Drax asks, looking at it with a surprisingly hopeful expression. Sharon isn’t sure what Quill’s told him about the songs they listen to, given that Drax’s grasp of metaphor is still very limited.

“I do,” Sharon says, because she loaded up before she set off and still sporadically gets mp3s sent to her that she can download. She doesn’t get to choose the music, and sometimes she thinks the people picking the tracks are trolling her, but she’s got thousands of tracks compared to Quill’s side A and side B.

“What are you asking her for?” Quill asks, kicking at Drax’s chair. “I’ve got all the Earth music you need, man.”

“You have been gone from your planet for nearly three decades,” Gamora remarks softly, “I am sure that they will have created much in your absence.”

Quill scowls, but he waves a hand at Sharon.

“Fine,” he says, “go ahead. Play them something. Whatever.”

Sharon ends up letting a curious Rocket click through her iPod and select what he wants; Groot seems benevolently pleased by Lady Gaga, while Quill just scowls and pretends his fingers aren’t tapping along to Nirvana. It’s a little surreal, watching these aliens dancing to songs the creators thought would only be heard on Earth, but it’s nice, watching Groot waving his arms and branches around to The Pussycat Dolls, Gamora moving like she might shatter if she lets her shoulders relax too much, a little smile twisting over her mouth when she thinks she isn’t being watched.

“It won’t work,” Quill tells Sharon in an undertone, under the noise of Rocket investigating Rihanna. “I tried. She likes music, but…” Sharon glares at him, and he lifts his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Hey, I’m just trying to give you some advice.”

Maybe it’s good advice, and maybe Sharon shouldn’t be thinking this way about a deeply emotionally and physically damaged alien assassin whose escape from a cycle of abuse was only recent and whose worldview is warped accordingly. But she wouldn’t be living in the furthest reaches of space, away from family and friends and Starbucks, if she made a habit of listening to good advice.

And anyway, Peter Quill didn’t have Beyonce on his side.

It’s easy, almost too easy, to drift into Gamora’s orbit, a casual slide of hips and wrists and the slide of voice and beat filling the narrow ship. Drax may still be asking Quill whether putting a ring on it denotes kidnapping and slavery on Earth, but the track has changed and if Sharon doesn’t look at Gamora directly, she can feel the warmth of her body, ever so slightly hotter than a human female’s, spilling closer with every tentative swish of Gamora’s hips. For a woman who struts through her life with her head held high despite the awful truths that people shout at her wherever she goes, her dancing is different, her fingers catching at the hem of her dress every few moments like a nervous reflex.

Sharon doesn’t mean to reach for those fingers to make them stop until she does, and Gamora’s eyes are wide when Sharon forces herself to look up and meet them. There’s no shock there – if Gamora can be shocked anymore, it’ll take more than this to do it – but there’s something there, something bright and private as Gamora sways a little closer, her fingers intertwining with Sharon’s. The movement is slow, but deliberate, and certain enough for Sharon to be the one with her heart hammering against her ribs, caught out in her own game and perhaps not losing after all.

v.

Gamora’s home planet was destroyed when her parents died, when she was taken by Thanos, and she abandoned the ersatz home he provided her with when she deserted his cause. And she’s not the only one of the Guardians with this problem: Thanos seems to have taken more homeworlds than Sharon really wants to think about, with her own planet relatively safe and tucked so far away, ticking on as it always has. Quill’s maybe the only one with the option to return, but he’s had that one for the better part of thirty years and hasn’t bothered with it, so he doesn’t seem eager to go back.

Sharon doesn’t know, yet, how long she’s out here for: if it’s forever or for the next couple of years or until her luck runs out and SHIELD just stops receiving her mission reports and writes her off.

One of these days, she supposes that she’ll have to leave: carry on exploring, stop casually piggybacking on the aimless wanderings of a group of misfits who almost inadvertently saved the universe and still seem to be kind of pissed about that. But she doesn’t know when that will be, not when Gamora kisses like she fights and like she dances, a mixture of brutally self-assured and quietly worried, her body performing a task that it wasn’t specifically built for and shivering a little as a result. Gamora has disproportionate strength in every limb, has joints that twist the full 360 degrees and then some, has augmented senses and can survive situations that would kill almost anyone else; but tenderness doesn’t come automatically to her, and she learns Sharon like Sharon first learned hand to hand combat: with a liberated thrill, and a wariness of her own strength.

Sharon’s no delicate flower, no stranger to bruises that can be kissed and explored the following morning, but she’s grateful for the care Gamora takes with her: for one thing, Sharon’s pretty sure Gamora could crush half the bones in Sharon’s body if she didn’t concentrate, and for another, it’s quite something to be under Gamora’s full attention, to belong to the stare of those piercing eyes, to cause the curl of her lips that she shares out so rarely. She’s not sure if this is new territory or worn ground for Gamora, and most of her doesn’t want to ask, to alter something she didn’t expect and wants more than she’ll admit, more than she’ll ever write home about.

Between a skein of kisses, drinking each other’s breath and spilling it back again, Sharon follows the scars that trail down Gamora’s spine, the ones that make Gamora slip-shiver above her.

“You left,” Gamora says softly, “because you wanted to create your own legend, not try to live up to your family’s.”

Fury said much the same thing, when Sharon decided she’d had enough of living and training on the moon and now wanted to head for somewhere much further away.

“I guess,” Sharon responds, a little distracted, chasing a kiss when Gamora shifts.

“And I left, because I saw what my family’s legend was becoming.” Gamora’s voice is soft and considering; for a moment, Sharon can almost forget the people she’s seen knocked unconscious beneath Gamora’s boots, the wicked blades that she carries the way other people carry backpacks.

Finally, something like common ground, approached from opposite sides; Gamora makes a satisfied sound and Sharon chases it with her tongue, fingers tangling into the beautiful expanse of Gamora’s hair. Gamora’s father has killed, well, everyone else’s father, and Sharon’s aunt loved a man who died before anything could ever sour, the doomed sort of love the world loves to dwell on. That her aunt went on to blaze a trail through espionage and security that has never been matched; well, that part isn’t so romantic, isn’t included in the movies with the weep-worthy soundtracks.

Maybe that’s what this is, then: the start of a new story, a different one, about how outrunning other people’s pasts isn’t the only vocation available; her mouth pressed to Sharon’s, Gamora smiles.